Penarth Hockey Club’s two most senior sides clinched vital victories by a single goal at the weekend, strengthening their position in their respective GoCrea8 League divisions.
Cheltenham ‘A’ 1-2 PENARTH
The 1st XI travelled to Cheltenham for what could prove to be an influential game in their push for promotion from the GoCrea8 Championship division but, with just a point separating the teams in second and third, a close game between two well-matched sides was always on the cards.
The first fixture between the teams had resulted in a 5-1 win for the Bears, and it was the away side who started stronger, looking composed on the ball and well-organised in defence. By retaining possession and constantly finding players in space, Penarth were able to pull Cheltenham around the pitch and, after ten minutes, the tactic bore its first fruit.
Ollie Burland’s run wide into space was met by a pin-point aerial from Chris Baker, allowing Burland to beat his man and drive into the D, where he found the foot of a Cheltenham defender to win a penalty corner. Laith El-Khatib then stepped up to convert the set-piece, flicking the ball past the hapless Cheltenham ‘keeper to give Penarth the lead.
The Bears’ first goal was quickly followed by a second, with Baker making one of his trademark runs to cut infield from the right, beating several players before firing a rocket past the bewildered Cheltenham netminder for 2-0. At that point, it looked as though the floodgates may open as Penarth continued to push forward, but they struggled to create clear opportunities in the final quarter and the half ended without any further addition to the scoreboard.
If the Welsh side were concerned at not extending their advantage, a very different second half would only have compounded their worries. Cheltenham, needing a win to advance their own promotion credentials, came out determined to overturn the deficit and take something from the game. Pushing forward in number, they were able to press the Penarth defence at every opportunity, although the tactic left them exposed in defence and vulnerable to the high ball over midfield.
This became a regular theme of Penarth’s second half performance, with Ben Croxall repeatedly finding team-mates in space with well-placed aerials, although the search for a third goal continued to prove frustrating.
Cheltenham’s pressure eventually took its toll on the visitors midway through the period, and the deficit was eventually halved by a piece of solo skill that beat two defenders before producing a reverse stick shot to beat Scott Fulton-Brown in the Penarth goal.
The game continued in much the same vein for the remainder of the half, with the well-organised Penarth defence breaking down play and restricting Cheltenham to little more than half chances. When the Bears did have the ball, Croxall continued to find players in space, only for his forwards to test the Cheltenham defence without reward.
There was one final moment of concern for Penarth as, with just three minutes remaining they were reduced to ten men after Tom Haran – who it appeared had been watching too much of the tackling technique in the ice hockey at the Winter Olympics – received a green card, but the defence rallied to see out the time and allow the Bears to secure three crucial points to extend their advantage over Cheltenham as they continue their pursuit of leaders Ashmoor with five games remaining.
Goalscorers: Laith El-Khatib, Chris Baker
PENARTH ‘A’ 1-0 Swansea University ‘A’
The Seconds returned to action following their bye week looking to continue the impressive recent form which had seen them climb into the top half of the De Cymru & The Marches 2 table but, with the whole club struggling for numbers with the advent of half-term, were forced to play with a bare eleven against top-of-the-table Swansea University.
The students had schooled Penarth in their first fixture, and the Bears were particularly keen to rectify the heavy defeat they had suffered in Swansea, but it was the visitors who started the better of the two teams, quickly putting their hosts under pressure and winning a succession of early penalty corners which the defence and man-of-the-match Adam Putt did well to keep out.
The university almost broke the deadlock from a set-piece, as a well-worked routine saw a deflection hit Sam Docherty on the line, but the subsequent penalty flick found goalkeeper Putt on top form as he pulled off a fine save to keep the scores level, and this seemed to galvanise the entire home side as they began to maintain possession and create chances of their own.
A good offensive press saw the Bears winning possession high up the pitch and, from one such steal, Jamie Wheeler beat two Swansea defenders before being taken out from behind, earning Penarth their own penalty flick. Docherty stepped up to take on the responsibility but, after sending the Swansea ‘keeper the wrong way, saw his effort creep past the post to leave the game scoreless.
Undaunted, Penarth almost broke the deadlock minutes later, captain Andy Strong’s initial effort from a penalty corner rebounding to Sam Williamson, who calmly beat a defender before slapping the ball goalward, beating the keeper but being denied by a covering defender on the line.
With honours shared at the interval, the second half remained an even affair with both sides playing open hockey. Penarth’s centre back pairing of Docherty and Williamson were able to play the ball calmly out of defence and, with wing backs Tom Griffiths and Jamie Davison getting high up the pitch, the Bears were able to create promising attacks, while the midfield trio of Strong, Wheeler and Chris McCarthy worked tirelessly to break down the university’s attacks and create opportunities on the counter.
The only goal of the game came as a result of Penarth’s increasing pressure, with McCarthy chasing a lost cause to win possession high up the pitch and win a penalty corner, which fell perfectly for James Kidby to convert for the lead.
Swansea pushed forward for a way back into the game, but were continually frustrated by the Penarth midfield and defence and, when they did manage to create one clear cut chance right at the death, another superb save by Putt preserved the Bears’ lead and ensured they took all three points.
Goalscorers: James Kidby
PENARTH ‘B’ 0-1 Whitchurch ‘D’
After the washout that claimed the previous weekend’s game with Swansea University, Penarth’s 3rd XI were itching to get back into action but, like the Seconds, found themselves facing top-of-the-table opposition in local rival Whitchurch.
Also shorn of key players, albeit still with the luxury of a substitute, the home side knew that a defensive effort would be the order of the day, as Whitchurch arrived keen to take all three points and tighten their grip on a likely De Cymru 2 title.
Right from the start, the Bears found themselves on the back foot but managed to withstand the barrage, with goalkeeper Calum Grant in form to thwart any threat that managed to evade the well-marshalled back four of Graeme Jones, James Davies, Craig Llewellyn and Rob Harrison.
Although Whitchurch enjoyed the better chances, Penarth gradually came into the game, creating opportunities late in the half through the effervescent Tom Parkinson and impressive Lewis Ingram on the flanks.
With regular forward Dave Watkins absent, however, Marc Sawyer and substitute Zayn Zaman were forced to plough a lone furrow up front and, despite the former twice going close to breaking the deadlock – including a clearance off the line – the half ended scoreless.
The second period would follow a similar pattern to the first but, despite the half-time call to maintain concentration in defence, a couple of missed tackles early on allowed Whitchurch to break through and give Grant little chance from close range.
Having needlessly fallen behind, Penarth rallied and, from that point on, the defence continued to frustrate the visitors’ forays, both from open play and set-pieces, while the pace of Thomas Ricaux became increasingly influential in midfield.
Squandering penalty corner opportunities did little to help the Bears’ cause, however, and, with few other clear-cut scoring chances being created, the game would end in a frustrating 1-0 defeat for the home side.
Whitchurch ‘F’ 0-3 PENARTH ‘C’
After back-to-back fixtures with teams at the top of De Cymru 3, the 4th XI enjoyed a trip to lowly Whitchurch, dominating the game throughout before easing to a comfortable 3-0 away win.
Skilful approach play allowed the ‘C-siders’ to create any number of chances, only to be thwarted by the Whitchurch goalkeeper, who had an outstanding match under almost constant pressure. The Penarth team – featuring its familiar blend of youth and experience – refused to be denied, however, and, following strong attacking play down the right by man-of-the-match Rhys Meddins, it was two of the younger players, Gabriel Pryde – with his first for the club at senior level – and Joe Ramage, who scored first half goals to see the Bears ahead at interval.
The second half saw more of the same, with Penarth continuing to control proceedings, and the comparative penalty corner count illustrating the extent of that dominance, with the home side failing to secure award while the Bears ventured well into double figures. Fittingly, it was from one such set-piece that Will Ramage netted from a tight angle to score Penarth’s third goal, and his first for the senior side.
Goalkeeper Simon Comfort made what was only his second save of the game – one per half – towards the end of the match to ensure Penarth’s clean sheet, and returning captain Nick Pratt could be justifiably pleased with a good all-round performance that tightens the team’s hold on a mid-table position.
Goalscorers: Gabriel Pryde, Joe Ramage, Will Ramage
All four Penarth sides are in action this weekend, with the 1st XI headlining as they seek another three points as they host the University of Exeter at Stanwell (1.45pm start). The Seconds make the arduous trip to face Aberystwyth University (2.15pm start) in pursuit of another win that would close the gap on the top four, while the 4th XI return home after three successive away games to open the programme at Stanwell against Neath (noon start). The 3rd XI, meanwhile, have two games in as many days as they attempt to catch up on the game abandoned last weekend, starting with a trip to Hawthorn to tackle Llanishen & Caerphilly (10am start), before facing the challenge of Swansea University at Stanwell on Sunday (1.30pm 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 (email@example.com) for further information.