The hockey gods were certainly watching over Penarth Hockey Club at the weekend, with the 1st XI enjoying a sense of deja vu in a ten-goal thriller with Plymouth University and the feisty Fourths securing a fabulous point at De Cymru 3 league leaders Swansea City. The greatest escape, however, possibly came in a game that didn’t go the distance…
PENARTH 5-5 Plymouth University
A week on from putting promotion from the GoCrea8 Championship division back in their own hands with a massive six-point weekend, Penarth faced another of their potential rivals for a top two spot as fourth-placed Plymouth University visited Stanwell.
With the first encounter between the teams ending in a 3-3 draw – after a dramatic finish saw Penarth score twice in the dying minutes to rescue a point – and knowing that only a win would be of any use to the visitors, the Bears were prepared for another tense battle.
The more experienced home team settled into the game more quickly than their student counterparts, and enjoyed the lions’ share of possession and territory in the opening ten minutes. That control was rewarded with a deserved lead after some fine work down the right wing saw Chris Baker pick up possession in the final third and beat his man with a jink of the ball, before driving the byline and cutting the ball back for inform striker Matthew Stollery to sweep home.
As the old adage goes, however, you are often most vulnerable just after you score and this proved all too true for Penarth as they relaxed for just a moment and were immediately hit on the counter from the restart. Once the Plymouth striker had lost his marker, he found himself in acres of space and one-on-one with Penarth ‘keeper Scott Fulton-Brown. Although Fulton-Brown saved the first effort brilliantly, the ball ricocheted kindly for the attacker to tap home into an empty net at the second attempt.
The equalising goal clearly lifted student spirits and sparked a ten-minute blitz that left Penarth shell-shocked. By pressing more aggressively, the Bears gifted Plymouth gilt-edged chances and where punished severely as the visitors flew into a 4-1 lead courtesy of two breakaways and a penalty corner that left Fulton-Brown little chance of defending his goal.
As half-time approached, Penarth began to recompose themselves, and hit back with Ben Croxall firing home a perfectly-placed penalty corner to give the Bears a lifeline heading into the break. The home side used the interval wisely to make some tactical changes to cope with the University’s press and, from the restart, Penarth began to dominate once more.
Regaining the upper hand resulted in the chance to pull another goal back, with Croxall weaving through a crowded D before beating the ‘keeper from a tight angle, but Penarth did not appear to have learned their lesson from the first half and were again immediately hit on the counter, with a string of errors and an unfortunate deflection leaving Fulton-Brown wrong-footed and a the Bears with a mountain to climb once more.
To their credit, Penarth refused to lay down and went all out to salvage something from the game. Heading into the final final ten minutes, recent gruelling fitness sessions began to pay off as they attacked relentlessly and the pressure began to force cracks in the visitors defence.
As the students’ desperation led to increasingly rash tackles, Croxall was hacked from behind when through on goal, giving to umpire no option but to show a yellow card and award a penalty flick, which Croxall despatched to complete his hat-trick and reduce the deficit to a single goal.
Penarth were now throwing the proverbial kitchen sink at the students, who went down to nine men as a typical Baker run drew another tired tackle and inevitable yellow card. Although the University side were returned to ten players for the closing minutes, Penarth flooded forward for one final push, containing the visitors in their own end as they searched for the equaliser.
With the clock ticking down, a goalmouth scramble eventually yielded the return they were looking for, as Laith El-Khatib threw a reverse stick sweep at a loose ball, sending it looping up and over the flailing ‘keeper to earn Penarth a dramatic draw with literally the last touch of the game.
Goalscorers: Ben Croxall (3), Matthew Stollery, Laith El-Khatib
PENARTH ‘B’ A-A Swansea University ‘C’
The 1st XI game only went ahead thanks to the efforts of players and supporters alike to clear the Stanwell pitch of standing water that had built up under the steady rain that began overnight, but the 3rd XI were not so lucky, with the worsening conditions eventually putting paid to their match with Swansea University.
The two sides got underway on time at midday, and the Bears took a quick lead thanks to veteran striker Dave Watkins finishing a smart move that cut the student defence to shreds, but the tide would (quite literally) turn in the visitors favour, with every foray into the Penarth area seemingly resulting in a goal, leading to an interval scoreline of 5-1 in the University’s favour.
With the rain showing no sign of letting up, and the growing areas of standing water posing an increasing threat to player safety, umpires and captains convened during the break but, despite the initial decision to carry on, there was ultimately no option to but to abandon proceedings shortly afterwards.
Without the game having reached the necessary 60 minutes duration needed to confirm a result, and despite the students having held a significant advantage on the scoreboard, the two sides will have to meet again to continue their fight for third position in De Cymru 2.
Swansea City ‘C’ 1-1 PENARTH ‘C’
The wet weather also ensured that the 4th XI’s early start away at top-of-the-table Swansea City would be an uncomfortable one, but Penarth’s blend of youth and experience refused to let the conditions affect them as they battled to a well deserved 1-1 draw.
Following a hesitant early period that saw Swansea show why they are at the head of De Cymru 3, Penarth began to come more into the game, but were still forced to hang on as a string of penalty corners and half-chances forced the visitors to defend stoutly, while goalkeeper Calum Grant made more than one very good save to ensure that the half remained goalless.
The second period again began with Penarth on the back foot and, this time, Swansea were able to turn their advantage into a lead by converting an early penalty corner. The goal seemed to spark something in the visitors, however, and Penarth subsequently took the game to their hosts, with brothers Rhys and Iwan Meddins both playing well, and Gabriel Pryde putting in an excellent display in his first senior game.
As with the previous week’s game against Gwent, the Bears dominated the rest of the half, forcing the Swansea goalkeeper into any number of good saves to prevent the equaliser that Penarth’s neat – and, at times, slick – play deserved.
The Vale side were not to be denied, however, and another attack saw central midfielder Ifty Khan cross from the right for David Thomas to score with an excellent first-time shot. Although they came close, Penarth were unable to find the winner in the closing period and the draw was a fair reflection of the game overall.
Goalscorers: David Thomas
All four Penarth sides will be in action this weekend, with the 1st XI facing another test of their promotion mettle with an away trip to third-placed Cheltenham (2pm start), where a win would confirm the Bears as firm favourites to gain a third successive rise up the GoCrea8 League structure. The 2nd XI return after a bye week, but could not ask for a tougher encounter as they host table-topping Swansea University at Stanwell (1.45pm start), a game preceded by the 3rd XI’s own giant-killing effort as they take on De Cymru 2 leaders Whitchurch (noon start). The 4th XI, meanwhile, are away for the third successive weekend, travelling to Whitchurch in search of further De Cymru 3 points (1pm start).
Penarth Hockey Club always welcomes new, old and returning players, umpires, supporters, friends and helpers regardless of age and ability. Training takes place on Wednesdays at Stanwell School, with the juniors on the pitch between 6.15pm and 7.15pm and the seniors between 7.00pm 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.