Lucky twist as Bangor City reach magic 21

Port Talbot Town 0-3 Bangor CityWelsh Cup Quarter-Final – 26th February 2011 – by Mark Pitman

Bangor City maintained their incredible Welsh Cup winning-streak with this twenty-first consecutive victory in the competition. This amazing series of results began back in 2007 and the club have lifted the famous old trophy three times along the way. Under the guidance of manager Nev Powell, the man who has masterminded the remarkable run of results, the side now head into the semi-finals as the current Principality Welsh Premier League leaders, and are once again favourites to win one of football’s oldest cup competitions for a fourth consecutive time.

The Citizens lifted the Welsh Cup last May with a dramatic 3-2 win over Port Talbot Town at the Parc-y-Scarlets Stadium in Llanelli and when Wales manager Gary Speed made the quarter-final draw he pulled out what would be the tie of the round. Port Talbot Town manager Mark Jones would have both the opportunity to avenge the defeat in last seasons final but also to gain revenge over his good friend Powell for the two league defeats that Bangor had inflicted on his side during the current campaign.

In December Bangor City claimed one of the wins of the season as they defeated Port Talbot Town 8-1 at Farrar Road, but both sides named notably different starting line-ups for this match, and a notably different match ensued.

Since that December defeat Port Talbot Town have added professional experience to their ranks with the arrival of on-loan Swansea City duo Casey Thomas and goalkeeper David Cornell. Former captain Matthew Rees has since departed for local rivals Neath but there have also been changes for Bangor City. Top scorer Jamie Reed, a formidable striker who scored five of the eight goals in the memorable win, moved to Blue Square Conference side York City in January, but Bangor City still named a strong and attacking line-up for the match at The GenQuip Stadium.

Influential Port Talbot Town defender Lee Surman would miss the match through suspension and his place was taken by recent return signing Gary Bansor, elsewhere an injury to on-loan Casey Thomas allowed captain Liam McCreesh to come straight back into the side on his return from a two-match ban. Bangor named a strong and experienced line-up, with an average age much higher than Port Talbot Town’s, as Les Davies and Alan Bull were handed the responsibility of replacing Reed upfront. The significance of the match was not lost on the Bangor City faithful who made the long journey South in big numbers and swelled the crowd to a better than expected 328. Alternative sporting distractions of the day included Swansea City against Leeds United a few miles down the road and the Six Nations match between Italy and Wales held the attention of TV sport fans in the town.

Neath manager Andy Dyer and his Llanelli counterpart Andy Legg were joined in the crowd by a large contingent of FAW suits and former Chief Executive David Collins as the two sides ran out into the sunshine for the opening half. The travelling support ensured that the visitors received the far better of the two welcomes but the regulars at Port Talbot Town are not ones to accept terrace defeats and opened into their usual library of songs with backing trumpet and drum as the match kicked off. The away fans had sufficiently warmed and fuelled themselves up with a collection of terrace chants in the clubhouse bar before the match and a good atmosphere set the scene for what would be an entertaining match.

Port Talbot started the better of the two sides and enjoyed the majority of possession for long periods in the opening half. The first chance fell to captain Liam McCreesh but an indecisive decision on which foot to slot a ball across the box into the back of the net with saw him scuff his eventual effort wide of the post midway through the half. McCreesh would have the opportunity to make amends for his miss minutes later when he latched onto a ball over the top to find himself one on one with Paul Smith in the Bangor City goal. The attacking midfielder was more interested in who was offering support than in making a direct run towards goal and after squaring the ball across the box the chance eventually wasted away.

Striker Luke Bowen, high in confidence and form, would then have the opportunity to put Port Talbot Town ahead but his curling effort to the far post from a tight angle edged past the wrong side of the upright as the score remained level. At the other end the heavyweight frame of Les Davies cast a frustrated figure as his side resorted to long-balls forward on the counter-attack when they were eventually able to gain possession from the dominant home side. Feeble appeals for a penalty by the visitors were waved away by Oswestry referee Huw Jones before the two sides went into the break with the score surprisingly goalless.

With a crowd packed inside the clubhouse to catch fifteen minutes of the rugby and an even bigger crowd of dignitaries and officials crowded around the buffet in the sponsors suite, the theme of the alcohol-fuelled first half analysis revolved around how Port Talbot Town were not in front and that Bangor City’s hold on the Welsh Cup may be set to end in the following 45 minutes. With kick off for the second half approaching, both sets of fans joined the players in swapping ends as the travelling support formed an orderly line along the grass bank behind the clubhouse goal, and home fans returned to their popular Burns Road End patch.

With Bangor City enjoying the physical advantage, Port Talbot Town were keen not to concede too many set-pieces in and around the area, but on 49 minutes the visitors were awarded a corner and Darren Moss headed home to hand his side the lead. Port Talbot Town goalkeeper David Cornell protested for an obstruction as the visitors celebrated with their supporters but the goal would stand and Bangor City had an unexpected lead. The home side soon regained their opening half rhythm and McCreesh again found himself in a one-on-one situation as the sunshine turned to rain. The back-tracking defence eventually forced him wide of the goal however but there would be further chances as McCreesh and Luke Bowen were denied by some desperate defending in the Bangor City penalty area.

The game would be decided in controversial circumstances. On 73 minutes Bangor City striker Alan Bull controlled the ball inside the Port Talbot Town area but a late tackle by Gary Bansor brought Bull down and referee Huw Jones pointed to the spot without hesitation. Bansor was booked without complaint as captain Dave Morley walked upto the spot and into some mind games from Cornell in the Port Talbot Town goal. Morley struck the ball high and wide but the relief of the home side soon turned to frustration as referee Jones indicated that the penalty should be re-taken due to Bansor encroaching into the area. Morley and Cornell again met at the penalty spot to recommence their psychological argument but it would be advantage Morley as Cornell received a yellow card for his efforts of distraction and the Bangor City captain responded by placing a well-struck penalty into the back of the net.

Port Talbot Town were left fuming at the decision and midfielder David Brookes was booked in the subsequent protests for his animated complaining. The goal had effectively ended the contest and three minutes later a defensive mistake from Nicky Holland allowed Alan Bull the opportunity to round Cornell and score from close range to complete the scoring. Both sides used up their quota of substitutes in the remaining ten minutes before referee Jones brought the game to a close and with it extend Bangor’s incredible Welsh Cup run to twenty-one games.

The home side now have their remaining Welsh Premier League fixtures to prepare for the inaugural end of season play-offs if the club while Bangor City await the draw for the semi-final of the Welsh Cup as they head for a fourth consecutive competition win. The Citizens also have the small matter of their title challenge to concentrate on and the prize of Champions League football that comes with it. Either through missed chances or pedantic officiating, Port Talbot Town deserved more from this match than they eventually achieved and the scoreline did not reflect the performance of Mark Jones side. Bangor City meanwhile, can reflect on a convincing score with an unconvincing performance, as they move onwards and upwards in their season’s ambitions.

Mark Pitman

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