Mark Pitman reports from The GenQuip Stadium as Port Talbot Town were held by local rivals from literally around the corner, Afan Lido in the Welsh Premier League. Gareth Elms was on hand for the photo’s.
Once a traditional festive derby in the Welsh Premier League, the last time Port Talbot Town and Afan Lido competed against each other with league points at stake was back in 2004-2005. Local pride was shared that season as Afan Lido claimed three points at Port Talbot before Port Talbot repeated the feat at Afan Lido, and honours remain even after the first festive game since Afan Lido’s return to the top-flight this season after this 2-2 Boxing Day draw at The GenQuip Stadium. Afan Lido have claimed the upper-hand with two Welsh Cup victories since the two sides last met in the league, the most recent being earlier this month, but this latest share of the points sets up an interesting return fixture in January.
Afan Lido went into the fixture with a three point advantage over their local rivals and approached the match in better form. Manager Andy Dyer has turned his side into over-achievers this season and his quickly-assembled squad have already taken points off the top four teams in the league table. By comparison, opposite number Mark Jones has not seen his side win since October, and has suffered defeats against the only three teams below them in the Welsh Premier League table this season. Dyer and his side also have the advantage of a Welsh Cup victory over their rivals, but went into the match without suspended defender and captain Carl Evans, while Jones had the rare luxury of having a full-strength squad to choose from for this much-anticipated derby.
Port Talbot Town 2-2 Afan Lido – Corbett Sports Welsh Premier League – Boxing Day
Manager Mark Jones has been in an experimental mood with his Port Talbot Town team selections this season and again made changes for the visit of Afan Lido. Kristian Rogers returned to the starting line-up in goal while youth team defender Aaron Biddescombe was handed his first senior start having impressed as a substitute in recent weeks. Paul Cochlin, Paul Keddle and Gareth Phillips were also included to add some strength and experience to side that has looked out of sorts for large parts of the disappointing campaign and there was a rare sense of optimism around the terraces as the two sides took to the field. Lido manager Andy Dyer recalled Jonathan Hood to the starting line-up in a side that included six former Port Talbot Town players.
The recall of Hood proved to be an inspired one by the former Neath manager as on 13 minutes he put his side ahead. Port Talbot had enjoyed the better of the early exchanges and had offered the ‘1901 Ultras’ something to sign about for once as Martin Rose showed glimpses of the form that had inspired a range of t-shirts over the summer. The chances created counted for nothing as Hood and striker Mark Jones combined to open up the Port Talbot Town defence at the other end however and the deja-vu was the only sensation experienced amongst the home fans as the players trudged back to the centre circle.
Port Talbot remained confident in their approach despite the setback and levelled on 26 minutes through Martin Rose. The striker and terrace hero had volleyed an earlier effort over the bar but having found his range he made no mistake and sparked scenes of celebration as he made his way into the main stand. Booked for his troubles, Rose knew the significance of the goal in restoring his own confidence, and Port Talbot Town once again looked the side more likely to take maximum points from the fixture.
Despite some easy-option decisions from referee Whitby regularly stopping the play, the game remained open and competitive as Lido came back into the match before the break. Former QPR and Cardiff City winger Leon Jeanne proved to be the main creator for the visitors but some desperate defending from the experimental home back-line prevented Lido from taking another lead in the fixture. No further goals would arrive before the break as both sets of fans returned to the clubhouse to catch up on their Boxing Day betting results, joining a large number inside who had failed to even make it outside for the opening half. The lure of Jeff Stelling and company had again proved too strong to even tempt local football fans into taking in their town’s derby, even though the clubs highest attendance of the season had witnessed a decent opening half.
Many criticised the Welsh Cup match that the two teams played out earlier in the month for lacking any of the traditional spark that previous encounters had been memorable for. While this occasion had offered more in the way of competitiveness, this was at the expense of quality as both sides had regularly lost the ball during an open first half. On 56 minutes however, the fans drawn away from the rotation of Premier League updates were treated to a flash of brilliance from David Brookes, as the winger placed a fine effort over Lido goalkeeper Chris Curtis to put his side in-front for the first time. More scenes of celebration followed as the frustration of recent form was released.
Port Talbot Town continued to attack with Lee John, the clubs record appearance holder in the Welsh Premier League, instrumental in playing on the vulnerable performance of Daniel Sheehan at right-back. While Curtis was rarely tested, Port Talbot were good value for their lead as the half wore on, but questions remained if a one goal lead would be enough. On 70 minutes the doubters were proved right as Jonathan Hood scored his and his sides second goal of the game with a strike from the edge of the area to beat goalkeeper Kristian Rogers. Lido were level and had the momentum for the remainder of the game as the doubts of the regular Port Talbot Town fans began to spread onto the field.
With ten minutes remaining Afan Lido had a golden chance to win the match but failed to capitalise on their latest opportunity. Further chances were created as the home fans remained as edgy as their sides defence but referee Whitby eventually brought the contest to a close and both managers were left fairly satisfied with a share of the points. For Afan Lido, it was again the regularity of yet another match without defeat, while for Port Talbot Town it was the unusual bonus of a match without defeat, while both will also wonder what could have been as Port Talbot held the lead heading into the last quarter of the match while Lido had chances at the the end to claim all three points.
Afan Lido will now welcome Port Talbot Town to The Marston’s Stadium in January. Lido remain three points ahead of their local rivals and it is a statistic that Port Talbot Town will intend to address when the two sides again meet next week. This Boxing Day fixture marked the return of one of the Welsh Premier League’s more anticipated derbies, and offered far more of a derby experience than the previous Welsh Cup encounter between the two sides. With both sides now confirmed as being being in the bottom six for the second half of the season, the town’s football community can look forward to another two derbies, while both teams can look to gain the edge and local bragging rights over their rivals.
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