A weekend of mixed results for Penarth Hockey Club was largely erased by the performance of the first XI which, while not sparkling on the pitch, was enough to take them to top spot in the closely-contested Conference North section of the GoCrea8 league.
Devizes 0, Penarth 1
With several key players unavailable, Penarth took a streamlined first XI squad on their furthest away day of the season, looking to avoid a potential banana skin at Devizes and become the first team to leave with three points this season.
It quickly became clear why mid-table Devizes have been a tough team to beat at home – having held each of the three sides around Penarth at the top of the table to draws this season - as their robust style and mobbing midfield trio broke down any potential build-up play.
Penarth were forced onto the back foot in the opening exchanges and had to dig in deep to preserve their clean sheet. However, after settling and becoming wise to Devizes’ tactics, the Bears soon began to move the ball around better, getting out of contact quicker to end the first half with the upper hand even though neither side created any real chances and headed into half-time goalless.
The second period proved to be much the same, with Devizes continuing their physical approach and breaking down of play, which turned the game into a very scrappy affair, with little flow to proceedings and not much attractive hockey being played.
From very early on, a rare goalless draw for the hitherto free-scoring Penarth side looked to be a real possibility but, midway through the first half, the Bears had made a tactical change and moved Chris Baker from right midfield to striker to give him more of a free role and utilise his dribbling skills and pace.
The change paid off immediately, as Penarth looked more dangerous on the counter, and Baker, picking the ball up deep in his own half, went on one of his trademark mazy runs, beating several defenders for pace down the right wing and smashing his shot inches wide for what would of been a goal of the season contender.
Baker would also play a part in the game’s deciding moment. With the clock entering the final 10 minutes, Joe Thomas made a fine tackle on Devizes’ right winger before finding his team-mate on halfway with a reverse stick pass up the line. Baker drove infield, drawing the defence with him before spotting the run of David Joyce, who had peeled to the left into the ‘D’.
Having been picked out with a disguised pass, Joyce made no mistake, smashing his shot through the ‘keeper’s legs to score what looked to be the wining goal.
Despite taking the initiative, Penarth had to dig deep to see out the final few minutes, led by man of the match Andy Strong. Devizes had one last chance to draw level with a penalty corner on the final whistle, but the Bears charged down the shot and cleared their lines to claim a vital 1-0 victory.
It was not Penarth’s finest performance, with very little skill on show, but plenty of heart, grit and determination showed just how much they want another promotion.
Becoming the first team to claim victory on Devizes’ soil this season proved even more valuable as results elsewhere meant that that the three points they took home were enough to propel the Bears to the top of Conference North on goal difference, albeit with a game in hand over their nearest rivals.
With fixtures to come against each of the five teams still in realistic contention for either the title or promotion, however, the hard work is only just beginning for the first XI, who must make sure of a high-scoring victory over bottom club Whitchurch this weekend to keep themselves in the driving seat.
Penarth A 2, Cardiff University B 3
The second XI welcomed runaway De Cymru 1 leaders Cardiff University to Stanwell knowing that a victory would be hard to come by and well aware of the threat the visitors posed following a bruising first encounter earlier in the season.
That match had shown Penarth how hard the students pressed whenever they were defending, forcing high turnovers and ensuring they controlled the game. However, knowing what is coming and dealing with it are very different things.
The Bears started well and pressed the students hard, forcing a high turnover of their own and winning a penalty corner, but, when that went unconverted, the students settled into their rhythm and started to dominate.
The university side passed the ball quickly and accurately and, attacking in numbers, showed why they are out of sight at the top of the league. It took some excellent tackling and some superb saves from goalkeeper Mark Harris to maintain parity on the scoreboard but, eventually, the students grabbed the opener in fortunate fashion, with the ball being deflected just in front of Harris to give the ‘keeper no chance.
Penarth’s task soon doubled as, despite Harris again being forced into action to deny the students’ initial effort, the rebound fell to an unmarked forward who flicked the ball from the top of the ‘D’ into the top corner.
At 2-0 down, the Bears finally started to maintain greater possession, and their experience started to show as they grabbed the momentum and started to dominate the game.
With more of the ball, the home side mustered some good chances before the break, but couldn’t close the gap, with Sam Docherty coming closest as he forced the Cardiff keeper into a smart save at the back post.
The second half saw more of the same from the Bears, with Docherty and debutant Keegan Hoare defending aggressively to win turnovers high in midfield, which allowed Penarth to continue dominating the game.
Phil Lane and Tom Parkinson were served well by the turnover ball, but were unable to convert pressure into goals, with Lane being denied by the keeper on several occasions when a goal looked like it was coming.
Penarth almost grabbed a goal back with 20 minutes to play, as Sam Chick drew the keeper and slipped the ball to Chris McCarthy, but his effort was stopped by a defender’s foot, with a covering defender on the line meaning that only a penalty corner was forthcoming despite Penarth pleading for a penalty stroke.
As the Vale side continued to press, the University always looked like they might grab a third on the break, but Penarth’s defence stood firm for much of the half, with Craig Llewellyn and Jamie Davison making some fantastic last-gasp challenges and wing backs Dave Stevens and Sam Salisbury letting nothing past.
However, with 10 minutes to play, the resistance was broken, and Cardiff eventually got a third – and ultimately important – goal.
Penarth reduced the deficit back with seven minutes on the clock, James Kidby smashing home a Lane pass, and then added a second in the final two minutes, with Lane again the provider, this time finding Chick, who slipped the ball under the onrushing keeper.
With team spirit showing and the goals finally coming, the Bears believed they could salvage a deserved point, but it was not to be and Cardiff hung on to run out 3-2 winners.
Penarth ultimately paid for their slow start, but will take great heart from the second half performance and know that, if they can play like that every week, they still have every chance of grabbing the second promotion spot.
Gwent B 3, Penarth B 2
The thirds travelled to Cwmbran to play a Gwent side they had already beaten twice this season, well aware that another victory would all but secure promotion from De Cymru 3. However, Penarth started slowly and were clearly second best to a young Gwent team in both possession and territory.
Despite a Dave Watkins goal, the visitors never looked comfortable and a well-worked goal brought Gwent level. A second Watkins effort restored Penarth’s lead, only to be cancelled out just before half-time by another Gwent goal, and it was clear that the Vale side had a game on their hands.
A half-time reshuffle designed to bolster the Penarth midfield seemed to be working, with the Bears finally getting back into the game, only for an injury to the influential Richard Skone to hand control of the game back to Gwent ten minutes into the period. This setback eventually resulted in the third goal, as the hosts benefited from the slightest of deflections after a speculative hit into the Penarth ‘D’.
Further goals should have come for Gwent, but some good goalkeeping by Jason Harris, combined with a few well-timed defensive tackles and a handful of bad misses kept Penarth in the game going into the last ten minutes.
Pushing forward, the Bears won a series of penalty corners, but failed to convert any, before the game ended in frustrating fashion as James Kerr Smith’s put the ball into the roof of the Gwent net, only for the effort to be disallowed.
The final result was perhaps what Penarth deserved after definitely their poorest team performance of the season and, although promotion is still in the Bears’ hands, especially with a game in hand, third-placed Gwent will now be thinking they could be in with a chance having closed the gap between the sides to just a couple of points.
Swansea City C 0, PENARTH C 2
Penarth C travelled to face their Second City rivals on Saturday and came away with a hugely creditable, hard-fought and well-deserved 2-0 victory.
The personnel available meant that the ‘C-Siders’ had to ditch the formation that had served them so well in previous weeks and go with an attacking three-forward line-up.
This meant extra pressure and demands on the midfield trio of Richard Bromley, Adam Morse and Rhys Meddins, but the blend of youth and experience rose to the challenge magnificently against a vastly more seasoned Swansea side.
On the rare occasions that the home team were able to create half-chances, the defence, superbly marshalled by Ian Brookfield and Zbig Sobiesierski, blunted their attacks and, on the odd occasion where the line was breached, young Penarth goalkeeper Luke Williams was in imperious form to maintain the clean sheet.
At the other end, the Penarth forward line of Toby Friedl, Marc Sawyer and Jason Rawson, ably supported by the effervescent Meddins, were causing the Swansea rearguard huge problems and the home keeper had to be at his best to keep the scoreline scoreless at the break.
However, early in the second half, and following a well worked penalty corner, Rawson was finally able to break the deadlock, taking his chance from close range to give the Swansea ‘keeper little chance.
As the home side then pressed for an equaliser, they left themselves open to the break, and it was from one of numerous counters that Friedl doubled the ‘C-Siders’ advantage with his first goal for the club.
While the highly-effective Penarth midfield and defence proceeded to shut down the game in the closing quarter, restricting Swansea to hopeful through balls, the forwards continued to create chances on the break, albeit without extending the lead, and the visitors duly ran out 2-0 winners.
It should be noted that a game between two fierce rivals was played in an excellent spirit, fostered by some very good umpiring which allowed for an open and free-flowing game.
This Saturday, the C team renews rivalries with their senior counterparts in what should be a third exciting derby encounter.
All four Penarth teams will be in action this week, with the third derby between the third and fourth XIs kicking off a double-header at Stanwell (noon start) and serving as warm-up for the first XI’s ’top-versus-bottom’ encounter with old rivals Whitchurch (1.45pm start). The second XI, meanwhile, head east to face Gwent in another ’must win’ game for their promotion hopes.
Penarth Hockey Club always welcomes new, old and returning players, umpires, supporters, friends and helpers regardless of age and ability. When the regular season resumes, training will take place on Wednesdays at Stanwell School, with the juniors on the pitch between 6.15pm and 7.15pm and the seniors between 7pm and 8.15pm.
Anyone interested in joining the club at senior or youth level can contact club secretary Dave Stevens (firstname.lastname@example.org) for further information.