Mixed news, mixed results

2013 starts with mixed news on the player front. The good news is that Paul Robson agrees to extend his contract until the end of the 13/14 season. However, Aaron McCarey is not happy with being regular sub keeper and makes it known to me that he sees himself as more than a squad player. There’s interest in Jan Sebek, so I’m very keen to keep hold on him. Further bad news is that Richie Partridge will be spending plenty of time with the physio over the next month after breaking his arm in a reserve team game against Neath.

Our first game of 2013 sees us take a trip to Maes Tegid to take on tenth-placed Bala Town, who recorded a comprehensive 5-2 aggregate defeat over us in the semi-final of the League Cup. I can certainly think of easier fixtures, but the bookies are confident we will win and make us 1/3 favourites. A further worry is that the referee is none other than the card-happy Lee Evans. I name an unchanged 11 and the 59 in attendance include the Cambridge manager, Gary Peters, who is reported to be interested in signing Jan Sebek. The first action of note comes in the 23rd minute when Joseph Oastler sends a free kick down the right wing and David Mooney picks it up and crosses – his cross is met by Lucas Akins who heads in from three yards out for his 5th goal of the season. Little happens until towards the end of the first half, when Mr Evans gets in on the action by booking O’Connor (41st minute) and Macauley (stoppage time), with Akins shooting just over from 20 yards being the meat in that sandwich of action. Mr Evans’ card spree continues in the 47th minute when David Nixon picks up a yellow card. 10 minutes later and Nixon brings down Ngoo and Mr Evans blows his whistle. Thankfully, he’s blowing because the linesman had his flag up for offside. Cards continue to flow as Sebek gets booked for handball (63rd minute), Oastler joins him in the book a minute later and Darren Otten picks up a booking in the 75th minute. Mr Evans continues to make his mark by producing a second yellow card in the 78th minute for David Nixon, putting us down to 10 men with a one goal lead. We continue to hold out and Mr Evans continues to stretch his arm, adding Conor Hourihane to his book (I think he must have an A1 flipchart pitchside!) in the 85th minute. This evidently displeases Hourihane, who lashes an effort just over from 10 yards out a minute later. We come close to extending our lead in the 89th minute when a corner from Otten finds Mooney, but Bala clear it off the line. A minute later, Bala attack and Robinson heads just wide from 8 yards out. Stoppage time produces plenty of drama as Ellis goes clear, but a heavy touch from him allows Sebek to collect. Mr Evans has the final say in the action, producing a second yellow for Darren Otten to leave us finishing with nine men; it’s the third time that Otten’s been sent off this season and Mr Evans has shown the red all three times. Marco Pelosi wins Man of the Match (fully deserved just because he didn’t get booked!) with a rating of 7.4 and we remain top by 2 points.

David Nixon is suspended for one game and Darren Otten for two. Also, Darren Otten has set a new club record with 10 yellow cards and 3 red cards. With around a third of the season to go, he’s every chance of adding to this and setting a record that stands the test of time.

With it being January, it’s the transfer window and I take the chance to add a fresh face to the squad, signing England Under 19 defender, Steven Smith:

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Steven Smith – DC/L

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Out first home match of 2013 sees a huge game as we welcome second placed Bangor City to Park Hall. The board make it a fan day (we get a crowd of 295) and with the top two playing each other, it makes it on to TV. The bookies have us 1/2 favourites, perhaps a touch generous with the incredibly tight defence that Bangor have. I’m concerned about how whether we will score against a miserly defence and even more concerned when I see who the referee is – Lee Evans. I make two forced changes, with Joe Jones coming in for the suspended David Nixon, whilst the suspended Darren Otten is replaced by Jeff Whitley, although I’m sure that if Mr Evans catches sight of Otten on the bench or in the crowd, he’ll produce a card for him. Joseph Oastler reaches a milestone, making his 75th career league appearance. Jan Sebek is called into action in the first minute, denying Reed from 16 yards. Lucas Akins has our first chance in the 4th minute, but he shoots over from 16 yards. In the 15th minute, Paul Robson passes from the left to Akins, who fires into the top corner from 16 yards out for his 6th goal of the season. Bangor nearly hit straight back in the 18th minute as an outswinging Gison corner is met by a sliding Reed, but Marco Pelosi is on the near post and clears off the line. Akins has a chance to double his and our tally in the 20th minute when he gets on the end of a long ball forward, but Glass tips over. Reed seems desperate to get himself on the scoresheet as he shoots from 20 yards out in the 23rd minute, but it’s over. In the 40th minute, Long brings down David Mooney 30 yards from goal. Mr Evans gets in on the act straight away and produces a straight red card. With covering defenders, it seems a surprising decision, but after 40 minutes without a card and allowing a game to flow, I’m sure he didn’t want to waste any opportunity. Despite us having a man advantage, Bangor have the next chance of the game as a deep corner in the 60th minute is headed against the bar before we can scramble clear. It acts as a wake up call and in the 66th minute, Wayne Carlisle slides in David Mooney, who can only shoot wide from 16 yards out. Walsh picks up a yellow card in the 68th minute. Disaster strikes in the 83rd minute as Hewitt-Fisher slips in Darlington (released by me in the summer with his contract ending), who rounds Sebek and levels the score. Our players protest, claiming offside and Akins picks up a yellow card. Alton Thelwell, who comes on as a late substitue, records his 25th league appearance for TNS. Lucas Akins is named Man of the Match with a rating of 7.3 and a goal. We remain top of the table by 2 points, missing a great chance to extend our lead to 5 points (although I’m sure that Bangor were delighted with rescuing a point).

Transfer activity continues as St Mirren step up their interest in Aaron McCarey by making an offer. As their offer is nothing, I reject it.

The fixtures don’t come any easier, as we then travel to Richmond Park to take on third placed Carmarthen Town. We go into the game as 4/6 favourites and I make one change, with David Nixon (available after his suspension) coming in for Joe Jones. Scott is booked in the first minute (incredibly, Lee Evans is NOT the referee!!). Evans comes close to opening the scoring in the fifth minute as he mis-hits a cross, but Jan Sebek is alert and turns it behind for a corner. However, Carmarthen open the scoring in the 11th minute as Hicks slides in and meets an inswinging corner from Roberts. In the 20th minute, McKillen brings down David Mooney – penalty! Mooney steps up and… scores! It’s not a great penalty (it’s to the keeper’s left and actually goes under him), but it draws us level and is also Mooney’s 15th goal of the season. Mooney looks to play provider four minutes later, but the shot from Lucas Akins is turned behind by the keeper. Howard is added to the referee’s book in the 34th minute. Carmarthen re-take the lead in the 42nd minute as a cross from the right by Roberts is met by Evans, who scores from 15 yards out. I have a few words in the dressing room and they must have been inspiring as straight from kick off, we attack and Marco Pelosi plays in Mooney, but his shot is turned behind. We’re not having a great day in front of goal, but defensively we manage even worse in the 58th minute as Gibson crosses from the right, Sebek somehow manages to drop the cross and Hicks is on hand to take full advantage from 8 yards out. We look to get ourselves back in and Akins rattles the bar from 20 yards out in the 60th minute. Carmarthen show us how it’s done, going upfield and extending their lead further a minute later as Evans crosses from the left and Hicks completes his hat-trick (he came into the game suffering a goal drought) with a header from 6 yards out. Again, we look to hit back; Jeff Whitley crosses from the right and finds Scott McBride (on as a substitute after returning from injury) unmarked at the far post, but he heads wide. Mooney has a chance in the 68th minute and he chips the keeper, but unfortunately it drops too late and goes over the bar. Carmarthen extend their lead even further in the 84th minute as a corner from Roberts reaches Frater, who fires in from 6 yards. As always, a Carmarthen goal sees us look to hit back and this time it’s the turn of Jeff Whitley, who crashes an effort against the crossbar from 25 yards out. That ends the action and Carmarthen record an emphatic 5-1 victory to the delight of the 266 in attendance (the crowd includes St Johnstone manager Derek McInnes, who is interested in David Mooney). Hicks is unsurprisingly named Man of the Match following his hat-trick, which gives him a rating of 9.6. We remain top by 2 as Bangor surprisingly lose 2-1 at home to Newtown, but Carmarthen move themselves to three points off the top. The title race is definitely heating up.


All the competitions

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.

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.