The problems and pom-poms of Haverfordwest County

Haverfordwest County 0-1 Port Talbot Town – Welsh Premier League – 25th January 2011 – by Mark Pitman

This important South Wales derby had all the makings of an exciting game. The usual Welsh Premier League derby sub-plots of former players returning to their former clubs centred around Port Talbot Town duo Luke Bowen and Lee John returning to The New Bridge Meadow while Haverfordwest pair Mark Dodds and Neil Thomas would be up against their former club Port Talbot and with it their former manager there Mark Jones. The New Bridge Meadow Stadium has boasted the best playing surface in the Welsh Premier League for a number of years and despite being in a relegation battle, results have improved under new manager Gavin Chesterfield but they were now up against a Port Talbot Town side pushing for a place in the top six. The scene was set.

Unfortunately things have changed and changed drastically for Haverfordwest County. The once proud playing surface has not been appreciative of the recent winter weather and looked a shadow of it’s former self, it was the first noticeable sign of the clubs decline, but far worse would follow. With less than twenty minutes remaining before kick off the once thriving clubhouse was almost empty, occupied only by the well-known hardcore faces of Haverfordwest follows over the last few years, and also by the regular travelling fans of Port Talbot Town. Even the lager served at the bar lacked any fizz or life, it was poignant reflection on the club, and appears to be a problem that has been evolving for sometime, as the locals stuck to bottled beer.

One positive of Haverfordwest County over the years has been the fare served from the hatch in the wall behind the clubhouse goal. Although limited to ‘chips, sausage and chips, or sausage,’ the pre-match snacks on offer consisted only of tea, coffee, crisps and chocolate. Apparently there would be hot food available by half-time. Usually this would mean a missed opportunity as being such an isolated West Wales club, Haverfordwest have enjoyed a large catchment area and for years have enjoyed above average crowds. Surely there would be decent trade if food had been available earlier? But as the teams came out, there were less than twenty people in the main stand, and less than double that dotted around the playing surface perimeter. Haverfordwest had turned it’s back on it’s football club and on the self-proclaimed ‘Home of Welsh Football’.

A birthday announcement and some off-the-wall music greeted the two teams but the cheese factor went through the roof as ‘The Footwork Bluebirds’ cheerleaders lined-up to welcome to the two sets of teams. Shaking and shimmying as a result of the cold rather than the atmosphere, the girls felt as awkward as the handful of wax jacket wearing farmers that watched on from the sidelines, but the real action was about to be begin.

The early exchanges resembled a training session for both sides, early passes went astray resulting in an apologetic raised arm from each culprit, but Port Talbot settled into the match first and offered their travelling fans some optimism. Although their numbers are not the best, the travelling support for Mark Jones side can be relied on to create an atmosphere and ninety minutes of trumpeting and singing from the troop echoed continuously around The New Bridge Meadow. Captain Liam McCreesh twice tested Haverfordwest County goalkeeper Lee Idzi and after a quiet opening spell, on-loan Swansea City striker Casey Thomas found his way into the game and began to make a big impression.

Thomas was one of the talking points in the pre-match build-up. A Wales Under-21 International with experience of playing in the Championship and the Carling Cup, Thomas soon showed his quality with some testing runs that each carried a telling cross. Port Talbot looked in control of the game as the frustrated home side struggled to find a way through the midfield or the defence of the visitors, leaving another Swansea City-loanee in David Cornell with little to do in the Port Talbot Town goal.

A late change in the match officials did little to inspire either of the teams before the game as the card-happy Mark Whitby took charge of the match. With five red cards already claimed by Whitby this season, the controversial last one just a week before this fixture, there was little chance of the Penllergaer official being seen and not heard and after just eleven minutes Haverfordwest striker Jack Christopher became the first name in the book.

The two sides went into half-time level as the cheerleaders again came out to provide the entertainment at the break. The majority of the 118 people in attendance had by this time reached the flat-lager selling bar to take in the Carling Cup delights on TV and the cheerleaders appeared only to be dancing for the benefit of the warming-up substitutes of both sides. When a stray cross-field pass from the visitors subs almost eliminated one of the dancers however it did question the appreciation of their efforts, but they did also have a small audience from the tea-hatch queue, as chips were now on sale.

The game re-started and within minutes the officious Whitby again reached to his pocket to book Haverfordwest defender Gareth Elliott, it would prove significant as twenty minutes later Elliott was shown another for a rash challenge on Casey Thomas, and Whitby added another red to his growing collection of dismissals. The challenge was one of frustration from Elliott as ten minutes before Port Talbot Town had taken the lead through Luke Bowen as he latched onto a through ball and finished in style against his former club. The goal had settled the visitors and further chances followed as Haverfordwest struggled to match their pace in attack but Port Talbot could not build on their advantage.

The dismissal of Elliott prompted a change by Haverforwest and three substitutions followed as manager Gavin Chesterfield attempted to try and take something from the match. A change in formation brought the best spell for the home side but Port Talbot Town goalkeeper David Cornell, another Wales Under-21 International on show, was in fine form and after claiming a series of crosses he made a good save to prevent an equaliser. Port Talbot continued to cause problems for Haverfordwest when they could retain possession and despite only enjoying a one-goal advantage the side looked comfortable for an eventual win.

On 82 minutes Drew Fahiya was introduced for Port Talbot Town in place of debutant Casey Thomas and the former Dinas Powys winger would prove to be one of the games talking points despite only enjoying eight minutes on the field. An early trip on his opponent within three minutes of his arrival showed Fahiya to be a little off the pace of the game and earned him a yellow card but he soon settled into his stride and tested the Haverfordwest defence in the same style that Thomas had before him. Haverfordwest forced a couple of corners as the match went into injury-time but could not find a leveller, but there would be time for referee Whitby to level the numbers.

With the game deep into stoppage time, a cross from the left found Fahiya in space in the area and as he controlled the ball the assistants flag raised in his direction for offside. Fahiya slotted the ball into the net as the whistle blew, and the winger was promptly dismissed by Whitby for his supposed time-wasting antics. In a week when officials had hit the front and back pages of the national news, yet another Welsh Premier League game had been marred by the over-zealous antics of the man in the middle. The full-time whistle quickly followed the unnecessary decision, and again Whitby was subjected to an un-orderly queue of complaints, just as he had been at Neath the week before.

For Port Talbot Town and their travelling fans it was an important three points in their push for a place in the top six. Haverfordwest County however remain in the relegation places and while this will be a major concern, it seems that this once thriving club has suffered from one too many seasons of under-achievement, and they have a major task in reviving the interest and pride that the town once had in it’s football club, as well as staying in the Welsh Premier League.

Welsh expert Mark Pitman

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

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