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.