Williams returns but the crowd are elsewhere

Llanelli 2-1 Haverfordwest County – Welsh Premier League – 11th January 2011

This derby match enabled Llanelli to pick up their third Principality Welsh Premier League home win in a week as strikes from Craig Moses and recent loan signing Craig Williams scored the all-important goals. The previous six points came courtesy of victories over North Wales duo Bangor City and Bala Town but despite scoring twice in the opening half, Llanelli made hard work of the remainder of the match, and after wasting a series of chances the visitors came close to building on their second-half consolation goal with an injury-time equaliser. by Mark Pitman.

Manager Andy Legg named himself in the starting line-up following a pre-match injury to Antonio Corbisiero as a disappointing derby attendance of 189 arrived to take their seats at Stebonheath. Despite building on two consecutive home victories, the lack of atmosphere from the usual ‘A-block’ singing section was sadly missing, on what was the proverbial wet Tuesday night.

A heavy playing surface at Stebonheath was already showing the same weary signs as the players in the opening exchanges as Llanelli continued to dig through their backlog of fixtures after an unwelcome two-month break. Top-scorer Rhys Griffiths looked on from the stand still feeling the effect of a thigh injury and he was joined on the sidelines by regular Haverfordwest County goalkeeper Lee Idzi with the strapped-up broken finger that he sustained at Bangor City at the weekend.

The injury to Idzi added a sub-plot to the game as former Llanelli goalkeeper Duncan Roberts was brought out of retirement to cover in the Haverfordwest goal. Roberts was a top keeper in his prime and kept a clean sheet in a rare cameo appearance for Port Talbot Town last season, but his Welsh Premier League career appears over after an uninspiring opening half performance as he struggled to deal with an early barrage of crosses, and looked suspect for the two goals conceded.

Another former Llanelli favourite making a return was Craig Williams. Signed by The New Saints from Llanelli in 2008, Williams has now returned to his former club on loan having found himself out of favour at Park Hall this season and made an immediate impression, as he followed up his pre-match statement regarding his intentions of earning himself a permanent return to Llanelli on the back of his loan-spell.

After a dominant opening thirty minutes Llanelli eventually took the lead. Striker Craig Moses found himself clean through on goal before rounding Roberts, and eventually stretched to toe-poke the ball into the corner of net, despite initially appearing to have knocked the ball too far forward to make the chance count. The goal rattled the visitors and just minutes after the re-start Williams marked his return to the club with a well-taken goal. After finding himself in space inside the area, Williams placed the ball to the inside of the far post while Roberts went down in stages. The game appeared to be over.

But then Haverfordwest County are a generally young and hungry side with the recent boost of a new manager brought in to salvage their season. The influence of Gavin Chesterfield’s arrival can be seen in an progressive up-turn in results before the heavy defeat to Bangor City last weekend, but his sides lacklustre start would have disappointed him, if he had been there. Chesterfield was missing from the dugout at Stebonheath due to a pre-booked honeymoon he simply couldn’t miss. He was missed for two reasons.

Chesterfield had a limited playing career, briefly featuring for clubs in the both the Welsh Premier League and in the South Wales feeder leagues, he turned to coaching at a young age and found his niche in the game. Relative success at Barry Town attracted Haverfordwest County to his ability as they looked to replace Derek Brazil and the New Bridge Meadow Club believe they have one of the best young managers in the Welsh Premier League. Chesterfield did bring some experience with him to Haverfordwest however, and everyone at Stebonheath on Tuesday were more than made aware of the presence of his assistant manager.

While Chesterfield played at a lesser level, his new number-two Damon Searle enjoyed a successful professional career that included over 200 appearances for Cardiff City and was followed by a number of moves to a string of Football League clubs including Southend, Stockport County and Carlisle. His performance on the touchline showed he still longs for the spotlight and the undivided attention that the peak of his career offered.

Searle was a constant noise for ninety minutes. Some of it was constructive, most of it was irrelevant, and nearly all of it directed at the four officials. Wild arm throwing and sarcastic clapping were the only actions that stopped the continuous verbal and even the Stebonheath elders were longing for A-block to break into their usual singing routine to drown out the drivel. With Andy Legg being named in the starting line-up, Llanelli had a worthy comparison in their own dugout. Assistant Steve Jenkins took charge on the touchline, Jenkins also boasts a proud Football League career, but acted out his role like on the Stebonheath bench with a meticulous and constructive approach. As Jenkins used his professional football knowledge and experience to good effect, Searle used his knowledge and experience to direct the attention of the crowd onto himself.

With Llanelli comfortably two goals ahead at the break a convincing win was expected as the crowd milled around but the visitors had other ideas and came out a much stronger side in the second half. Playing higher up the field they used their pace with more effect against the Llanelli defence, it suggested that Searle had used the privacy of the dressing room to pass on his views constructively, before he returned to his usual antics on the touchline during the second half. As Haverfordwest pushed forward, and grabbed a deserved consolation through defender Gareth Elliott with a far post header on 66 minutes, an equaliser was a strong possibility but in its search some big gaps were left at the back.

Llanelli had chances to win, long range efforts missed the target and a fine save from close range by Duncan Roberts kept Haverfordwest in the game, the visitors then came close to grabbing the equaliser but were denied by a last-ditch block by Llanelli captain Stuart Jones before referee Paul Fisher brought the match to a close. Like the playing surface, Llanelli looked heavy and tired in places, but they held on for their third win in seven days and Andy Legg will be delighted at his points return which has come against the odds due to his sides fixture backlog. For Haverfordwest County, their cause has not been helped by injury or honeymoon, but there were positives for the West Wales side to take from the second half performance.

The biggest concern from the game however will be the low attendance for what is a traditionally well-supported fixture, although a midweek date did little to encourage a crowd, coming into the game on the back of two consecutive home wins should have been enough to attract some more local support for a home side that finished the match with three former Wales Internationals on the field. If the public of Llanelli are voting with their feet, the club need to find out what they are voting against.

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 at www.facebook.com/1markpitman and www.twitter.com/markpitman1

2 thoughts on “Williams returns but the crowd are elsewhere

    • “I haven’t had much of a chance at TNS this season, so I see this as an opportunity of playing some games and getting some form back,” says Williams. “My contract at TNS is up in May so hopefully I can do well at Llanelli and get a contract offer there for next season.”

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