PENARTH 8-0 Bridgend
Having eased through the early-season qualifying competition in Swansea, the 1st XI found Bridgend standing between themselves and a second successive appearance in the Welsh Trophy Final. Before Penarth secured back-to-back promotions, the two teams occupied the same division and their encounters always proved to be hard-fought and fiery affairs and the question remained whether Penarth’s quality would shine through or Bridgend could drag them into a dog-fight to defy the odds. The obstacle, however, proved to be little more than a mirage as the Bears put on a masterclass at the National Hockey Centre.
Determined that the 1st April date would not make fools of them in an encounter they were always favoured to win, the Vale side quickly found top gear, with Bridgend unable to handle either the speed and intensity of their game. Penarth should have gone ahead with minutes of the opening whistle, a Ben Croxall aerial being wasted by the unmarked forward, but the opening proved a portent of what was to come as the newly-crowned Conference North champions continued to display the sort of expansive hockey that had led them to back-to-back divisional titles.
Atoning for his early error on the bouncy Sophia Gardens pitch, Phil Lane not only opened the scoring after a driving run down the left from Laith El-Khatib, but also unlocked the floodgates that would see Bridgend quickly swamped by a glut of goals. Chris Baker quickly smashed in Penarth’s second, before Khatib was rewarded for his fine start by firing home a penalty corner to make it 3-0 with only five minutes played.
Bridgend, however, dug deep to turn the tide of pressure and, cheered on by their vocal supporters, began to frustrate the Bears. Turning the game into a scrappy affair suited the underdog as Penarth began to lose control of the game but, with the cup format dictating that games are played in quarters, the first two-minute break was used to regroup before retaking the initiative.
Baker went on a typically mazy run before Ben Croxall slotted home to give Penarth a healthy 4-0 lead heading into the half-time break and, from the restart, the Vale side were straight back in control as their attacking tempo and pace had clearly taken the sting out of Bridgend. As a result, the Bears were soon back on the scoresheet as, after an early spell of pressure, Richard Baker opened his wrists and to finish smartly, sweeping home over the sprawling ‘keeper to effectively kill any hopes of an already unlikely comeback.
Despite holding a commanding lead, Penarth were in no mood to take their foot off the gas and rattled in another three goals before the final whistle. First, Joe Thomas reacted quickest to a saved penalty corner to grab a rare goal, before Andrew Willemite made up for missing an open goal in the last round of fixtures, taking his time to set himself and finish neatly from a tight angle. With seven different names on the scoresheet, Croxall added a second of his own from the spot to complete an 8-0 rout, a scoreline which could have been greater had it not been for a fine display of shot-stopping by the Bridgend goalkeeper. By contrast, shielded by a defensive cordon marshalled by captain Tom Haran, neither Penarth ‘keeper had a serious save to make, with the Bears able to give both Adam Putt and Simon Comfort a run-out.
Penarth will now take on Cardiff University in the Welsh Trophy final on Sunday 30th April as they look to complete back-to-back league and cup doubles.
Goalscorers: Phil Lane, Laith El-Khatib, Chris Baker, Joe Thomas, Richard Baker, Andrew Willemite, Ben Croxall (2)
Updated 11:54 - 4 Apr 2017 by Craig Llewellyn
While both the U11 and 1st XI squads now have a handful of weeks to prepare for their respective finals, hockey continues for the Penarth club as the Veterans side kicks off its summer season by travelling to Cwmbran for the first game in a ‘home-and-home’ with Gwent.