The curse of Manager of the Month

Welcome to Port Talbot Town FC

We try and avoid the mainstream games as much as we can here at TBIR.  You can pick up any newspaper and read a million different views on Carlos Tevez’s strop with Mancini, or that Arsene simply “didn’t see it”, but it is a bit harder to find the real details about the games that count.  And that is why we have moved heaven and earth to sign up Mark Pitman to TBIR who will be bringing us the inside view on Port Talbot Town in the Welsh Premier League.

And what better way to start the series than by following Mark Jones, the Port Talbot manager and recipient of November’s Manager of the Month award to Bangor.

Bangor City 8-1 Port Talbot Town – Welsh Premier League – 4th December 2010
There are some unwritten rules in football. One is that winning the Manager of the Month award is usually the catalyst for an abysmal result in your next match, it is something that Port Talbot Town manager Mark Jones is now all to aware of following this eight goal reverse at league leaders Bangor City. Port Talbot Town claimed three wins and a draw in November, and Jones was named as the recipient of the award as his side prepared to take on a Bangor City side at Farrar Road, but the home side looking for their fourteenth consecutive Welsh Premier League victory this season.

Farrar Road is traditionally a difficult ground for visiting sides, a heavy pitch and hostile atmosphere offer the home side the advantage before the match starts, but with the confidence in manager Nev Powell’s side at a premium, it would take something special to cause a surprise result. Port Talbot manager Mark Jones said before the game that his side are in form and can spoil the party at Bangor, the reality was that they turned up with a bus-full of gifts.

Freezing weather across the country had put the game in doubt all week, a pitch inspection on Friday was not conclusive and further inspections followed until Bangor had the answer they wanted. Temperatures were heading the right way, and as the pitch began to thaw Port Talbot Town started their long journey through the snow-covered wastelands of South, then Mid, and eventually to North Wales. Held up on the outskirts of Bangor due to a power failure in the City, the rain continued to pour and further doubts were raised if the game would in fact kick off as the electrical problems caused the floodlights to fail.

Long journeys inevitably result in some random conversations and as manager Mark Jones explained the finer points of West Indies cricket to those willing to listen, he was blissfully unaware that his side would be on the receiving end of a cricket score themselves later that afternoon. After six hours on the road Port Talbot Town arrived at the rain-sodden ground and the few committed away fans made their way to the usual haunt of the Regency Hotel. Busier than usual, Bangor fans were out in force to support their sides ambitions of regaining the Welsh Premier League title. There was an air of optimism, hardly surprising after thirteen consecutive victories, and the queue at the turnstile for the delayed kick off was proof that the clubs success was indeed inspiring the people of Bangor.

Farrar Road is a unique ground in the Welsh Premier League. My first visit came in 2000, at the time I was unimpressed and failed to see it’s charm. Maybe it was because Swansea City and Cardiff City were respectively playing at The Vetch and Ninian Park and their moves to soulless indenti-kit stadiums were just plans on a council drawing board. Each visit to Farrar Road since however has been like stepping into a football time-warp. The deep covered terraces and old wooden stands offer a retro-feel of the 1950’s and 60’s and the entrance through a lane in the middle of a busy residential street is reminiscent of the old players entrance at The Vetch. Atletico Madrid played here in Europe during the 1980’s, what their star-studded side made of their approach into the stadium would have been priceless.

As the game kicked off both sides struggled to adapt to the slippery surface but with a large crowd packed into the covered area behind the goal, Bangor soon took the lead as striker Jamie Reed scored the first of his five goals on eleven minutes and then added another three minutes later. David Burnett, the rookie Port Talbot Town goalkeeper making only his second Welsh Premier League start, made a confidence -boosting save on 34 minutes but could only parry the ball into the path of Craig Garside and the former Rhyl midfielder made no mistake from close range to hand his side a convincing lead at half-time.

With the result already a formality, the Port Talbot Town fans were warmly welcomed in for a beer by their Bangor City counterparts, a sympathy-like gesture that their dominance this season has probably made a regular occurrence.

The second half started positively for the visitors as the introduction of creative midfield duo Matthew Thompson and Craig Jones offered the side couple of new options in the middle of the heavy field, and on 67 minutes the travelling few were rewarded with a goal from left-back Lloyd Grist. A new belief followed but lasted just four minutes before Bangor City defender Peter Hoy regained his side’s three-goal advantage. The goal was the cue for Bangor to start enjoying the party that Jones has planned to spoil as Hoy added another in-between a further three strikes from Jamie Reed to rack up a total of eight goals against their opponents one.

It is incredible to think that just last May the two sides played out a tense and competitive Welsh Cup Final, Bangor had started in familiar fashion that day by scoring twice early on before Port Talbot Town were allowed back in the game. With the scores level however Bangor scored an injury-time winner to lift the famous old trophy. That sun-kissed day in Llanelli was a million miles away from the freezing wet conditions at Farrar Road, and the difference between Port Talbot Town on that day to this was just as far apart.

For Bangor City it was another incredible result but one that is in-keeping with their incredible run of form. Manager Nev Powell has assembled a well-organised and settled team and has pulled the best out of talented journeyman striker Jamie Reed. The side have a settled and strong defence with an organised midfield supporting a dynamic attack. On Saturday the side played like champions.

It is a different story for Port Talbot Town. The spine of the team that qualified for the UEFA Europa League last season remains but there have been influential departures, the most recent and poignant being experienced goalkeeper Lee Kendall who has left the Welsh Premier League to take on a coaching role at Sheffield United. With the transfer window closed until January, Jones has shown faith in rookie deputy David Burnett and while it would be wrong to blame the young shot-stopper for the eight-goal defeat, the leadership, confidence and organisation that Kendall brought to the team’s back-line is now painfully apparent.

Despite the defeat the away fans remained in good spirits as they sang their team off the field in a show of support that almost embarrassed the home fans. Their efforts were appreciated by the Bangor faithful back at The Regency Hotel and a quick whip-round helped fuel up the travelling numbers ahead of the long journey home.

Bangor City are on the verge of a new era both on and off the field. Their team are deserved title challengers and on Saturday’s performance have every right to lift the Welsh Premier League in May and with it compete in the Champions League. Off the field however, the club are heading towards paying for the price of progress. A new stadium is currently in development after years of discussion and the charm-filled Farrar Road will sadly host football for only a limited time to come. Success in recent seasons has brought numbers back to the terraces, but this could be lost in a new stadium on the outskirts of the city, that will not even have enough seating to stage European football.

If you want to know what football used to be like, you should visit Farrar Road, it would be an education for any young football fan brought up on a diet of Sky Sports and the Premier League. In addition, if you want to see what the future of the Welsh Premier League will be like, you should watch Bangor City, the champions-elect.

Mark Pitman

Visit www.markpitman1.com for links to all blogs, news stories, features, reports and opinion as the big Welsh football news stories break. You can also follow Mark Pitman on www.facebook.com/1markpitman and www.twitter.com/markpitman1

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