Following our less than inspiring home draw against 10th-placed Newtown, Christmas is not full of fun and festivity. However, there’s a chance to get into the spirit of the season with a trip to Park Avenue to take on 8th-placed Aberystwyth Town. We travel as 4/6 favourites and I make three changes: Richie Partidge for Wayne Carlisle, David Nixon returning at the expense of Joe Jones and Ibrahim Farah getting the nod over Conor Hourihane. The match sees a couple of milestones, as Partridge records his 225th career league appearance, whilst Steve Evans notches up his 325th career league appearance. Whilst going in as favourites, Aberystwyth start with purpose and in the third minute, Osawe shoots from 20 yards, but it’s straight at Jan Sebek. The 26th minute sees Paudie Quinn go off injured. Three minutes after the injury, Matty Williams plays in David Mooney, who can only shoot wide; two minutes later, it’s Williams with the chance after a left wing cross from Marco Pelosi, but he shoots straight at the keeper from 10 yards out. The 39th minute sees Osawe with another chance, but he heads a right wing cross over the crossbar from the penalty spot. The final chance of the half falls to Paul Robson, who crashes an effort against the crossbar from 30 yards in the 45th minute. The other crossbar sees action in the 50th minute, with Darren Otten grazing it from 20 yards out. It’s evidently going to be another of those days. But it’s not, as four minutes later, Robson runs down the left and crosses; the cross is met by David Mooney with a diving header from 8 yards out for his 14th of the season. An inswinging corner from Otten in the 75th minute reaches Nixon and he gets bundled over. The referee has no hesitation and points to the spot. Otten places the ball on the spot and shoots to the keeper’s left; he hits the post and… scores! Thankfully, it’s the inside of the post and rolls in – I’m glad he’s put it out of the reach of the keeper, but it was a bit nervy! Aberystwyth have a chance to set up a grandstand finish for the 306 in attendance in the 83rd minute when Roberts beats the offside trap to create a one-on-one with Sebek, but he shoots wide and we see the game out for a 2-0 victory. David Nixon is named Man of the Match with a rating of 8.1 and he gets credited with an assist for being fouled for the penalty.
The result sees us go top by 2 points as Bangor lose to third place Carmarthen, which is a great result for them and brings them into contention (they’re 4 points behind us). However, the victory that takes us top comes with a heavy price as the physio’s prognosis on Paudie Quinn is not good; he’s strained his knee ligaments and he’ll be out for a couple of months. He’s straight off to World Soccer Magazine, speaking of his devastation at missing the Welsh Cup tie against Port Talbot at the beginning of February.
Three days after our victory at Aberystwyth, we entertain fifth-placed Haverfordwest County at Park Hall. We’re 1/6 favourites and the 196 in attendance see four changes from our last game – Darren Otten replaces the injured Paudie Quinn, Conor Hourihane is back for Ibrahim Farah, Wayne Carlise replaces Richie Partridge on the right wing and Lucas Akins starts in place of Matty Williams (Joseph Oastler takes the captain’s armband). Akins starts well and crosses from the left wing in the 10th minute; Carlisle meets the cross with his head from 8 yards out, but can only head over. Seven minutes later and Carlise gets his goal (his 4th of the season) when Paul Robson crosses from the left and he slides in, meeting the ball 6 yards out. Haverfordwest look to hit back and Rose-Miles shoots just over from 20 yards in the 24th minute. A minute later, we’re back on the attack and the ball gets crossed in from the left to Mooney, who goes down. The referee has no hesitation and blows his whistle – penalty! Sadly, no; he judges that Mooney has dived and produces a yellow card. We continue to have joy down the left and Marco Pelosi crosses from the left in the 27th minute and finds Akins in the area; he goes to the goal line and passes back to Paul Robson who powers the ball through the keeper and into the net for his third of the season. Hourihane looks to add his name to the scoresheet in the 32nd minute with a shot from 25 yards, but he grazes the bar. The 57th minute sees the second yellow card of the game as Todd picks one up for pulling Mooney’s shirt. Haverfordwest have a chance to pull one back in the 70th minute when Mason turns Steve Evans, but his finish is poor and he shoots over from 18 yards. Two minutes later, there’s disruption at the back as Pelosi goes off injured (thankfully, it’s only for the match and the physio has nothing to report afterwards). Haverfordwest look to capitalise on this and McLaren crosses from our left in the 79th minute to the far post, where there’s an unmarked Burgess, who wastefully heads over from 6 yards out. We ensure that we’ll claim all the points in the 85th minute when a Hourihane free kick from the left is headed by Gascoigne into his own net. Haverfordwest grab a consolation goal in stoppage time when a pass from Todd finds Mason, who cuts inside Evans and finishes from 18 yards, but we record a good win. Paul Robson picks up Man of the Match with a rating of 8.6 along with a goal and an assist.
As 2012 comes to an end, we’re top of the league by 2 points. As well as being top of the league at the end of the year, there are a number of awards for December 2012; Paul Robson comes second in Player of the Month and makes Team of the Month, whilst Darren Otten come second for Young Player of the Month and Ibrahim Farah is third. Modesty forbids me from mentioning who claims December Manager of the Month, but it’s nice to have a trophy on my mantelpiece at the start of 2013! There’s further good news as Joseph Oastler signs a new contract until 2017, Marco Pelosi signs on until 2015 and Ibrahim Farah extends his contract until 2014. Roll on 2013!