The third round of the Welsh Cup sees us welcome Caerleon to Park Hall and we go in as 1/10 favourites. With an eye on our upcoming first leg of the League Cup semi-final and it being a game against lower league opposition, I change the starting line-up completely. We’re immediately on the front foot and Jeff Whitley hits the crossbar from 20 yards out in the 9th minute, with Caerleon scrambling it away for nothing more than a corner. A corner in the 16th minute looks as though we might be awarded a penalty, but the referee takes a different view and books Joe Jones for diving. Darren Ebsworth joins him in the book 11 minutes later following a foul, whilst Penny is the third to pick up a yellow 2 minutes later for pulling back Kofi Poyser. Jay Young goes close to breaking the deadlock in the 30th minute when a mis-hit cross from the left hits the bar, which also comes to Caerleon’s rescue again in the 45th minute when it’s the turn of Lucas Akins to find the woodwork from 30 yards after a run from the halfway line. Akins receives another chance two minutes after the break, but his header from a Richie Partridge free kick is straight at the keeper. In the 65th minute, Akins sets off from the halfway line again and gets into the area, but the keeper comes out and smothers the shot. Eight minutes later, Jeff Whitley shoots from 25 yards with the inevitable result – the crossbar is rattled. It’s clearly not our day, proved further in the 80th minute when Phil Rayner plays in Kofi Poyser, but the keeper is equal to the effort. Following all our possession football and creating chances with clever passes or shooting from range, the breakthrough comes in the 84th minute when Kofi Poyser flicks on a long ball from the back and Lucas Akins gets to the ball ahead of the onrushing keeper and slots into an empty net from 20 yards for his second of the season. Kofi Poyser claims Man of the Match with a rating of 7.5 and an assist and the 189 spectators have to leave happy with a victory, but no mountain of goals as predicted. The fourth round will see us welcome Port Talbot Town to Park Hall.
The first leg of the League Cup final follows days later as Bala Town visit Park Hall and the line-up is changed completely again, with all the regulars returning for the 1/2 favourites in front of our largest attendance of the season – 480. We’re on the front foot from the off, with Paul Robson shooting narrowly over in the second minute from 18 yards. In the 14th minute, Matty Williams crosses from the left and finds Darren Otten, who can only find the side netting at the near post. Seven minutes later, an inswinging corner from Marco Pelosi is met by David Mooney, but the keeper pushes it away and Bala clear for a throw. Mooney finds the net in the 26th minute after being played in by Robson, but unfortunately it’s the side netting. Bala’s first chance of note comes in the 40th minute when Bowen is played in, but Jan Sebek is able to push the shot away and Joseph Oastler completes removing the danger by putting the ball out for a throw. The second half begins in heavy rain and Bala take the lead in farcical circumstances in the 59th minute when Robinson crosses from the right; the cross hits the back of the head of a Bala player and beats the dive of Sebek, hits the post, hits Sebek on the back of the head and trickles in for an own goal. Bala are able to double their lead when Ngoo crosses in from the left and Bowen heads in from 6 yards. Mooney goes close to pulling one back in the 88th minute after Darren Otten plays him in, but the keeper is able to save at the expense of a corner. Bowen claims Man of the Match with a rating of 7.6 and a goal and we have a two-goal deficit to overcome in a week’s time.
Before the second leg, we welcome Port Talbot Town (who are in 11th) to Park Hall for our third home game in a week. Richie Partridge comes in for Wayne Carlisle and we’re 1/6 favourites. Again, we start well and Steve Evans plays a ball over the top in the 7th minute, with only a heavy touch from David Mooney denying us a chance. Two minutes later, Joseph Oastler plays a ball over the top; Richie Partridge’s control is better, but his finishing sees the ball over the bar. We control the game well, but struggle in the final third as the next event of note is in the 42nd minute when Paudie Quinn gets booked for a trip. Mooney’s touch returns in stoppage time, but the keeper is able to push his shot away. Port Talbot go close to taking a lead against the run of play in the 59th minute, but Mirzai’s shot goes just wide, something that Mooney achieves for us in the 82nd minute. This proves to be the last chance of the game and the 215 fans have endured a dour 0-0 performance. Steve Evans claims Man of the Match with a rating of 7.7 and Airbus draw level with us on points.
Our goal-shy team travels to Maes Tegid to overturn a 2-0 deficit from the first leg against Bala Town. We’re 1/2 favourites for the match, which seems optimistic considering our recent form and the result a week ago. Danny Holmes comes in for Joseph Oastler, Jeff Whitley for Darren Otten, Wayne Carlisle for Richie Partrige, Jay Young for Paul Robson and Bagsan Graham for Matty Williams as I change from our usual 4-4-2 to a 4-2-3-1 as we go in search of goals. Graham goes close to opening the scoring in the fifth minute, but he shoots just wide from 20 yards. Bala open the scoring in the 26th minute when Ellis nods in a Waldrum cross from the left from 6 yards out. Our response is both impressive and immediate – 2 minutes later, Wayne Carlisle is brought down in the area and David Mooney steps up fires low to the keeper’s left for his 12th of the season. The stroke of half time sees what feels like a crucial moment in the tie as Jay Young crosses from the left and finds Mooney at the far post and 6 yards out; with the goal at his mercy, he somehow shoots wide. Mooney has a chance to make amends a minute into the second half after Graham plays him in, but the keeper saves his 20 yard effort. Jay Young causes more problems with a cross from the left in the 51st minute as the keeper drops it, but Bala are able to clear for a throw in. Three minutes later and there’s a goal, but unfortunately it’s against us as an outswinging corner from Waldrum sees Ngoo sliding in and his effort hitting Steve Evans before going in for an own goal, the second we’ve conceded in the tie. Mooney gets into the Bala area in the 66th minute, but the keeper saves and the rebound goes wide. The tie is put to bed in the 72nd minute when Waldrum finds Davey who fires in. I make some substitutions to rest players ahead of our weekend game and with a maximum of three substitutes named and used, goalkeeper Andrew McNeil finds himself playing in central midfield. We manage to claw a goal back in the 83rd minute when Marco Pelosi plays the ball in from the left and Bala clear to the edge of the area and, as Chris Kamara might say, unbelievable – Andrew McNeil picks the ball up and and coolly slots home for his (unsurprisingly) first of the season as well as for the club. The game finishes 3-2 in Bala’s favour as they claim the tie 5-2 to the delight of the 162 spectators. Waldrum claims Man of the Match for his three assists and finishes with a rating of 9.
Whilst we’re crashing out of the League Cup, Ibrahim Farah comes on for the Welsh U21s in the 66th minute and ends up with a rating of 8.1 and a goal in a 3-3 draw with Sweden U21s. We have to pick ourselves up and dust ourselves off and prepare for a visit to Neath.