Finishing off the year

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!

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Highs and lows

After a break of 10 days, we travel to Park Avenue to take on Aberystwyth Town, who had held us to a draw in our last match. The match is in the League Cup and we go in as 2/5 favourites. The league is my priority, so I rest some players to ensure they will be 100% for the league game at the weekend; Darren Ebsworth comes in for Marco Pelosi, Paul Robson for McBride, Richie Partridge for Wayne Carlisle, Kofi Poyser for David Mooney and Lucas Akins for Matty Williams. Andrew McNeil also comes in due to Jan Sebek, who is away on U21 International duty for the Czech Republic (he comes on as an 85th minute substitute in a 0-0 draw with Cyprus U21s) – hopefully the 265 in attendance won’t be too disappointed that not all our big names are playing. Aberystwyth start the better side, but don’t create any real chances of note. We go closest to breaking the deadlock through a header from 16 yards by Poyser, but it is still a fair way wide. The header was from a cross by Robson and four minutes later, the same duo combine again but with success, Poyser sliding in on the 6 yard line just ahead of the keeper to score his first of the season. Robson remains in the action, picking up a yellow card in the 41st minute. We hold the lead going in to half-time, but Aberystwyth start the second half well and McNeil is called into action by Codling from 18 yards after a loose pass by Lucas Akins. The lead is doubled in the 74th minute as a cross from Darren Otten is chested down by Jeff Whitley to the right of the penalty spot and then volleyed in between the keeper and the near post for Whitley’s first of the season. McCarten picks up a yellow card in the 83rd minute after bringing down Kofi Poyser. In the 90th minute, McQuilkin brings down David Nixon in the area after a corner and Darren Otten steps up, powering the penalty into the net to the right hand side of the keeper for his first ever goal for TNS. The goal caps an impressive performance from Otten, who claims Man of the Match with a rating of 8.5 and a goal and assist to his name.

Four days later, we return to league action with a journey to Bridge Meadow Stadium to take on Haverfordwest and I make a number of changes from our League Cup success; Sebek for McNeil, Oastler (returning from his suspension) for Holmes, Pelosi for Ebsworth, Carlisle for Partridge, McBride for Robson and Mooney for Akins. After Poyser’s impressive performance in the League Cup and Williams having a poor last league game, I decide to give Poyser a chance to fight for a regular place in the starting line up. We start well, with David Mooney running down the right in the opening minute and picking out Kofi Poyser 20 yards out with a cross from the right, but the shot is wild and goes over. Roberts picks up a yellow card following a foul on Nixon in the 11th minute and in the 15th minute, Haverfordwest have their first chance as Rose-Miles shoots from 25 yards and Sebek smartly pushes the ball around the post. The deadlock is broken in the 30th minute when McLaren crosses from the right and Rose-Miles fires the hosts into the lead from 12 yards. Things go from bad to worse three minutes later as the same duo combine with the same result, this time a cross being met by Rose-Miles with a diving header from 8 yards. Haverfordwest go in to half-time with a 2-0 lead (although Gascoigne and Todd pick up yellow cards) and I make it clear to the boys that I expect better. We show more fight in the second half, with Marco Pelosi picking up a yellow card in the 48th minute. Scott McBride goes clear in the 64th minute, but a heavy touch allows the keeper to come out and smother the effort and the defence manage to clear. Two minutes later, Rose-Mills goes close to getting his hat-trick, but Sebek saves well. With three minutes to go, McBride steals the ball on the halfway line and runs into the area before being brought down. Darren Otten picks up the ball, places it on the spot and drives it low to the keeper’s right for his second of the season and in as many games; it’s also his first league goal. Unfortunately, it proves to be too little too late and we slump to a surprising 2-1 loss. Rose-Miles picks up Man of the Match for his two goals (rating of 8.8), but I’m too busy telling the team I’m not happy and I’m sure that all our fans watching on TV are feeling exactly the same, especially as the 5 point lead we held two games ago has disappeared and Airbus are level on points with us. Whilst I may not be happy, the 242 inside Bridge Meadow Stadium surely go home happy.

We’re back in action a week later, with Bala Town the visitors to Park Hall. We go in as 1/3 favourites and I make one change, with Ibrahim Farah coming in for Jeff Whitley as I look for a bit more creativity from the centre of midfield, something I feel has been lacking since the injury to Conor Hourihane. My midfield injury crisis (Hourihane is out and Paudie Quinn is returning for the reserves to get match fitness) worsens in the sixth minute with Scott McBride’s participation over; it’s a hip injury and he’s off to the specialist and will be out for three months. I don’t know if this further injury setback is the reason, but we seem to struggle to get going and Waldrum goes close for the visitors in the 21st minute with an effort from 20 yards, which Mooney matches two minutes later. In the 25th minute, Ibrahim Farah picks up a clearance from the keeper around the halfway line and runs into the box before firing past the keeper for his first of the season on his first appearance. There’s little further action in the half, although Joseph Oastler picks up a yellow card in stoppage time. The second half is devoid of action as well, with the best chance coming after Ibrahim Farah crosses into the box from the left, but Darren Otten tamely shoots at the keeper from 18 yards and he saves it with ease. Irving picks up a booking for the visitors in the 81st minute, whilst Steve Evans gets booked in stoppage time for blocking Ngoo. Oastler is Man of the Match with a rating of 7.5. It’s hardly a classic, but the 202 fans can leave happy with the three points despite an unremarkable performance and a draw for Airbus sees us top the table by 2 points. Airbus are the next visitors to Park Hall in three days time in the Quarter Final of the League Cup.

Back in action (finally)

A couple of the lads have some U21 games, with Joe Jones coming on as substitute for Northern Ireland in the 79th minute during a 1-1 draw with Estonia, whilst Conor Hourihane came on for the Republic of Ireland in the 74th minute of a 1-0 loss against Georgia, getting a rating of 6.7.

Three weeks after our last league match, we travel to Mid Wales Leisure, Latham Park to take on Newtown. We go in as 4/6 favourites and with an eye on our re-arranged midweek fixture against Llanelli, I bring in Paul Robson to rest Scott McBride and Darren Otten returns from his suspension and takes the place of Jeff Whitley. We get off to a good start, with David Mooney having an effort pushed away in the first minute and eight minutes later, Matty Williams goes close from 20 yards. The pressure tells in 13th minute as Paul Robson crosses from the left and Matty Williams is far more successful from 6 yards, registering his first goal of the season. Things get even better two minutes later as a diagonal ball from Conor Hourihane picks out Richie Partridge, who puts in a cross that is not cleared and David Mooney is on hand to tuck the ball in for his third of the season. The half then goes quiet until the 41st minute when Griffiths runs from the halfway line and passes to dangerman Klein-Davis, who rolls the ball into the net to pull one back for Newtown. Griffiths nearly gets one himself on the stroke of half time, his effort going just wide. The second half isn’t much of a thriller, although Williams plays the ball around the corner on the halfway line for Mooney, who runs into the box and sees his effort pushed away. Cadwallader gets booked in the 75th minute for fouling Matty Williams on the halfway line. Steve Evans nearly adds a third when he cannons an effort against the post from 25 yards after Marco Pelosi picks him out from the right after a corner. We hold on quite comfortably for the victory to the disappointment of the majority of the 261 fans and although Steve Evans didn’t score, he did have the consolation of making his 225th league appearance. Matty Williams claims Man of the Match with his goal and a rating of 7.8.

Four days later, we welcome Llanelli to Park Hall Stadium. We go into the match as 4/5 favourites against a team who are joint favourites for the title with ourselves. Scott McBride returns to the left wing and Robson drops to the bench, whilst Jeff Whitley replaces Darren Otten in the centre of midfield and Wayne Carlisle makes his debut by replacing Richie Partridge on the right. I consider McBride and Carlisle to be my strongest wide midfielders and hope they will have success against a Llanelli side lining up in a 3-4-3 formation. The teams cancel each other out in the opening half hour, with Howland going the closest to breaking the deadlock in the 22nd minute with a 20 yard effort that Jan Sebek watches wide. In the 38th minute, Marco Pelosi takes a free kick on the right and side and swings it to the far post where it is met by the diving head of Steve Evans who makes no mistake from 6 yards to open the scoring and his account for the season. His celebrations are short lived though as he gets booked within a minute of the game restarting for a trip. On the stroke of half time, McBride runs down the left and crosses; Wayne Carlisle gets ahead of the keeper and nods into an empty net from 6 yards for a goal on his debut (and his 50th career league goal), delighting the 209 spectators. I was hoping my wide midfielders would have an impact and one of them setting up the other certainly counts! We remain in control in the second half; Jeff Whitley goes close from 25 yards in the 48th minute, a poor first touch from Scott McBride in the 61st minute allows the keeper to claim and five minutes later, his touch is better and he goes down in the area, but the referee doesn’t award a penalty. Matty Williams plays in his 175th career league game, but Marco Pelosi claims Man of the Match with a rating of 8.5 and an assist to his name. The win sees us go top of the table as we draw level with the rest of the league for games played.

Three days later, we welcome Bridgend to Park Hall and go in as 1/6 favourites. After the game midweek, I make some changes to keep the team fresh; Partridge replaces Carlise, Otten comes in for Whitley and Robson returns at McBride’s expense. In the 12th minute, Matty Williams plays in David Mooney who fires the ball into the net, but the linesman has his flag up for offside and Mooney’s effort is chalked off. Mooney is not to be denied and scores three minutes later after turning his man and firing in from 25 yards for his 4th of the season. Between Mooney’s disallowed and allowed goal, Cook picks up a yellow card for fouling Richie Partridge. In the 20th and 25th minute, Mooney rolls his man again, but shoots wide both times. In the 27th minute, Richie Partridge runs down the right and crosses from the byeline; his cross is met by Matty Williams running in late who crashes a volley against the bar from 12 yards. Bridgend are amongst the favourites to go down and the 32nd minute gives ample evidence of why this is the case as Robson goes down under a challenge outside the area. The keeper was already rushing out and blasts a clearance into his defender, with the ball rebounding into the area and Mooney rolling into an empty net for his 2nd of the game and 5th of the season. Chances then start to become rare (although with a 2-0 lead, I’m sure the majority of the 224 fans are happy enough), with the only chances of note coming in the 58th minute (Mooney blazes over from 12 yards) and 67th minute (an inswinging free kick from Pelosi on the right hand side finds Mooney, but the keeper pushes his effort wide). However, the yellow cards make an appearance, with Marco Pelosi, Steve Evans and Danny Holmes picking up cards for us, whilst Thompson and French go into the book for Bridgend. Unsurprisingly, David Mooney claims the Man of the Match with his 2 goals and a rating of 8.8.

The draw for the League Cup is made and we will be travelling to Aberystwyth Town. Before then, we have two league games to play, one against Airbus UK Broughton and the other against Aberystwyth Town.

We travel to The Airfield to take on Airbus UK Broughton and go in as 1/2 favourites as the top 2 sides in the league meet. Airbus haven’t conceded in the five games they have played so far, so it looks like it will be a tough test. Incredibly, my backroom staff recommend dropping Jan Sebek for poor form – he’s conceded one goal in five games and has generally been lucky not to have been charged an admission fee! I replace Richie Partridge with Wayne Carlisle and Scott McBride for Paul Robson for the top of the table clash.

David Nixon picks up a booking in the 7th minute and two minutes later, Marco Pelosi crashes a free kick against the crossbar from 25 yards. We open the scoring in the 27th minute as a forward pass from Conor Hourihane picks out Matty Williams, who unleashes a piledriver from 20 yards to claim his second goal of the season. We double our lead in the 42nd minute as Matty Williams runs down the left and picks out Wayne Carlisle on the edge of the area. Sensibly, Carlisle heads forward to an unmarked David Mooney who coolly slots home from 6 yards for his 6th of the season. I’m hoping to go in to half-time leading 2-0, but it is not to be as in the first minute of stoppage time, Williams takes a free kick on the left and finds Hales, who pulls a goal back for Airbus from 6 yards. Incredibly, we still take a two-goal lead into half-time as Wayne Carlisle grabs his second of the season with a controlled finish from 10 yards in the third minute of stoppage time after Marco Pelosi crosses along the ground from the left. The rain had been falling steadily during the first half, but it becomes heavy as the second half starts. Goalscorer Hales picks up a yellow card in the 51st minute for brining down Darren Otten outside the area. Despite where the foul occurs, Airbus started the half better and nearly pull one back in the 56th minute following a goalmouth scramble after a corner that is eventually cleared by Steve Evans. The reprieve is temporary as an unmarked Jones scores a minute later off the far post as a cross from the right from Hamilton finds him unmarked 8 yards out. Joseph Oastler picks up a yellow card in the 61st minute for a trip as the Airbus pressure continues. Things get even worse in the 67th minute as Conor Hourihane goes off injured – after the match, the physio advises he’s strained knee ligaments and will be out for approximately two months. We make the game safe in the 80th minute as Darren Otten finds David Mooney 20 yards out and he gets his second of the game and 7th of the season. Mooney is hacked down in the 82nd minute, earning Thomas a yellow card and Airbus pick up another yellow card six minutes later as Williams trips Darren Otten. Matty Williams nearly adds a fifth in the 89th minute with a late run, but his shot from 12 yards from a cross by Carlisle on the right goes wide. There is still time for more drama as in the first minute of stoppage time, Joseph Oastler concedes a penalty and picks up his second yellow card of the game. Hutcheon takes the penalty, but hits Jan Sebek’s right post. Marco Pelosi makes his 125th career league appearance in an exciting game, but David Mooney’s 2 goals and a rating of 8.8 earn him Man of the Match as the 97 in attendance witness a scoreline that not many would have guessed at before.

The win sees up open up a 5 point gap at the top of the table and I secure Manager of the Month for September. Marco Pelosi comes second in Player of the Month awards, whilst David Mooney is third. Team of the month features 5 of our players – Jan Sebek, Marco Pelosi, Steve Evans, Conor Hourihane and David Mooney. Aaron McCarey plays for Republic of Ireland U21s and gets a rating of 6.7 as the Scots beat the Irish 1-0.

Our first game in October sees us welcome Aberystwyth Town to Park Hall Stadium. Danny Holmes comes in for the suspended Joseph Oastler, whilst Jeff Whitley replaces the injured Conor Hourihane. We’re 1/6 favourites and prove why this is the case in 37 seconds as Scott McBride picks up a through ball from Marco Pelosi and squares the ball for Mooney to fire into the empty net for his 8th goal of the season. Codling nearly levels for our visitors two minutes later, but fires over. Our superb start proves to be our high point and we just can’t get going. Darren Otten, Scott McBride, Danny Holmes and Steve Evans all pick up bookings (only Riley gets booked for Aberystwyth) and Allen hits the post for Aberystwyth in the 60th minute. A minute later, they deservedly equalise as McCarten prods home a goalmouth scramble from 2 yards after a corner from our right. McCarten claims Man of the Match with a rating of 8 and his goal, but Mooney claims he should have had a penalty in the first half after a challenge by McCarten. The 202 spectators are disappointed with the draw and the lead at the top is cut to three points, but we have a gap of 10 days until our next day to put things right. We’ll be travelling to Aberystwyth to take them on in the League Cup, so at least we have a chance to put things right against them quickly.