The season to send and receive

For this week’s regular view of events in the Welsh Premier League we head down to the coastal resort of Port Talbot where Mark Pitman provides the words and Tomos Lewis the pictures.

Port Talbot Town 0-2 The New Saints – Welsh Premier League – 11th December 2010
Christmas is a time for the giving and receiving of cards and gifts and this Principality Welsh Premier League match at The GenQuip Stadium kept in with the festive traditions. Freezing weather had dominated the league headlines recently with a string of postponements but a Saturday morning pitch inspection by match referee Mark Whitby confirmed that the visit of the league champions would take place.

Port Talbot Town manager Mark Jones, still smarting from his sides eight goal defeat at league leaders Bangor City the weekend before, made three changes to his starting line-up with influential former captain Matthew Rees being replaced by youngster Kye Edwards in the centre of defence while fringe players Matthew Thompson and Drew Fahiya were promoted into the eleven. The New Saints also made changes with November’s Welsh Premier League player of the month Matty Williams having to settle for a place on the bench as manager Mike Davies looked to complete the double over Port Talbot Town having claimed a convincing 6-1 win at Park Hall earlier in the season.

Postponements at a number of other South Wales games helped boost the crowd at The GenQuip Stadium as the attendance turned into a who’s-who of the Welsh League. A number of the FAW blazer brigade also turned out in force ahead of next weeks expected announcement of the new national team manager, but even they could not help the attendance tip over the 200 mark, as a scrooge-like 194 spaced themselves out around The GenQuip Stadium.

Port Talbot Town started brightly, attacking the clubhouse end of the ground with their vociferous support and trumpet assisting to create early chances for the forward pairing of Martin Rose and Luke Bowen as both strikers had efforts saved by The New Saints goalkeeper Paul Harrison. The first controversial incident of the game arrived after just eleven minutes when referee Mark Whitby started the festive traditions by showing The New Saints defender Chris Marriott a straight red card for a reckless tackle on Rose. The New Saints players attempted to defend the indefendable but Whitby remained uninterested in their protests as Port Talbot looked to make the most of their extra-man advantage from the re-start.

The home side kept possession but struggled to create any further clear cut chances before The New Saints striker Chris Sharp was the recipient of the first Christmas gift of the day as he latched onto a misplaced header from Port Talbot Town defender Lee Surman before calmly lifting the ball over goalkeeper David Burnett. The drop in confidence for the home side was noticeable from the sidelines as flashbacks from Farrar Road the week before entered the minds of the Port Talbot backline, and the visitors began looking like the team with the advantage of an extra player.

Things continued to deteriorate for Port Talbot Town manager Mark Jones as Matthew Thompson and Martin Rose were forced off through injury either side of half-time. Replaced by Lee John and Nathan Cotterrall, the home side lacked the presence of the influential Rose in attack and the creativity of Thompson in midfield, but there would be further problems for the side as the second half progressed.

With referee Mark Whitby already enjoying the rush of a straight red card, offering the opportunity for a second back pocket moment is not the way to help your side get back into the game. Chris Sharp, the son of former Everton striker Graeme, had caused Port Talbot Town problems with his height and pace all afternoon. Like Rose before his injury, he was proving to be a continued source of pressure on the opposition defence, and like Rose, was taken out the game but foul means rather than fair. After a couple of niggling challenges, Port Talbot Town defender Lee Surman took Sharp out of the game midway through the second half with an over-the-top challenge that had Whitby reaching into his back pocket before either player hit the ground. Surman had no complaints or excuses as he trudged off the pitch ahead of a three-match suspension.

A cynical plus from the challenge meant that Sharp had to be replaced but it proved to be the source of The New Saints doubling their advantage. Matthew Berkeley, strangely wearing a continental-like squad number of 99, replaced Sharp and within minutes of coming on set-up Richie Partridge for the visitors second goal of the game as the remaining members of the Port Talbot Town defence allowed Partridge the time and space to shoot and score. Both sides played out the remaining twenty minutes with out any real incident until the last few minutes when young Port Talbot Town goalkeeper David Burnett was called into action to make a fine save, his most confidence boosting moment in the Welsh Premier League yet as he completed only his third game in the domestic top-flight.

After referee Mark Whitby had handed out the cards and the home defence had gifted The New Saints with a couple of goals, further signs that the festive season was in full swing followed in the clubhouse after as the Port Talbot Town players took part in their annual charity event of distributing gifts to the under-privileged children of the area with a presentation to the Mayor and representatives from Social Services. The generosity continued as manager Mark Jones then donated his manager of the month prize money to the charity.

Generous off the field but sadly also on it, manager Mark Jones must now prepare for another festive tradition. The New Year marks the opening of the transfer window, and after his sides recent defeats, Jones will no-doubt be on the lookout for a few bargains in the January sales if his side are return to the sort of form that brought European football to The GenQuip Stadium last season.

Mark Pitman

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