Seaside frustrations for pre-season favourites

Mark Pitman reports from Aberystwyth Town and Afan Lido in a double seaside visit to the Corbett Sports Welsh Premier League.

An early split has emerged in the Corbett Sports Welsh Premier League table after just six rounds of games, and while Aberystwyth Town and Afan Lido, both find themselves in the wrong half of the table with an equal return of four points but both sides have a game on hand on the rest of the domestic top-flight. Things looked much better for the two clubs before a ball was kicked in August as they occupied the top two places, but their rise was due only to alphabetical placings over ability, and their respective lack of finishing this weekend has left them has left them in desperate need of a quick victory.

Both clubs have struggled for different reasons so far this season. Alan Morgan’s Aberystwyth had a player sent off in each one of their opening four games of the season, while Andy Dyer’s new-look newcomers Afan Lido had the unenviable task of taking on three of the best teams in the league in their first few fixtures. Both sides had recorded one win each ahead of this weekend however, Aberystwyth defeating Newtown 4-1 while Lido earned the shock result of the season with a 1-0 win over Neath, and this weekend both sides would find themselves back at their respective seaside grounds for the visits of Port Talbot Town and Airbus UK Broughton.

Aberystwyth Town 0-2 Port Talbot Town – Corbett Sports Welsh Premier League – Saturday, 10th September 2011
Lee John lead out Port Talbot Town at Park Avenue has he became the clubs record Welsh Premier League appearance holder. John would make his 193rd league start for the club and with it record a much-needed victory following the sides midweek reverse at league leaders Bala Town. Aberystwyth went into the match merely looking to finish the match with the same number of players with which they would start it with, but they caused a stir on the eve of the match with the news that manager Alan Morgan had secured the services of talented young Llanelli striker Jordan Follows on loan until the January transfer window.

Follows had been a pre-season hero for Llanelli after scoring both goals in the famous 2-1 home victory over Dinamo Tbilisi in the UEFA Europa League, but he failed to replicate that form in the return leg, and his opportunities at Stebonheath would remain surprisingly limited. Aberystwyth will now offer Follows the chance to play some regular football and he lined-up for the Black and Greens alongside former Everton youngster Lewis Codling in attack. With suspensions from their early season string of red cards affecting the sides defence and an injury ruling out talented midfielder Anthony Finselbach, the arrival of Follows offered a timely-boost for the home side, but it was the visitors who would take the early lead.

Experienced Football League campaigner Andy Parkinson would have the first chance of the match as Aberystwyth’s highest-profile summer-signing tested Port Talbot Town goalkeeper Kristian Rogers in the opening exchanges. Follows looked busy on his rare starting appearance and appeared to quickly build-up an understanding with Codling that could reap benefits for Aberystwyth in the next few weeks. An open start to the match saw Martin Rose come close with a header after 15 minutes, but Cortez Belle, featuring in a surprise midfield role, opened the scoring for the visitors from close range after 19 minutes. Aberystwyth edged the possession as they went in search of an equaliser, but Port Talbot defended well, until Nicky Holland brought down Follows inside the area.

The responsibility of the penalty would fall to Ricky Evans, but Rogers, confident after making a fine save from a Codling header minutes earlier, matched Evans from the spot and made a fine save to his left. With half-time approaching and Aberystwyth rattled by the double set-back, Chris Hartland, another summer-signing like Belle and Rogers for Mark Jones’ new-look side, put Port Talbot Town ahead with a superb run and strike from 25-yards that left goalkeeper Stephen Cann with no chance of making a save. Hartland has shown his worth since arriving from Newtown with his ability to shoot from range and justified his place in the starting line-up but putting his side two goals ahead at the interval.

Aberystwyth showed their intentions of pulling the game back early after in the second half but found penalty hero Rogers in fine form. The former Wrexham goalkeeper made a series of fine saves to deny the home side and further frustrate Codling, while the defence scrambled two efforts off the line to maintain Rogers’ clean sheet. At the other end, the impressive David Brooks brought the best out of Cann, but as the half wore on a reverse of the scoreline became all the more unlikely and the home side eventually conceded defeat with Rogers being in such superb form to keep his first clean sheet of the season.

Port Talbot Town claimed the three points by taking their opening half-chances while Aberystwyth were denied at least a share of the points by a fine performance from Kristian Rogers. Jordan Follows has a point to prove in the Welsh Premier League and the club can be confident of him bringing a few goals to the side once they return to full-strength. The pressure for a quick return to form will be on manager Alan Morgan however, after the club missed out on a top-six place last season, and he cannot afford to see his undoubtedly talented side once again under-achieve this year. As for his opposite number, Mark Jones will be delighted at his sides reaction to a midweek defeat in which they kept their first clean sheet of the season, and the only big question regarding Jones amongst the club’s fans now is what position he will play the increasingly versatile Cortez Belle next week.

More pictures can be found at the Flickr stream here.

Afan Lido 0-0 Airbus UK Broughton – Corbett Sports Welsh Premier League – Sunday, 11th September 2011
From one seaside to another as the weekends Welsh Premier League football moved South to league newcomers Afan Lido as they welcomed Airbus UK Broughton to the Marston’s Stadium. The last time the two sides met on the Aberafan beach front is particularly memorable as it was the game in which Afan Lido fielded an ineligible player and were eventually docked points that would lead to their relegation in 2005. Now under the guidance of former Neath boss Andy Dyer and his long list of backroom staff, a new-look Lido side went in search of their second win of the season in the swirling sea breeze.

And Dyer had every right to be confident as their opposition would be the only club in the Welsh Premier League yet to record a victory this season. The visitors arrived with a talented squad and a dugout full of staff to match the home side. In fact, the visual similarities of the two benches was completed by Dyer and opposite number Craig Harrison as they stood and barked their way through the game, the duo looking as if they had emerged from the same hairdressers before the match. It become obvious from the start that the strong wind would have the biggest influence on the match, but an early injury would prove to be one of the very few talking points of the game.

Experienced Airbus UK defender Tommy Holmes landed awkwardly after a defensive challenge and dislocated his elbow as a result. Play was delayed for 30 minutes as an ambulance arrived to eventually lead Holmes off the field and the players re-emerged from their respective changing rooms to continue with the opening half. Mark Allen replaced Holmes in the centre of the Airbus defence as both sides attempted unsuccessfully to re-motivate themselves for the fixture.

After a decent performance in their defeat to Neath last weekend, Airbus struggled to show any of the build-up play that had enabled them to create a few chances at the Gnoll and instead resorted to driving the ball high into the air. Glenn Rule was the biggest culprit and Harrison was left screaming at his side to play the ball on the floor midway through the half after failing to test Afan Lido goalkeeper Chris Curtis. As in the defeat to Neath however, defender Danny Taylor and midfielder Craig Whitfield did impress on the rare occasions that they found themselves in possession, while the forward duo of Michael Hayes and Ian Sheridan will cause defences problems over the course of the season should the side start to provide them with the right service.

At the other end, Afan Lido settled back into the match after the long delay ahead of their opponents, with Leon Jeanne a constant problem on the right of midfield with his trickery making enough space to cross for the attacking presence of Mark Jones and his efforts were match on the left by Tyrone Topper. Liam McCreesh provided the engine in midfield while Carl Evans comfortably cleared the aimless high balls sent his way by Rule as half-time approached. Airbus UK goalkeeper Niki Lee-Bulmer had to be on form to deny Jones when he should have scored and both sides returned to the changing room of the second time with the score surprisingly level.

The second half would fail to inspire as the long afternoon appeared to catch up with the players as much as the few fans in attendance. Afan Lido again created the better chances through Jeanne and Topper pushing forward from wide positions and the side could have capitalised a lot more from the crosses they had created if tall striker Andy Hill had not been playing in an unfamiliar deep position in midfield. Jones again had chances but as Lido went in search of a winning goal, Airbus finally started to play some football with the wind behind them, as Sheridan and Hayes combined well before the latter was replaced on 75 minutes.

Two Liam McCreesh corners caused problems in the last few minutes of the match as the strong wind almost caused a goal, despite it preventing any football from being played for long-periods of the match. Airbus UK defended all that was thrown at them however, and held on for a point and a clean sheet they didn’t really look like earning on the balance of play. Lido would have probably taken a point and a clean sheet before the match after a tough start to their first season back in the top-flight, but will be frustrated that they could not make the most of the better chances that they created during the match.

Neither match on the respective part of the Welsh coastline had provided anything memorable but frustrating results for both home sides would be a fair reflection of the weekend and of their seasons so far. Both sides remain in the bottom six positions after being denied a better return by their opponents goalkeeper, but both also showed enough to suggest that improved results will arrive sooner rather than later for the two clubs that topped the pre-season league table.

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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