Firebrands 1-3 PENARTH
Having remained unbeaten since the start of December, Penarth’s 1st XI travelled to Bristol to take on a struggling Firebrands side in the hope of continuing their climb back up the Verde Recreo Premiership.
In what was always going to be a physical affair, the Vale side started well, moving the ball around at pace and settling into the game without any undue scares. Enjoying the majority of pressure and possession, Penarth earned two early penalty corners, but were denied on both occasions by the Firebrands goalkeeper, who kept both efforts at bay.
Maintaining their composure despite the lack of a breakthrough, the Bears were eventually rewarded from a subsequent set-piece resulting from a swift break from the back. This time, the rebound from a well-worked routine fell to Andrew Willemite, who calmly netted from close range to give the visitors the lead.
Having fallen behind, Firebrands continued to press hard in search of an equaliser, but some strong Penarth defence dealt with any attacks thrown their way and, when beaten, could rely on man-of-the-match Ed Snelling to tidy up as the last line of defence. The resistance held out until just before half-time, and it took a moment of good fortune and a loose ball in the D to eventually provide an opening for the home side as, despite Snelling’s best efforts to cover the ball, a brave Bristolian cheekily chipped the diving ‘keeper to make it all square heading into the interval.
Although erasing Penarth’s lead should have handed Firebrands some momentum, it was the Bears who largely dominated the second half, although their inability to restore their earlier advantage led to the game becoming tense as play still flowed from end to end. With decisions not going in their favour, Penarth also succumbed to some all-to-familiar discipline issues, with a flurry of cards reducing their numbers, including ten minutes with ten men when a frustrated Joe Thomas was sent to the sin bin.
This did not deter the remaining players, however, as they continued to hunt for what would likely be the deciding goal – and got two for the price of one in the final 15 minutes to put the result beyond doubt. Already adept at turning defence into attack, the Bears willingly used the speed of Tom Haran and Chris Baker to transfer pressure to the other end of the pitch, and saw their efforts rewarded with another penalty corner, from which Chris Hardy slung a swirling shot between the ‘keeper and defender on the post before trickling over the line for a 2-1 lead.
Back ahead, Penarth were not about to let their hosts back into the game for a second time and, just minutes after retaking the lead, a pinpoint aerial pass from Ben Croxall to a sprinting Ollie Burland saw the young forward beat the final defender before playing an accurate ball past the falling ‘keeper to find team-mate Matt Gray in front of the unguarded net for a simple tap-in.
The 3-1 result was not only Penarth’s fifth successive addition of points, but helped propel them back to the head of a closely-matched group of teams separated by just two points and spanning third to eighth in the Premiership table. The team at the tail of that group, Clifton Robinsons, provides the next opposition for the Bears, at Stanwell, this Saturday.
Goalscorers: Andrew Willemite, Chris Hardy, Matt Gray
PENARTH ‘A’ 4-4 Bristol & West ‘B’
Still smarting from the previous week’s defeat at the hands of Cheltenham, the 2nd XI hosted a Bristol & West side battling to stay in De Cymru & The Marches 2 at Stanwell in their first home game of the new year. What transpired was very much a game of two halves which, when put together, provided a gripping encounter.
The home side made a perfect start with Liam Murphy firing a pass to David Joyce, who neatly flicked home from close range, but that only served to fire up the visitors, whose response comprised three goals in quick succession, followed by another just before the break that left Penarth trailing 4-1 and facing another mountain if they were to get anything from the game in the second half.
The Bears thought they had scored a second goal of their own when a penalty corner strike from Joyce stuck the backboard, only for it to be ruled out for being above the height of the board as it crossed the line. While that caused much frustration in the Penarth ranks, the side also knew that the half-time deficit could have been much worse had it not been for two goal-line clearances from Aaron Fulton-Brown and Kyle 'Newman' Stubley and a series of fine saves from goalkeeper Adam Putt.
The interval could not have come at a better time for the Bears and provided an opportunity to regroup. A frank exchange of views and sideline observations from some injured and unavailable players worked wonders and, right from the restart, the defence and midfield retained the ball intelligently and started to push forward.
After two minutes, a crisp pass found Joyce just inside the opponent’s half and, once past his marker, the striker was able to home in on goal. A clever dummy run from Jasminder Singh drew the remaining Bristol defence and allowed Joyce to run through to the edge of the ‘D’ before firing home a fierce shot which flew past the ‘keeper to swing momentum back to the Bears.
Three minutes later, Joyce repaid Singh’s earlier generosity by drawing the ‘keeper and sliding a pass to his team-mate, who controlled the ball before firing home on the reverse. At 4-3, the visitors were visibly wilting, but a series of somewhat harsh umpiring decisions slowed Penarth’s momentum, including the perplexing award of a penalty flick. Fortunately for Penarth, Putt did enough to ensure that that the stroke did not find the net, allowing the home side to resume their siege of Bristol’s goal.
The Bears’ pressure was finally rewarded with an equaliser when a fine disguised pass from Stubley was fired into Aaron Fulton-Brown, who provided a superb first time deflection that arrowed into the corner, but there was still time for more drama at the other end when man-of-the-match Putt pulled off possibly the save of the season by diving with his back to the striker and managing to tip a flicked shot around the post.
With the last attack of the game, Penarth were given the opportunity to take all three points by winning a penalty corner but, despite their best efforts, the Bears were unable to convert and had to settle for a hard-earned share of the spoils.
Still occupying fifth spot in the standings, the 2nd XI still have much to look forward to this season. The teams that have thrived against them have benefited from Penarth’s occasional sloppy attitude and, if they can learn to move the ball, cut out unnecessary contact and keep the game simple, the team should quickly return to their early season form.
Goalscorers: David Joyce (2), Jasminder Singh, Aaron Fulton-Brown
Swansea ‘G’ 0-8 PENARTH ‘B’
The team with the longest unbeaten run in the club – with eight straight wins stretching back to mid-October - travelled to Swansea in miserable conditions for the first of two games that could effectively allow them to put one hand on promotion from De Cymru 2.
Once again, however, it was a different-looking 3rd XI that faced their second city rivals, with absences in the ranks prompting an influx of youth and a call to Dave Kidby to leave his sickbed in order to ensure numbers. The side did welcome back regular goalkeeper Calum Grant to bolster a defence that at least featured the stalwart back four that had been a mainstay of the recent run.
The game could hardly have started better for the Bears, with Craig Llewellyn finally converting from a penalty corner after only three minutes but, despite the determined running of Rich Cousins in midfield, Penarth failed to capitalise on the early breakthrough, allowing Swansea to remain in the game despite offering very limited attacking options and a defence that appeared content with mainly clearing their lines.
It wasn’t until midway through the half that the visitors extended their lead, and it took a piece of typical Chris McCarthy unpredictability to do so as the forward took a free hit on the right side of the Swansea ‘D’, dribbled it almost the full perimeter of the area before cutting in and firing a reverse-side shot low into the bottom corner.
Once the lead had been doubled, Penarth were able to threaten the Swansea goal almost at will, with Kidby’s inclusion paying off with a third, before two of the younger members of the squad – debutant Lewis Latimer-Williams and Gabe Pryde, making only his second appearance – teamed up to give the latter a goal shortly before the interval.
Kidby had the opportunity to add a fifth but blazed over from short range and, at the break, the Bears acknowledged that they should have been further ahead than the 4-0 scoreline suggested. Despite that, they started the second period playing the same brand of free-flowing hockey, using Graeme Jones and Pryde to good effect down the left and the returning Rhys Meddins in combination with Elys Johnson down the right.
McCarthy added two quick goals to complete his hat-trick midway through the half, and the team turned its attention towards rewarding the young talent that had shown no qualms about stepping up to the plate. While efforts to get Iwan Meddins a debut goal came up short, Latimer-Williams was in the right place at the right time to tip in at the far post to make it 7-0, before Kidby completed the scoring with his second of the game in the closing moments. Captain James Davies also found time to give the largely idle Grant something to do with a wayward cross-field ball finding the goalkeeper rather than its intended target….
With their closest rivals continuing to take points off each other, Penarth’s lead at the top of De Cymru 2 is now six points with as many games remaining before the end of the schedule. With a complete slate of opponents still to face for the third time, however, there can be no complacency amongst the team, no matter the line-up.
Goalscorers: Craig Llewellyn, Chris McCarthy (3), Dave Kidby (2), Gabe Pryde, Lewis Latimer-Williams
Bridgend ‘C’ 1-1 PENARTH ‘D’
With the Fourths on a one-week hiatus, the rapidly emerging 5th XI travelled to Pencoed for a tricky tie with old rivals Bridgend.
Another solid performance earned the Penarth side a vital point in their push for an unexpected promotion position, and was enough to keep the Bears just out of reach of their immediate pursuers in third place overall in De Cymru 3.
All five of Penarth’s five sides will be in league action this weekend, with the 1st XI bringing their recent unbeaten run back to Stanwell as they host Clifton Robinsons (1.45pm start). The Seconds are on the road again, this time heading to Cwmbran to take on De Cymru 2 rivals Gwent (2.30pm start), while the Thirds begin a run of home fixtures by entertaining bottom of the table Llanishen & Caerphilly (3.30pm start). The biggest game of the weekend, however, undoubtedly opens the schedule at Stanwell, as the 5th XI hosts the Fourths in a crucial game for both in De Cymru 3 (start TBC).
Penarth Hockey Club always welcomes new, old and returning players, umpires, supporters, friends and helpers regardless of age and ability. Training takes place at Stanwell on Wednesdays, with the juniors on the pitch between 6.15pm and 7.15pm and the seniors between 7.00pm and 8.15pm.
Anyone interested in joining the club at senior or youth level can contact club secretary Dave Stevens (firstname.lastname@example.org) for further information.