Saints suffer at the Seaside

Mark Pitman reports from The Marston’s Stadium as Afan Lido upset the Welsh Premier League leaders. Gareth Elms was on hand for the photo’s.

Afan Lido eased their Welsh Premier League relegation worries on Friday night with the result and performance of the season. League leaders The New Saints arrived at the Marston’s Stadium looking to return to form after a rare home defeat to Bangor City the week before. Andy Dyer’s side had already defeated the only other full-time club at home this season when they edged past Neath back in August and more recently had frustrated a list of clubs challenging at the top of the table with draws against champions Bangor City, Llanelli and Neath. Addressing their limitations with a defensive line-up had suitably upset their superior opponents, but the fact that the side had not scored more than one goal in any of their previous fifteen league games this season explained their place in the bottom two.

The New Saints have seen their lead at the top cut in recent weeks but a 3-0 win over Afan Lido at Park Hall earlier in the season offered an indication that the club could and should retain their place at the top of the table following this latest fixture. While Bangor City were claiming a memorable 4-3 win at Park Hall the week before, Afan Lido were slumping to a comfortable 3-1 reverse at bottom-half side Airbus UK Broughton in a match that their usually solid defence had been easily exposed. The New Saints have consistently challenged at the top of the Welsh Premier League over the last decade and the chance of the side losing two consecutive games meant that the smart money was firmly on the visitors for this latest match.

Afan Lido 3-1 The New Saints – Corbett Sports Welsh Premier League – Friday, 19th November 2011
Influential midfielder turned man-marker Stephen Pockett was absent for Afan Lido through injury having played a significant role in the draws with Llanelli and his former club Neath while manager Andy Dyer opted to make just one change from the side that were easily defeated by Airbus UK. Daniel Thomas is one of the clubs more experienced players but his attacking influence was replaced by the defensive presence of Kristian James for the visit of their professional opposition. By comparison, The New Saints made a string of changes, as Barry Hogan, Tom Roberts and Connell Rawlinson were all drafted back into the starting eleven.

And it was the team making the changes that gained the early advantage, as within eighteen seconds of the kick off The New Saints were in-front and the game appeared over inside the opening minute. A break from the kick-off and a well-placed through ball split the Afan Lido defence and found striker Greg Draper in space to slot the ball past goalkeeper Chris Curtis. The New Saints continued to build on their exceptional start and could have scored two more over the next few minutes as those in attendance were still making their way into the ground through the turnstiles and clubhouse. The scene appeared set for a convincing away win for the league leaders.

A frank exchange of views took place across the Lido back-line after ten minutes of early pressure but the tide would turn in their favour on 18 minutes when youth team product and former Cardiff City youngster Carl Payne started and then benefited from some intricate build-up play as he drilled the ball past The New Saints goalkeeper Paul Harrison with a fine strike. The celebrations had the same intensity as the defensive arguments that had taken place minutes earlier and provide the catalyst for what would turn into the performance of the season.

Lido had equalised by pushing forward in numbers and taking the game to their opponents, it would have been acceptable for the side to sit back on their leveller, but with the best form of defence being attack the side took on the famous football cliché and continued with their new-found positive approach. Over the next twenty minutes Lido could and should have added to their lead as Leon Jeanne and Mark Jones combined and Carl Payne continued to play with a confidence prompted from his earlier goal. The New Saints were being pushed back and their frustrations became apparent when former Wales International Steve Evans was booked for a rash challenge on the touchline.

On 41 minutes the home side took a deserved lead. A foul on the edge of the area offered an opportunity for Jonathan Hood to make his mark on the game and he stepped up to place the ball into the back of the net. Goalkeeper Harrison should have done better as the ball went inside his left-hand post and while Lido celebrated in front of the visitors bench, the defensive arguments that had shook up Lido earlier in the match, were taking place at the other end. As referee Dean John signalled for half-time a surprised crowd made their way into the clubhouse and canteen, Lido’s deserved lead being the talk over the mid-match pint.

The New Saints made a double-change at the break as Matty Williams and Nicky Ward replaced Barry Hogan and Alex Darlington and the visitors responded to some serious half-time words by again creating in and around the Lido penalty area. The Lido defence remained strong however while goalkeeper Curtis was on hand for the few attacks by the visitors that reached his goal. Although good value for their lead, many expected a stronger performance from The New Saints in the second half, but the points were secured for the home side when Carl Payne latched onto a loose ball in the area to score his second goal of the night.

Defender Carl Evans retained Lido’s lead when he headed off the line on 70 minutes as the frustrated visitors slowly began to accept it would not be their night. Both sides made further changes but Lido comfortably held onto their lead and celebrated at the final whistle with the same enthusiasm as they celebrated each of their three goals. Afan Lido may have frustrated clubs challenging at the top of the table with their defensive approach, but this latest performance showed that the team can frustrate superior opposition equally as much in attack. Although they are not the best team in the league, they have more than competed against the best consistently this season, and their unique team spirit will see them frustrate a few more before the end of the campaign.

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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