The greatest derby in the world

Mark Pitman reports from The GenQuip Stadium as Afan Lido claim another Welsh Cup win over their rivals. Gareth Elms was on hand for the photo’s.

The first competitive match between local rivals Port Talbot Town and Afan Lido for over four years was a very different affair to famed previous encounters, but the only consistent of derby days passed was on hand to head home the headlines as the scoreline once again went in favour of the visitors. The two sides, separated by a couple of streets in the South Wales town, last met when they were drawn together in the Welsh Cup back in 2007 and a 1-0 win for the Lido was as good then as it was again in this latest contest. The fixture had a string of similarities in terms of the competition, the venue, the score, the goal and the importance, but the personal and the passion of previous derby days were very sadly missing.

The scene was set for another intense encounter between two sides battling for local supremacy, but the match echoed little of what has made this fixture so famous over the last decade. Over the years the fixture has been memorable for midfield battles, red cards, penalties and controversy in front of a crowd quadrupled for a one-off occasion. Sadly, this latest instalment lacked it all. Since the last time the two sides met, both teams now have different managers and while Leigh De-Vulgt, Lee John, Martin Rose and substitute Dylan Blain remain for the home side, the only name still on the Lido team-sheet from that 1-0 win in 2007 was Carl Evans. Although Evans played briefly for Port Talbot Town after that win, he like so many others before eventually him found his way back to Lido, and it would be his winning goal that would decide the tie. Afan Lido left-back Craig Hanford should also receive a mention at this time, he was part of the Port Talbot Town side that lost the 2007 fixture.

Port Talbot Town’s promotion to the Welsh Premier League back in 2000 made them challengers to the local status held at the time by the established Afan Lido. Over the next few years Port Talbot Town edged ahead in derby victories and Lido were eventually relegated as the blues claimed the local crown over the reds. Lido are now back in the top-flight and under the guidance of new manager Andy Dyer the side have gradually improved this season with the former Neath boss bringing the best out of his quickly assembled team. Moving above Port Talbot Town in the table just a few days before this Welsh Cup tie offered a psychological boost as they prepared to take on their nearest rivals. Lido’s opportunity to move above Mark Jones’ side was also helped by the current form of the Steelmen, while injuries and suspensions did little to assist the home sides preparations for the big Welsh Cup derby.

Traditionally a fixture for Boxing Day, New Year or Easter, the Sunday afternoon date in early December did little to inspire the locals as less than 500 arrived at The GenQuip Stadium for a fixture that has previously attracted twice as many in twice as bad conditions. Those in attendance brought the usual noise and passion now associated with Port Talbot Town that was deserved of the occasion, but the intensity was lost on the field, as both sides offered referee Kevin Morgan a fairly easy afternoon when so many of his colleagues would have spun him tales of former Port Talbot derby encounters and the key role they had played in them as both hero and villain. With both sides confined to the bottom half of the table for the rest of the domestic season, the Welsh Cup offered a crucial opportunity for both sides to achieve success and also for a player to add his name to the list of derby legends. Expectancy levels were high.

Port Talbot Town 0-1 Afan Lido – Welsh Cup 3rd Round – Sunday, 4th December 2011
With a lower than expected crowd in attendance, the two sides lined-up in sombre mood to pay respects to Gary Speed on a weekend when tributes for the former Wales manager had taken place across the country. A minute’s silence was followed by applause and recognition for the man that had restored pride and belief in the Welsh national team as the game began. Both sides enjoyed a share of possession, losing it through misplaced passes rather than mistimed tackles, as both sets of players showed a level of respect to their opponents. For most, it was their first experience of playing in the fixture, and the importance appeared lost for long periods of the opening half. There were half-chances, comfortable saves and off-target efforts, but the only thing about the match that made it the Port Talbot derby were the shirts being played in, everything else just mirrored any other Welsh Premier League fixture.

There was no Chris Pridham, no Nathan Wigg, no Paul Evans, no Gary Twynham, no Craig Lima, no Craig Hughes, no Gary Underwood, no Andrew Rickard, no Brian Thomas, no Gary Wager, no Dean Johnston, no Robert Cockings, no Liam McCreesh, no Phil Holmes, no Kevin Bartley, no Wayne Goodridge, no Mitch Patton, no Stephen Parry, no Matthew Rees, no Rhys Griffiths, no Andrew Pearson, no Russell Wigley, no Gary Davies, no Karl Lewis, no derby heroes and no derby legends. The match was close, competitive in a footballing sense, but it was not the Port Talbot derby that had previously inspired both clubs to compete, and strive to improve, in order to have that derby edge when the fixture next rolled around.

On 38 minutes Carl Evans headed Afan Lido into the lead. Evans was the only remaining Lido veteran of the 2007 victory and his goal was set-up by two former Port Talbot Town players as Leon Jeanne won the corner that Danny Thomas crossed. Martin Rose had come close to heading Port Talbot Town in-front earlier in the half but the striker could only place the ball narrowly wide. The two chances defined the half and the game as Afan Lido went onto claim an eventual win. The lack of derby intensity filtered through to the Port Talbot Town faithful at the break as they considered how and why they again found themselves in a situation all too familiar in recent weeks, while the Lido contingent looked optimistically forward to the second half despite the wind and rain.

Port Talbot Town manager Mark Jones made changes during the second half and his side created chance after chance. Shots from long-range and short-range went high and wide as frustrations increased and Lido became more and more determined to hold onto their lead. The home fans offered the terrace edge over their opponents, but it would prove irrelevant, as referee Kevin Morgan brought the game to a close. Like so many derby’s before, a single goal had separated the two sides, the only difference being that the other derby’s had been memorable occasions. Lido’s reward is a home match against Welsh Premier League rivals Airbus UK Broughton in the 4th round, Dyer’s side are defensively dogged at their Marston’s Stadium, and will fancy their chances against Craig Harrison’s team.

The two sides will now meet twice over the next few weeks and twice in the second half of the season, there is also a chance they could meet in the League Cup. The fixture is a famous one in for the town’s football public, but this first competitive derby for over four years suggests that the real derby fixture that has been so crucial for both clubs, and loved by so many, may just now be a thing of the past. The fixture has been made famous over the years by the characters involved and the legends it has made, on Sunday’s performance however, it may now just be another fixture. Afan Lido, of course, may have a different view.

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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