Port Talbot Town 1-3 Neath – Welsh Premier League – 2nd January 2011
Neath hit the headlines during pre-season with the high-profile arrival of Swansea City legend Lee Trundle. Often casting a frustrated figure due to the close attention he has attracted from Welsh Premier League defenders in his first season back in the domestic top-flight, Trundle once again produced when it mattered in this New Year derby against local rivals Port Talbot Town at The GenQuip Stadium as he scored the second and third goals as his side claimed a deserved 3-1 win.
As an important a figure off the field for Neath as on it, crowds at The Gnoll have been boosted by his arrival as well as the further signing of a number of other former Swans. The novelty factor appears to have not worn off either as a crowd of over 500, swelled by the presence of a number of Swansea City fans, turned out for the first match between the two sides this season.
Neath unveiled new signing James Burgin before the match, another former Swansea City youngster, Burgin started the match at left-back and added a further Swans connection as he lined up alongside Trundle, Kristian O’Leary, Chad Bond and Chris Jones in a strong Neath side. Former Cardiff City midfielder Kevin Cooper added further Football League experience as Andy Dyer’s side arrived looking to build on their recent run of improving form and with it build on their third-place position in the Welsh Premier League.
Suspension and injury problems did not help the preparations for Port Talbot Town manager Mark Jones as his own former Swansea City trio in Lee Surman, Gareth Phillips and Craig Jones were all missing from the squad.
Another former Swan in Matthew Rees found himself restored in defence where he would line-up alongside former Swan Nicky Holland at right-back, a position he recently dislodged former Swan Leigh De-Vulgt from. The respective line-ups represented a Swansea City old-boys reunion so the presence of a number of the Liberty Stadium regulars in the larger than average crowd was not that surprising.
Trundle was the headline act however but found himself well-marshalled by Port Talbot Town’s Lloyd Grist and Kye Edwards for at least 85 of the 90 minutes. Animated and frustrated, Trundle’s remonstrating with the officials brought the biggest cheer from the home supporters as their side failed to create any real chances on goal. Young Port Talbot goalkeeper David Burnett was the far busier of the two shot-stoppers and when Trundle had a looping effort incredibly cleared off the line by an overhead kick from home captain Liam McCreesh, the home crowd were left stunned to the extent that even the trumpeting temporarily stopped.
For all Neath’s quality and experience the side are lacking in pace and it was in that area that offered Port Talbot Town the best chance of bringing some festive cheer as the temperature continued to drop. Wingers Lee John and Drew Fahiya were a constant problem for the Neath defence but the final ball to striker Martin Rose did not live up to the quality of the build-up play and Rose was left isolated in attack. The subdued neutrals had little to enjoy from Trundle in the opening half, and when he hit a long-range effort so wide it eventually bounced out for a throw, his presence in the Welsh Premier League began to look like a PR stunt than a creditable football decision.
Port Talbot Town took the lead against the run of play on 56 minutes, former Swansea City youngster Luke Bowen picked up the ball in midfield before taking on the flat-footed visitors backline and after rounding goalkeeper Craig Morris he drilled the ball into the empty net from a tight angle. His celebration in front of the Neath dugout brought a reaction of admirable constraint from the often volatile bench and the home side could have doubled the lead in similar fashion minutes later but Lee John was denied by a fine save from Morris.
The home crowd were vociferous with the goal advantage but after Rose misguided a free-header wide of the post, Neath began to work their way back into the match and equalised when former Port Talbot Town, and also former Swan, Chad Bond found himself in space at the back post to latch onto a cross from former Swan Chris Jones on the right. Former Swansea City youngster Nicky Holland then made a superb last-ditch tackle on former Swan Bond as Neath began to regain the momentum.
With minutes remaining a draw appeared to be the likely result despite both sides committing themselves to playing with a positive approach but after being lifted by the equaliser, Neath took the lead on 86 minutes when Trundle moved inside Lloyd Grist to control the ball in the area and slotted the ball past goalkeeper Burnett to provide the Swansea City neutrals with the goal they had come to see from their favourite son. Port Talbot were finished but Trundle still had more to come and two minutes after the re-start he collected the ball on the left before teasing Burnett to come off his line, the inexperienced keeper obliged and Trundle completed the scoring with the deftest of chips to place the ball over the advancing keeper and into the net.
Basking in the applause following his substitution, Trundle acknowledged the appreciation from those that used to sing his name at The Liberty Stadium in addition to that of the few fans that chant ‘Eagles’ at his new home at The Gnoll. The goals brought a predictable lack of noise from the Port Talbot end, having watched their side squander a lead against their rivals, while the pocket of Neath fans suddenly surfaced to rattle off some predictable terrace clichés.
Neath had enough chances to have been clearly in front at the break but the resilient defending of Port Talbot Town prevented them and when the home side took the lead they enjoyed a decent spell on the back of the goal’s momentum. Neath have quality in their ranks however and when their most talented player was allowed too much space in the area he scored the inevitable winning second goal before rounding things off with a sublime third.
But then Port Talbot Town should not have been surprised that it was Trundle that made the difference. In October 2000 Trundle made his Rhyl debut at Port Talbot and made an immediate impression as the £10,000 signing from Southport scored three and made three in a 6-1 win. Trundle then repeated the feat on his Swansea City debut in 2003. Having just completed a move from Wrexham with Brian Flynn, Trundle grabbed a hat-trick against Port Talbot Town in a convincing six-goal friendly victory. Moving forward to 2011, and while the performance may not have been his most convincing, his influence on the game with two late goals was immense.
Neath have invested heavily in bringing experienced players to The Gnoll and a few more arrivals are apparently planned in the January transfer window. They are now on a decent run of form and are comfortably placed in third, their former Football League stars are adapting to playing in the Welsh Premier League more and more each week and this late victory after a frustrating afternoon showed there is character also developing into their side. For Port Talbot Town however, it was a third straight league defeat for a team that are currently looking a shadow of the side that reached the Welsh Cup Final and qualified for the UEFA Europa League just a few months ago.
Neath are currently the only South Wales club in the Welsh Premier League yet to play in European competition. Their collection of stars may need another season to become a team, but compared to their South Wales rivals, they appear well-placed to be the next club from the M4 corridor to be the next to enjoy the European experience.
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