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:
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.