PENARTH 5-3 Bristol UWE
With the Conference North schedule heading into the final straight, Penarth faced the first in a run of fixtures to the finish line with revenge on the agenda as they looked to reverse one of only two defeats suffered this season.
Bristol UWE were the visitors to Stanwell, and found Penarth back to their brilliant best in the early stages, the home side playing with an intensity their opponents could not handle. Consequently, the goals soon began to flow, Chris Baker opening the Bears’ account as he found himself one on one in the ‘D’ before committing the keeper and coolly slotting the ball into the bottom corner.
Minutes later, the goalscorer turned architect, creating panic in the UWE defence before finding the in-form David Joyce, who smartly rounded the ‘keeper and produced a fine finish from a tight angle.
The Bears should have been in full control but, as the game settled down, UWE began to warm to the challenge and started to dictate the play more and more as Penarth abandoned their intensity and communication as tiredness crept in.
After a period of pressure, during which the home side was grateful to goalkeeper Simon Comfort for keeping the score at 2-0, Penarth’s resistance finally broke following a barrage of penalty corners. Hunting the green-shirted midfielders in twos, UWE sprung their trap, turning the ball over in the final third and getting through on goal before making no mistake to draw a goal back and finish the half strongly.
Penarth were definitely the happier to hear the half-time whistle and take the opportunity to regroup, and the break immediately paid dividends as, rallying to player-coach Ben Croxall's battle cry behind the efforts of midfielder Joe Thomas, they rediscovered their former intensity to score straight from the restart.
Using the Bears’ press to force the UWE defence into a mistake in a dangerous area, Baker fed the turnover ball to Andrew Willemite, who calmly lifted it over a defender’s stick and, once into the 'D', chipped the still bouncing projectile over the on-rushing ‘keeper from an acute angle.
With their tails up once again, Penarth would pull the same trick immediately after the restart, forcing the shell-shocked students into another turnover, with Baker this time backing himself to score as he squeezed through to defenders and fired home on his backhand to put the home side into a commanding 4-1 lead.
Incredibly, Penarth continued to make hay while the sun made a rare appearance, adding a third strike of the half before their own defence had even been called into action. This time the goal came from a set-piece, with Croxall firing low to the ‘keepers left from a penalty corner, the netminder unable to sort his feet out before the ball had hit the backboard and all but seal the victory with just five minutes on the second-half clock.
As suddenly as the Penarth blitz had started, however, it was brought to an abrupt end with captain Tom Haran receiving a harsh ten-minutes yellow card ‘sin bin’, which allowed the students some respite from the onslaught. Pulling one goal back while holding the numerical advantage, UWE would go on to add a third late in the half, but never truly threatened to catch the Bears, who relied on two truly remarkable spells of hockey to win the game comfortably.
Penarth’s progression requires them to produce the type of hockey which produced five goals in those two short spells carried over 50, 60 or even 70 minutes. However, with another home victory in the bag and results elsewhere going their way again, the Bears will take comfort from further increasing their lead at the top of the division and inching closer to the wining line.
Goalscorers: Chris Baker (2), David Joyce, Andrew Willemite, Ben Croxall
Cardiff Medics ‘A’ 1-1 PENARTH ‘A’
It was a different story for Penarth’s 2nd XI, who travelled to Talybont Sports Complex to face Cardiff Medics with half of their usual team either injured or unavailable to play but, facing bottom-of-the-table opposition, the Bears remained confident of an away victory.
In the opening exchanges, however, it became apparent that this Cardiff Medics team was not the same second string that had been comfortably despatched in the reverse fixture, as the home side played hockey far above their lowly De Cymru 1 position and dominated possession.
In an open first half, in which both sides had chances, the Medics were largely held out by strong Penarth defending from a makeshift back four that included the unfamiliar faces of Nick Pratt and Joe Wells, both playing their first game for the ‘A’ team this season. When the defence, in which Jamie Davison turned in a strong performance, was breached, the Medics continued to be thwarted by goalkeeper Adam Putt, who made several fine saves to ensure that the scores remained level for almost the entire period.
Penarth, however, also looked dangerous when they managed to get the ball into the final third, and Jack Jopson and Richard Baker both tested the Medics ‘keeper several times before the latter broke the deadlock, deceiving the keeper with a reverse stick strike at the near post shortly before the half-time whistle.
At the interval, the Bears knew they had to find a way to keep possession if they were to hold onto their slender lead, but the fact that they were missing so many regular players meant that it was difficult to do so, with a lack of cohesion very apparent when going forward. The persistent turnovers allowed Cardiff to attack at will, and the Bears’ defence did extremely well to hold out until the final ten minutes, only for the home side to get a deserved equaliser, breaching the resistance with extra men and firing home from close range.
The final few minutes saw more of the same, with the Medics looking increasingly likely to snatch a second, but it was Penarth who came closest to winning the game, with Baker and Sam Chick linking up on the counter-attack before Chick’s effort sneaked just wide of the near post.
A share of the spoils was not the result the Bears wanted – or needed - but the fact that they dug deep to secure a point with an under-strength side keeps them in the top two overall by merit of goal difference, and gives them the narrowest advantage in the hunt for promotion with only four games remaining.
Goalscorer: Richard Baker
PENARTH ‘B’ 0-7 Swansea University ‘C’
A slightly below strength Penarth third string took on De Cymru 3 champions-elect Swansea University at Stanwell knowing that an unlikely win would confirm their own promotion behind the student side.
However, this was not to be as the visitors, themselves very much at full strength, produced some of the best hockey seen at this level all season to deservedly take a comfortable win and leave the Bears to put the champagne back on ice for at least another fortnight as they head into a bye week prior to another tricky encounter with Gwent on the second weekend of March.
Three Penarth teams are in action again this weekend, with the 1st XI travelling to Bristol University for a late morning fixture, while both the 2nd and 4th XIs enjoy home encounters with Swansea City (1.45pm start) and Gwent (3.30pm start) respectively.
Updated 11:42 - 28 Feb 2017 by Craig Llewellyn