Always look on the Bright(on) side of life?

Following our last-gasp winner away from home against West Ham in the league, we remain on the road as we resume out League Cup campaign.

Date: Wednesday 21st September
Opponents: Brighton and Hove Albion
Venue: American Express Community Stadium
Odds: Brighton and Hove Albion=Evens, Exeter City=11/5
Weather: Strong wind, 5C
Referee: Mr. Howard Webb

A changed side kicks off the match at the American Express Community Stadium, with the players who have performed in the first two rounds getting the opportunity to strut their stuff again. Pavel Cizek gets involved in the 6th minute when he trips Lalkovic. Mr. Webb points to the spot and produces a yellow card before Whittingham steps up and shoots low to Metodi Spasov’s right to put Brighton 1-0 up. Not exactly the best start, but we have been finishing matches strong recently with stoppage time goals, so no need to panic. Nine minutes later, Miltos Makris takes an inswinging corner and finds Cizek 6 yards out at the neat post. It’s a perfect chance to make amends for the early penalty, but he heads just over. Whittingham has a great opportunity to double his tally in the 20th minute, but shoots straight at Spasov from 18 yards and he makes a comfortable save. Our second chance of note comes in the 26th minute and is also the result of a corner. Loic Fournier takes an inswinging corner and Philipp Langer shoots. However, because it’s not against West Ham, it doesn’t go in and Brighton clear off the line. A minute later, Florain Koch tries his luck and Hamer can’t hold on, but Brighton are able to clear for a throw. Langer has another chance three minutes later when he shoots from 16 yards. Hamer saves at the expense of a corner and we seem to have Brighton on the ropes. The only downside is that we haven’t scored and if you don’t score when playing well… Langer makes a great pass to Makris in the 39th minute and he runs for 20 yards before shooting from 18 yards. Despite having time, he picks out Hamer and Brighton are able to clear again. The last minute of the first half sees Whittingham take an inswinging corner and Scott Malone turns it in for an own goal. Disaster! But wait! Mr. Webb has blown his whistle and we have a free kick for a foul by Barnes.

The second half starts slowly and the first chance of note comes in the 61st minute when a cross from the left by Cohen finds Lalkovic unmarked at the far post. He shoots from 6 yards, but straight at Spasov. Cohen decides to cut out the middleman a minute later when he shoots from 18 yards. However, much like Lalkovic a minute earlier, it’s straight at Spasov. Mr. Webb takes Fournier’s name in the 63rd minute following a foul. Whittingham crosses from the left in the 64th minute and Rhodes meets the ball 6 yards out with a diving header and scores to extend the lead. We’ve been good at getting back into matches, but normally from a goal down; two will be a big challenge with just over 25 minutes to go. I make a triple substitution in the 70th minute as we start to search for goals; Besse replaces Cizek, Gazzoli replaces Koch and Langer comes off to be replaced by Michele Marconi, making his return from injury. Nine minutes after the change, there’s a goal. Dyer crosses from the right and Lalkovic scores from 4 yards out at the far post to give the hosts a three-goal lead. Four minutes later, an alert Spasov denies Barnes from 18 yards out and holds on to the ball. With five minutes to go, Dyer crosses from the right and finds Lalkovic again. He’s 10 yards out this time, but the result is the same and he gets his second of the match. Dyer crosses from the right again in the 89th minute, but doesn’t find Lalkovic this time. He finds Eagles instead. He heads in from 4 yards out. Gazzoli shoots just wide in stoppage time, but even if it had gone in, it wouldn’t have been much of a consolation.

Result: Brighton and Hove Albion 5-0 Exeter City
Man of the Match: Lalkovic
Ratings: GK-Spasov (5.8), DR- Judge (5.7), DCR-King (4.7), DCL-Karlsen (5.3), DL-Malone (5.2), DMC-Fournier (6.4, booked), MCR-Mason (6.6), MCL-Cizek (6.1, booked, off 70), AMR-Koch (6.9, off 70), AML-Makris (5.7), ST-Langer (6.9, off 70). Subs-Besse (6.4, on 70), Gazzoli (6.3, on 70), Marconi (6.1, on 70). Unused-Bond, D’Avanzo, Riccardi, Spearing.
Attendance: 7,936
Match Stats:

Brighton stats #FM12

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It’s difficult to take many positives from such a large defeat, but at least Marconi has made his return and got 20 minutes of football into his legs. We were punished heavily for not scoring when on top and Brighton certainly did not make the same mistake, scoring when dominating around the hour mark and taking full advantage of our capitulation in the last 10 minutes when crosses from Dyer unlocked our defence time and again. The regular first team players have all enhanced their standing by not being involved, whilst nobody else has really staked any kind of a claim for a place in the starting XI at the weekend.

Back home for a Cup thriller

After our away trips in the league, our attention goes back to the League Cup and a home fixture.

Matchday Information

Date: Tuesday 23rd August 2016
Opponents: West Ham United
Venue: St. James Park
Odds: Exeter City=7/4, Draw=N/A, West Ham United=5/4
Weather: Breezy, showers, 16C
Referee: Mr Howard Webb

It’s a changed side that takes to the field and we start well, with Miltos Makris shooting from 18 yards in the 4th minute, but Boffin isn’t caught napping and just gets across in time to push the ball wide for a corner. Alain Besse shoots from 25 yards in the 9th minute and his shot gets deflected. It loops up and is dropping in until Boffin pushes it over the crossbar. Caridi enters Mr Webb’s book in the 21st minute following a foul on Will Keane. West Ham’s first chance of note comes in the 29th minute when Stephens hits an absolute rocket from 25 yards. It has plenty of power, but is lacking in direction (just!) and goes wide. The 37th minute sees Keane beat the offside trap. He slides the ball past Boffin from 18 yards, but unfortunately sends it the wrong side of the post. Mora joins Caridi in Mr Webb’s book in the 40th minute following a foul on Lasse Karlsen.

We start the second half on the front foot and four minutes after the break, Keane dribbles into the area and shoots from 16 yards, but the finish lets down the good work as he pulls it wide. It’s a costly miss as eight minutes later, Stephens plays in Cole and he lashes the ball into the roof of the net from 10 yards. West Ham push on and in the 63rd minute, Metodi Spasov is called into action when Berrera shoots from 18 yards, but he saves comfortably. Florian Koch comes on to replace Adriano Gazzoli in the 64th minute and I make a double change in the 70th minute, with Phillip Langer replacing Keane and Ryan Mason coming on for Besse. Makris takes an inswinging corner in the 84th minute and Langer meets it at the near post with a header. He’s 6 yards out. It hits the outside of the post and goes out for a goal kick. In the first minute of stoppage time, it’s another inswinging Makris corner. The ball falls loose. Langer reacts. He puts the ball into the net for his first ever goal for the club! We’re off to extra time.

Makris sets up the first chance of extra time in the 97th minute when a deep cross goes to the far post and is met by Koch, who heads it back where it came from, but it goes just over from 8 yards. 3 minutes later, Cole meets a cross from the left and hits the bar with a header from 6 yards out and it goes just over. In the 113th minute, Mason cuts the ball back from the left. A defender gets in the way. But he doesn’t clear the ball, just deflects it. To Koch. He’s 12 yards out. He blasts the ball into the roof of the net for his first ever goal for the club! Loic Fournier picks up a yellow card in the 2nd minute of stoppage time as we hold out for the win.

Post Match

Result: Exeter City 2-1 West Ham United (AET)
Man of the Match: Miltos Makris
Ratings: GK-Spasov (6.9); DR-Judge (7.3); DCR-D’Avanzo (8.0); DCL-Karlsen (7.4); DL-Malone (7.2); MCR-Cizek (6.9); MCL-Fournier (6.9, booked); AMR-Gazzoli (6.6, off 64); AMC-Besse (6.8, off 70); AML-Makris (8.3, A); ST-Keane (6.5, off 70). Subs-Koch (7.7, G, on 64); Mason (6.9, on 70); Langer (7.4, G, on 70). Unused-Wilkinson, King, Riccardi, Matip
Attendance: 5,740
Match Stats:

West Ham stats #FM12

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A strong impact from the subs and it’s great to know that we’ve got some game-changers who can come on. The draw for the third round is made and it will be a trip to Brighton for us. Karl Chaplin agrees to join Bristol Rovers on loan and they immediately offer to loan Dennis Judge, which I reject.

If Will Grigg’s on fire, what’s Will Keane’s status?

After recording an open day victory, we face our first away game with a mid-week League Cup game against League 2 opposition.

Matchday Information

Date: Wednesday 10th August
Opposition: Newport County
Venue: Newport Stadium
Odds: Newport County=4/1, Draw=N/A, Exeter City=4/7(favourites)
Weather: Wet, 10C
Referee: Mr Howard Webb

It’s a completely changed side, with debuts for Lasse Karlsen, Loic Fournier and Florian Koch, whilst Alain Besse is named on the bench. We start well and in the 13th minute, an inswinging Fournier corner is met by Will Keane at the near post and he heads home his first goal of the season from 6 yards to give us an early lead as he picks up where he left off in pre-season. It spurs Newport into action and in the 18th minute, Bengtsson beats the offside trap and shoots from 16 yards, but his shot goes just wide. Nine minutes later, Barbara has a chance from a similar difference and he lobs an onrushing Metodi Spasov to level the scores. It’s our turn to take inspiration and in the 34th minute, Michel cuts the ball back from the right and Keane’s on hand to bundle home his and our second from 4 yards to restore our lead. With 3 minutes to go until half-time, Scott Malone puts in a cross from the left and Hoppe pushes it away. Luckily for us, Michel picks up the rebound and slots home his first goal of the season from 14 yards to give us a good lead going in to half-time.

Two minutes into the first half, Fournier marks his debut with a booking. Fournier takes another inswinging corner in the 54th minute and Keane’s head meets it at the near post and he completes his hat-trick with a header from 6 yards. There’s a striker called Will who is on fire, but it’s not Will Grigg! With the game surely secure, I make a triple substitution in the 68th minute – Besse makes his debut coming on for Michel, Philipp Langer replaces the hat-trick hero Will Keane and I ensure that Fournier will not get sent off by replacing him with Pavel Cizek. With a commanding lead, the final 20 minutes are a non-event, with the exception of the 87th minute when Gay shoots from 16 yards and hits the post. We pick up on the rebound and clear to safety.

Post Match

Result: Newport County 1-4 Exeter City
Man of the Match: Will Keane
Ratings: GK-Spasov (6.9); DR-Judge (7.2); DCR-King (8.0), DCL-Karlsen (7.0); DL-Malone (7.6, A); MCR-Spearing (6.9); MCL-Fournier (7.5, A, off 68); AMR-Koch (7.2); AMC-Michel (8.4, G, A, off 68); AML-Makris (6.9); ST-Keane (9.6, 3G, off 68). Subs-Cizek (6.5, on 68); Besse (6.5, on 68); Langer (6.5, on 68). Unused-Bond, Berger, Riccardi, Gavilan.
Attendance: 2,723
Match Stats:

Newport stats #FM12

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Immediately after our victory, the draw is made for the second round and we gain a home tie against West Ham United in an all-Championship clash.

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.

Sublime and ridiculous

We welcome Airbus UK Broughton to Park Hall for the quarter final of the League Cup. The bookmakers have us as 1/4 favourites, but evidently they haven’t seen my team selection as I make 10 changes from the weekend, with only Ibrahim Farah remaining in the side. Notable inclusions are centre back Joe Jones, who makes his debut for us and left back Andy Scarlett, who I bring up from the Under-19s to make his debut. The crowd of 233 includes Northwich Victoria manager Paul Higgins, who is reported to be interested in Joe Jones. Thankfully, Andy Scarlett is not over-awed and in the 18th minute he passes into the area and Lucas Akins applies the finishing touch into the top corner at the near post from 12 yards to register his first goal of the season. The lead comes close to being doubled a minute later when Ibrahim Farah lifts a ball over the defence, but Kofi Poyser can only shoot wide. The lead does double in the 31st minute when Lucas Akins passes to Poyser, who rifles home from 18 yards for his second of the season. We take out two goal lead in at the break, but it comes close to being halved two minutes after half-time when McManus shoots wide when only 8 yards out. Chances then start to dry up for both sides, with Akins probably having the most notable effort in the 72nd minute (even that is well wide though). Four minutes later, Akins picks the ball up on the halfway line, beats 3, powers into the area and… blazes well over the bar from 12 yards out. So good until the finish. Thankfully, it doesn’t matter and we see the game out. Lucas Akins claims Man of the Match with a rating of 8.2 following his goal and assist.

Team of the Month is announced and Marco Pelosi and David Mooney are included, but there is no Manager of the Month award (I don’t even make the top three). The semi-final draw for the League Cup pairs us with Bala Town, with the first leg being played at Park Hall.

Our next league game is a journey to Farrar Road, where we will take on Bangor City who are fourth going into the game. We’re 4/5 favourites and the team is as it was for the last league match, with the exceptions of Paul Robson replacing the injured Scott McBride and Paudie Quinn coming in for his debut after coming back from injury at the expense of Ibrahim Farah. As well as Quinn making his debut, there are also notable milestones for Joseph Oastler and Matty Williams, both of whom are making their 50th league appearance for us. Paudie Quinn is soon in the action, picking up a yellow card in the 8th minute as the referee (Lee Evans) clamps down early – he’s given plenty of cards already this season, so more can be expected during the game. Matty Williams has a chance to mark his milestone in style in the 10th minute, but fires across the face of the goal from 12 yards out. A poor clearance from Jan Sebek in the 17th minute is picked up by Bradley around the halfway line and he runs into our box, where is run is curtailed by Steve Evans who gives away a penalty. Gibson steps up for our hosts and shoots to the right of Sebek, but watches it go past the post. Matty Williams shoots wide in the 20th minute when 8 yards out, whilst Reed heads over from 6 yards out 5 minutes later. The 37th minute sees Hewitt-Fisher find his way into Mr Evans’ book and we create a chance in stoppage time with Wayne Carlisle playing in David Mooney, who shoots straight at the keeper. Matty Williams looks certain to open the scoring in the 47th minute with a wonderful effort from 20 yards, but an equally wonderful diving save from the keeper keeps the scores level; the agony is further compounded a minute later when Mooney hits the post from a tight angle a minute later. It’s starting to look like it’s not going to be our day, especially in front of goal. Darren Otten joins a growing list for Mr Evans in the 49th minute and in the 51st minute, an inswinging corner by Gibson is met by the head of Long 6 yards out and Bangor take the lead. An inswinging corner from Otten in the 58th minute is met by David Mooney running in and his half volley is pushed away well by the Bangor keeper. Walsh and Johnston bring Mr Evans’ total for the match up to 5 and in the 88th minute, Jan Sebek keeps us in the game by tipping over a header from Wilson from 6 yards out. Wilson atones a minute later when he puts the ball into the corner of the net from 6 yards out after a scramble and secures the victory for Bangor to the delight of the 232 in attendance. Long is named Man of the Match for his goal and has a rating of 7.8, but I think the Bangor goalkeeper is hard done by after a couple of exceptional saves. With Airbus losing as well, we remain top by two points, but this doesn’t placate me in any way and I declare my anger to the team, which Marco Pelosi reveals to the media.

We welcome second place Carmarthen Town to Park Hall four days after our loss at Bangor and I name an unchanged side and tell them I expect a victory (odds of 4/7 favourites suggest we really should be winning). We start with some early pressure, but no real chances of note; the first real chance of the game goes the way of Hicks who has a one-on-one with Jan Sebek, who tips the ball over the bar. The good save from Sebek evidently wakes us up and in the 26th minute, Darren Otten slides in David Mooney, who fires into the roof of the net for his 9th goal of the season. Three minutes later, Quinn shoots from 20 yards, but it’s straight at the keeper. An inswinging corner from Otten in the 36th minute finds David Nixon at the near post, but the ball goes loose; Mooney reacts quickest and slides in to stab home his second of the game and 10th of the season from 2 yards out. We go in at half-time with a 2-0 lead and I tell the lads I expect that their performance will not drop. Paul Robson was evidently listening and in the 47th minute he picks up a loose ball, cuts in from the left and unleashes a missile from 20 yards that flies into the net for his first goal of the season. We increase our lead in the 61st minute when David Mooney wins a foot race from a long ball and completes his hat-trick (and grabs his 11th of the season) by placing the ball between the keeper and the near post from inside the area. Mooney comes close to adding his fourth of the game in the 85th minute after being played in by Matty Williams, but can only shoot across the face of the goal. Carmarthen’s best chance comes in the 88th minute when Frater picks up a loose ball, but shoots wide with only Sebek to beat. I substitute David Mooney in the final minute so the fans can acknowledge his role and he deservedly receives a standing ovation from the 191 in attendance; he is also unsurprisingly Man of the Match with his three goals and has a rating of 9.6.

A victory for Airbus sees them reclaim second and keep our lead at the top to two points. After having played each team once, we’ve dropped eight points, which is a reasonable start. It’s 10 days until our next league game, but before then we’ve got Caerleon in the Welsh Cup and the first leg of our League Cup semi-final against Bala Town.

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.

Aston Villa 1-0 Birmingham City

Aston Villa claimed victory and bragging rights over Birmingham City in the third round of the League Cup last night. The first half saw a fairly equal game, with Birmingham arguably looking the slightly stronger of the two teams, although neither goalkeeper was really tested. There were some heavy tackles, but the referee looked to play advantage where possible and keep the game going.

Sherwood brought on Jack Grealish and Jordan Ayew at half time and it had the desired impact as Aston Villa started to control the game and look threatening, something they had not really achieved throughout the first half. Rudy Gestede broke the deadlock in the 63rd minute with a powerful header into the corner of the net from around 10 yards out following a cross from the left wing. After the goal, Birmingham started to come back into the game again and should have really levelled the scores through Maghoma, but he could only roll the ball softly to Guzan.

Sherwood’s changes at half time made all the difference, with Aston Villa looking more balanced and threatening. Clark in midfield might have limited the chances Birmingham were creating, but it was also doing the same for Aston Villa. The substitutes (Grealish in particular) were a constant threat and provided an out ball for the Aston Villa defence. Birmingham look set to have a good season, although they will need to be more ruthless in the final third; for Aston Villa, it looks as though it could be another long, difficult season.