A rare disappointing weekend for Penarth Hockey Club saw just one win added to their Verde Recreo League tally, and even that kept the assembled crowd at Stanwell waiting.
The 1st XI’s trip to second-placed Cheltenham should have been the highlight of Saturday’s slate, especially with the impending debut of Pakistan international Mubashar Ali but, somewhat ironically on a weekend where the sports news was dominated by line-outs and scrums, two pitches with indeterminate outlines meant that Tom Haran and his men travelled across the border for nothing. As it stands, the game needs to be rearranged, but the matter also rests with league officials.
The cancellation still left four games for the club, however, with the 2nd XI’s clash with potential promotion rivals Stroud taking centre stage.
PENARTH ‘A’ 4-3 Stroud
The 2nd XI entertained their Cotswolds opposition in a game that both sides knew they needed to win if they were to remain with spitting distance of the promotion places and, in the Bears’ case, put a frustrating run of results firmly behind them.
After a promising start in which Penarth had much of the possession, however, the home side was stunned by two quick Stroud goals midway through the first half. While the setbacks briefly left them reeling, the Welsh side eventually steadied themselves and, with their improved ball retention, gradually blunted their opponent’s ambitions.
Penarth opened their own account when David Joyce converted a penalty corner, dummying an oncoming defender before firing home on the reverse stick. With momentum back on their side and building pressure on the Stroud defence, the Bears drew level just before the break when James Broad went on a mazy run down the right wing and crashed a pinpoint pass to Richard Baker, who coolly arrived at the back of the ‘D’ to thrash a powerful strike passed the despairing ‘keeper.
The sides went into the interval on level terms but, in what was developing into a very open contest, Joyce then gave Penarth the lead ten minutes into the second half. This was a fine team effort, with a swift interchange of passes between Dave Stephens, Lewis Ingram and Aaron Fulton-Brown releasing Matthew Stollery. Using his pace and deft stick skills to drive into the circle, the attacker found Joyce at the far post and he swept home to make it 3-2.
Despite all their efforts, however, Penarth could not establish the cushion of a two-goal lead and Stroud eventually drew level again with a well worked third goal of their own. This spurred the visitors into a spell of sustained attack, with goalkeeper Adam Putt producing some heroic saves whilst marshalling his defence into action. As both sides pressed for maximum points, Penarth’s back line – with Mark Thomas and Andy Strong prominent – showed great composure in defending two penalty corners with only five minutes left on the clock.
Less than sixty seconds remained when defence turned to attack, with Strong winging a sublime aerial pass from his own half into the Stroud area. As the ball evaded the despairing back-peddling efforts of a Stroud defender, Joyce showed the subtler side of his game to calmly trap the ball, round the visiting ‘keeper and roll the ball home to secure three valuable and well-earned points.
The win lifts Penarth above their opponent and back into fourth spot in De Cymru & The Marches 2, but the Bears know they cannot afford to drop many more games if they are to close the six-point gap to the top two teams in the division
Goalscorers: David Joyce (3), Richard Baker
PENARTH ‘B’ 2-3 Whitchurch ‘E’
Having shared the spoils with old rivals Whitchurch in their previous two league encounters this season, the 3rd XI were under no illusion as to the task ahead of them in game three, with the Cardiff side returning to Stanwell looking for a repeat of the 5-1 victory they enjoyed there on the second week of the season.
They would be up against a stronger Penarth side than on that occasion and, having seen the Bears’ potential in a 0-4 reverse shortly before Christmas, came suitably armed for a fixture that could yet have a say in the destination of the De Cymru 2 title.
Penarth went into the game with a six-point advantage at the top of the table, but started tentatively, unable to play the sort of flowing hockey that had been a trademark of their recent nine-game unbeaten run. While this was partly due to some sloppy play in all phases, it was enhanced by a canny Whitchurch gameplan, with multiple players closing down the Penarth outlets at every opportunity.
The home side’s frustration only grew when they fell behind in unfortunate circumstances, a hopeful cross deflecting in off the helpless Elys Johnson just as the ball appeared to be going wide of the far post. That setback was compounded just minutes later, when Whitchurch converted a rare penalty corner to make it 2-0 midway through the half.
Penarth responded by taking the game back to the other end, but continued to prove profligate in front of goal until Matthew Birch recovered a seemingly lost opportunity to scoop the ball into the back of the net. Even at 2-1, however, the Bears looked uncertain and saw the two-goal deficit return just before the interval as a Whitchurch forward reacted quickest to a rebound from goalkeeper Calum Grant and flicked his shot beyond the reach of two covering defenders.
Aware that they needed to raise their game, Penarth restarted the second period with more purpose but, with too many players seemingly having a collective off day, the effort wasn’t matched with results. The Bears did manage to pull a goal back when James Kidby finished from an acute angle, but it was too little too late. Unable to convert from set-pieces and with chances going begging right to the end, the home side lost for the first time since mid-October to give their opponent – and the other teams still in the promotion hunt – a glimmer of hope for the coming weeks.
Goalscorers: Matthew Birch, James Kidby
PENARTH ‘C’ 3-4 Gwent ‘C’
The 4th XI were unable to keep tabs on top spot in De Cymru 3 despite a superb hat-trick from man-of-the-match Greg Cross in the early morning game at Stanwell. With a slick young Gwent side keeping the Bears on their toes throughout a see-saw battle, an excellent performance from goalkeeper Jamie Lawrence proved to be in vain as the home side slipped five points behind the division leaders with five games remaining.
Goalscorers: Greg Cross (3)
Gwent ‘B’ 2-0 PENARTH ‘D’
The 4th XI’s cause was not helped by the 5th XI going down in a tight match against top-of-the-table Gwent ‘B’ at Cwmbran. The Bears were unlucky not to get anything from the game, defending well for long periods of the first half and only going into the break trailing by a single goal. The tide turned in the second period, with Penarth dominating, but their inability to convert pressure into an equaliser was punished when Gwent snatched a decisive second against the run of play.
The defeat, allied to the other Gwent side winning at Stanwell, sees the Fifths slip back to fourth overall in De Cymru 3, but the sit just six point off a potential promotion place with five games of their own left to play.
With the prospect of snow and frozen pitches causing the cancellation of games on the opening week of February, the coming weekend promises a veritable hockey bonanza, with four of the club’s five sides playing twice in as many days. Ironically, the one team with a single fixture open the slate with a rare game under the Friday Night Lights of Sophia Gardens, as the 2nd XI face Whitchurch in another vital game for their promotion hopes (7.30pm start). The 1st XI have two home fixtures, entertaining Cardiff University and Clifton Robinsons on Saturday and Sunday respectively (both games 1.45pm start), while the Thirds also grace Stanwell on both days, taking on Swansea and Llanishen & Caerphilly in a pair of late games (both 3.30pm start). The 4th XI travel to Whitchurch on Saturday (2.30pm start), as the Fifths host Gwent in a battle for third spot in De Cymru 3 (10.30am start). The two Penarth sides then face each other in the opening fixture on Sunday (12.00pm start).
Penarth Hockey Club always welcomes new, old and returning players, umpires, supporters, friends and helpers regardless of age and ability. Training takes place at Stanwell on Wednesdays, 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 (email@example.com) for further information.