After our 5-1 thumping at Carmarthen, it’s not too surprising that we don’t walk away with any end of month awards. However, Paul Robson and David Mooney do make it into the January Team of the Month.
They say that after a big loss, the best thing to do is get straight back into action, which is just as well because the 4th Round of the Welsh Cup is just three days after our visit to Carmarthen. We welcome Port Talbot Town to Park Hall and I make 11 changes, which includes Darren Otten returning from suspension, Scott McBride making his first start since coming back from injury and Steven Smith making his debut. We’re 1/3 favourites, but after our last performance, I’m not feeling all that confident. We start off in the snow and in the 4th minute, Bagsan Graham plays in Kofi Poyser, but he shoots straight at the keeper. The snow soon turns to rain and the football on offer is less inspiring than the weather. The game sprang into life just before half time, as in the 44th minute, Scott McBride crosses from the left wing and Kofi Poyser heads in from 6 yards out for his 3rd of the season. Things get better almost immediately as in stoppage time, Darren Otten fires a free kick through the wall from 25 yards out into the keeper’s bottom right for his 5th of the season. We almost extend our lead further in the 50th minute when Bagsan Graham cuts the ball back from the right bye-line; the cross hits a defender and hits the post before being cleared to safety. The 54th minute sees the first card of the game as Clifford gets booked for fouling Poyser. A 2-0 lead is always said to be a dangerous scoreline, which Danny Holmes proves in the 64th minute when he plays a diagonal ball across our penalty area and Mirzai intercepts with a header on the 18 yard line that loops over Aaron McCarey and cuts our lead in half. Two minutes later, McBride has a chance to restore our two-goal lead, but can only head wide from 6 yards when unmarked at the far post. Danny Holmes’ afternoon gets worse in the 67th minute when he gets booked, although Clifford ends up with the worst afternoon when he fouls Poyser (again!) in the 73rd minute and the referee produces a yellow card and then the red. We comfortably see the game out to the delight of the 406 in attendance, but without really threatening further. Kofi Poyser is named Man of the Match with a rating of 8 and the contribution of a goal and an assist.
After the distraction of the Cup, we return to the league and the game against Carmarthen was the last one before the table splits into two. We start at the top of the table and the first of our final 10 league games is at home against the team we have also drawn at home for the quarter final of the Welsh Cup, fifth-placed Haverfordwest County. We’re 1/3 favourites and some more regular faces return to the starting line up, although Aaron McCarey, Steven Smith, Darren Otten and Scott McBride remain in the starting eleven. Lucas Akins returns to the starting eleven and makes his 75th career league appearance. Despite being favourites, it’s Haverfordwest who break the deadlock in the 14th minute when an outswinging corner from the right finds Gascoigne, who lashes the ball in from 8 yards. Ten minutes later, David Mooney is played in, but his shot is straight at the keeper. David Nixon picks up a booking in the 36th minute. In the 39th minute, David Mooney dribbles to the right of the area and crosses along the floor; his cross is met by Lucas Akins sliding in at the far post from 10 yards out, who celebrates his 75th career league start with his 7th goal of the season. We continue with the pressure and in the 49th minute, Mooney dribbles into the area again and Davies brings him down. The referee has no hesitation and points to the spot. Darren Otten finds the side of the net to the keeper’s right for his 6th of the season and to give us a 2-1 lead. A one-goal lead is always precarious and there’s a scare in the 55th minute when Collins takes a free kick from the right and finds Evans at the far post, who heads just over from 8 yards. Thankfully, we’re able to establish a two-goal lead in the 76th minute when Darren Otten slides in David Mooney, who fires the ball past the keeper for his 16th goal of the season and also his 75th career league goal, which he scores in front of 218 fans. Mooney has a chance to grab his 17th of the season in stoppage time when Ibrahim Farah plays him in, but he shoots straight at the keeper. Despite this, David Mooney is named as Man of the Match with a rating of 8.6, helped by a goal and two assists. The victory has us top by three points as Carmarthen beat Bangor and leapfrog them into second.
There are U21 international friendlies mid-week and Darren Otten and Aaron McCarey get call-ups for Wales and the Republic of Ireland respectively. Otten comes on as a substitute and records a rating of 6.6 as Wales U21s draw 1-1 at Chinese Taipei U21s. Aaron McCarey is also a substitute, recording a rating of 6.7 as Republic of Ireland U21s lose 3-0 at Italy U21s.
Both are available for our next league match, which sees us travel to The Airfield to take on fourth-placed Airbus UK. We’re 1/2 favourites, but Airbus UK decide to take a physical approach to try and level the odds in front of their 107 fans. Wraighte picks up a yellow card for the hosts in the 7th minute and a minute later, Lucas Akins shoots tamely at the keeper from 20 yards. In the 10th minute, David Nixon goes off injured and five minutes later, Edwards picks up a booking. In the 21st minute, Akins hits a much better shot (this time from 30 yards) that beats the keeper, but unfortunately not the crossbar. We continue to put the pressure on and in the 31st minute, an inswinging Darren Otten corner finds David Mooney at the near post and he finds the net. Sadly for us, it’s the side-netting. Three minutes after Mooney finds the side-netting, Akins finds the crossbar again, this time from 25 yards out. It proves to be his last effort of the afternoon as he becomes our second injury of the afternoon. Bagsan Graham replaces him and shoots just wide in the 53rd minute. Three minutes later, Conor Hourihane crosses from the left and finds Wayne Carlisle unmarked at the far post and he makes no mistake from 6 yards out and scores his 5th goal of the season. We have a great chance to make it 2-0 in the 59th minute when Bagsan Graham picks up a loose defensive header, but he can only shoot straight at the keeper. Wayne Carlisle becomes our third casualty of the afternoon in the 65th minute in an incident that also sees Wraighte pick up his second yellow card of the afternoon. In the 71st minute, Bagsan Graham crosses from the right and Paul Robson heads just over, missing the chance to score on his 50th league appearance for us. In stoppage time, Bagsan Graham is fouled in the penalty area and Darren Otten wraps the victory up with a penalty low to the keeper’s left that hits the side of the net before the back for his 7th goal of the season. Joseph Oastler is named Man of the Match, with a rating of 8.5. We remain top by three points.
After the battle at The Airfield, the physio comes with his report. Wayne Carlisle is not out for any period of time, David Nixon is out for 6 days with a dead leg, whilst Lucas Akins has a pulled hamstring and will be out for 5-6 weeks, so there will definitely be a change or two before our next game at Bangor in 10 days time. In news around the league, tenth-place Llanelli sack Andy Legg. Whilst in no danger of relegation due to Bridgend struggling so much, they were joint favourites for the title at the start of the season, so to be in 10th with 8 games to go has seen the patience of the board run out.