Away Days: Prestatyn Town v Neath Athletic
Stoppage Time – International Football Blog has made the relatively short trip to the North Wales town of Prestatyn to take in a game from the Welsh Premier League.
Bastion Gardens, the home of Prestatyn Town Football Club, is a long way away from the great stadiums of the world but then the Welsh Premier League is one of world football’s more modest championships. Initially I was going to go further along the north Wales coast to see Bangor City v Airbus UK Broughton in the Friday night match, a game which featured the top two sides in the league going into Matchday 5, but timing issues and prior commitments forced me to miss that particular contest. Nonetheless as I boarded the train going from Liverpool Lime Street to Chester, where I would change for Prestatyn, on Saturday I looked forward to some alternative viewing especially as Lee Trundle, one of my fellow ‘compatriots’ from Liverpool and the league’s marquee player, was expected to star for the visiting team who had some title ambitions of their own after a promising start to the season.
The day began with the traditional pre-match pint at the nearby Royal Victoria pub, just across the road from the train station, where a number of people had gathered to watch the early English Premier League game between Everton and Manchester United. Amongst the crowd was a guy called Paul, a West Bromwich Albion supporter and Groundhopper extraordinaire who was fanatical about travelling across the country to watch lower and non-league football. He had arrived a little late so wanted to know how the Everton game had finished before telling me he was ticking off Bastion Gardens from his footballing to-do list. So it was that we took the short walk from the pub to the tiny stadium which, on a good day, can squeeze as many as 2,500 but there was no danger of that as me, Paul and another 218 (yes, that’s two hundred and eighteen) hardy souls took our places to watch the match. Also present were the commentary team from the Welsh language television channel Sianel Pedwar Cymru, better known to British readers as S4C, amongst them was the former Arsenal, Glasgow Celtic and Wales forward John Hartson who stood only metres from where we gathered behind one of the goals and who was providing expert analysis for the Welsh channel’s live match coverage for the Sgorio football show.
The match itself turned out to be a classic “game of two halves” and, with the wind playing its part, Prestatyn Town dominated proceedings in the first half and should’ve scored more than the sixth minute strike which put the hosts ahead. After the Neath keeper Craig Morris had collided with Town’s Steve Rogers both of whom chasing a long ball forward, Lee Hunt was there to turn the ball home from outside the box much to the pleasure of the loyal Town fans present. The hosts had many opportunities including a shot that hit the crossbar and it seemed that Neath, Trundle et al, hadn’t shown up such was their anonymity. Prestatyn Town’s first half performance was in stark contrast with their previous league match against Aberystwyth Town – not that I was present at that game to see it but a certain Groundhopper next to me was – and with the score 1-0 at the break the home side must’ve fancied their chances of an unexpected win.
But Neath finally woke up in the second half, although Lee Trundle was personally not having his best day at the office, and they got a deserved equalizer in the 73rd minute when Chris Jones’ long-range strike was too hot to handle for Town keeper Jon Hill-Dunt who could only despair as his attempts at keeping the ball out were in vain. From then on both teams had their chances to win the game and, with just minutes to go, Prestatyn thought they should’ve had a penalty but referee Kevin Parry looked like he was never going to give any major decisions in this game. After stoppage time was played the final whistle blew and the final score, as some S4C viewers may have heard it, was “Prestatyn Town Un, Castell-Nedd Un” which, to me and Groundhopper Paul, seemed a pretty fair result.
Having learnt earlier in the day that Bangor City had beaten Airbus UK Broughton in Friday night’s game by five goals to one the Welsh Premier League table was starting to take shape. Bangor City still has a 100% record and leads the way with a six point gap from defending champions The New Saints who beat Carmarthen Town 7-0 yesterday and have a game in hand. After this game Neath Athletic are in sixth place with seven points but have also, like TNS, played four games whilst Prestatyn Town look like they could be facing a difficult season at the wrong end of the table as they have four points from five games and currently lie in ninth place in the twelve team league.