Legg rolls back the Welsh Cup glory years

Llanelli 1-0 Prestatyn TownWelsh Cup Quarter-Final – 5th March 2011 – by Mark Pitman

Llanelli player-manager Andy Legg was 22 years-old when he first lifted the Welsh Cup as a Swansea City player, and he repeated the achievement with the club again when he was 24. That last triumph took place in 1991, but last weekend the now 44 year-old rolled back the years to score the only goal as his side booked their place in the semi-final of one of the oldest cup competitions in the world. It has been twenty years since Legg last won the Welsh Cup, but his side are now just two wins away from winning the competition for the first time in their long and proud history.

The Reds went into the match against their North Wales opponents as favourites despite a long injury list. An unfamiliar defensive line-up offered some concerns for the Stebonheath crowd as Prestatyn arrived boasting their feared forward pairing of Steve Rogers and Lee Hunt, although the visitors preparations were not helped by the decision of the club to book a 70-seater coach for the journey. Their method of transport being more suited to a school trip than a match that could leave Prestatyn just two wins away from a European debut.

After impressing in the 4-0 league win over big-spenders Neath, midfielder Ashley Evans was rewarded with a place in the starting line-up as he occupied one of the spaces left in midfield as captain for the day Antonio Corbisiero and Kris Thomas reverted to defensive roles alongside their manager and left-back Andy Legg. Prestatyn had the luxury of naming a strong starting line-up as the makeshift home defence warmed-up in preparation to face Rogers and Hunt and bright sunshine and a cold win welcomed the two teams out of the tunnel as the conservatively confirmed crowd of 169 spaced themselves out around Stebonheath.

Llanelli started the better of the two sides with Owain Warlow allowed space to run at the Prestatyn Town defence while the visitors soaked up the early pressure and looked to make an impact of their own on the counter-attack. Neither side particularly impressed with the ball being given away cheaply by both sets of players. Prestatyn created a half chance from a corner but Steve Rogers effort was blocked from close range while Chris Holloway shot wide at the other end. The rare situation of both teams naming player-managers in the starting line-up moved the frustrations brought on by the lack of quality away from the touchline and onto the pitch, as Andy Legg and his opposite number Neil Gibson concentrated more on their players games than on their own game. The turning point of the game was not far away though, and it would turn on a moment of brilliance.

Despite playing in an unfamiliar defensive role, Antonio Corbisiero made a run deep into the Prestatyn half before being brought down on the edge of the area by Ross Stephens after 17 minutes of the match. The resulting free-kick was set up nicely for a left-footed strike and it was Andy Legg that decided to take it on and made no mistake by curling a fantastic effort over the wall and past goalkeeper Jonathan Hill-Dunt in the Prestatyn goal. It was a free-kick that was in the back of the net the second it left Legg’s left foot, and would prove to be the defining moment of the match.

Frustrated before the opening goal, things became steadily worse for Prestatyn as striker Lee Hunt was shown a yellow card for dissent and within minutes both sets of players became involved in an ugly altercation following a heavy challenge. Referee Lee Evans then appeared to take the easy option by booking two players from each side as the crowd of players dispersed. With noticeably tensions raised, Llanelli defender Wyn Thomas found himself with a mouthful of blood shortly after the re-start and as he was taken off treatment his actions suggested in no uncertain terms that he had been on the receiving end of an elbow.

With Thomas off the field, Llanelli looked even more unfamiliar at the back as Chris Holloway reverted to the centre of defence. Prestatyn came close to an equaliser as Lee Hunt headed wide from a corner but the hard-working Ashley Evans could have added a second for the home side but his effort went high and wide. After what seemed an age on the touchline, Thomas was eventually allowed to return to field and his return would prove crucial for Llanelli in the second half. As referee Lee Evans brought a bad-tempered opening half to a close and then drew out the winning half-time raffle ticket on his way to the dressing room, Legg went in the happier of the two player-managers, but well-aware that his side had another tough half ahead if they were to progress into the last four of the competition.

Prestatyn came out with a more positive approach in the second half but the lack of quality by both sides soon became the over-riding factor of the match. Struggling to string a series of passes together, both sides took on a more direct approach to their attacking play and it was a style that worked better for the home side than for the visitors. Steve Rogers and Lee Hunt combine best for Prestatyn when Rogers is able to hold up the ball and play his strike partner in, but their long balls forward to Rogers were easily dealt with by the wounded Wyn Thomas, and as a result the supply line to Hunt was cut.

The visitors may have had the physical advantage, but Llanelli had the pace to cause problems and it was Owain Warlow who enjoyed some space on the left but quality deliveries were few and far between. With Prestatyn often receiving back possession, they were able to mount occasional attacks of their own, as Llanelli turned to desperate defending to prevent an equaliser while Prestatyn started to run out of time and began to vent the aggression from their frustrations on each other. Player-manager Neil Gibson opted for a dugout perch to oversee the remaining ten minutes of the match but his influence on the field would have made more of an impact as Llanelli held on for the victory, despite Prestatyn forcing a series of corners in injury time.

The win sets up a semi-final for Llanelli against current Principality Welsh Premier League champions The New Saints. It will be a difficult test for the Reds but one they must take on if Andy Legg is again lift the Welsh Cup as a player, twenty years after his last triumph. Legg casts a figure on the field younger than his birth certificate suggests and his 90-minute performance and goal in this otherwise miserable affair also suggests that he still has plenty to offer at this level. The Welsh Cup has eluded Llanelli over the years but it has not eluded Legg, and there would be better prize for Legg to win as his first major trophy in management than the Welsh Cup.

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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