Tuesday, 1 November 2016

30/10/16 Review: The New Saints vs gap Connah's Quay

The New Saints 3-0 gap Connah's Quay (Welsh Premier League)
Park Hall

Another day, another trip to what would today be a third country visited in search of the UK's finest football. Having flown over to Ireland on Friday to watch Irish Champions Dundalk lift the title, we had then popped over to Cliftonville's Solitude in Belfast before sprinting it back to England to have a quick sleep in time for today's venture out to Oswestry on the border of Shropshire and Wales to see "The New Saints of Oswestry Town and Llansantffraid Football Club" (or just TNS) in a 1st vs 2nd Welsh Premier League match between the League's two unbeaten sides.

Game 3 of 4 on the big POF/Partizan Bristle Weekend
Now, before people start getting on horses of a particular height, I want to clarify that I DO KNOW that Oswestry Town is in England. Our mission this weekend was to visit 4 games across 4 countries in 4 days, and although TNS are based in the Shropshire village, they are still a representative of Welsh football and to set the record straight, we drove partially into Wrexham to say that we've physically been in to Wales. So there! Anyway, after the hour or so of driving from Stoke-on-Trent we made it to the village of Oswestry and within sight was "The Venue" which was the location in which Park Hall was situated. We had but 10 minutes to spare before kick-off, so in a rush I entered the car park (through the no entry sign), parked up and then we made a dash for the clubhouse to see what was going on. From the outside, the clubhouse looked to be some sort of Leisure Centre and it sat upon a hill. We walked in and from first observation wondered what on earth we had walked into. With kids playing on some climbing apparatus on the right, a fancy balcony on the left and a bowling alley ahead, it seemed that we had stumbled upon the wrong place. Whilst Tom visited the toilet, I scouted around and when I stepped out on the balcony outside I discovered that this family fun centre cum restaurant was overlooking the ground. Very nice.

Certainly a different Clubhouse to the one we'd seen at Solitude the day before
With now just moments to spare before the game, we asked the steward for directions to which he pointed us back out of the clubhouse and around to a turnstile. We hastily headed there, purchased a ticket and a programme before heading in to instantly spot yet another 3G pitch- the third in three days on our tour. We entered shortly before the sides who were ready for this top of the table clash. This was a big one for the opposition today, as the Nomads- despite being unbeaten- were 12 points behind the 100% TNS side who had won 12 from 12 so far in the League and owned a plus 41 Goal Difference already, averaging just under 4 goals per game at this stage. The Nomads had won 6 and drawn 6 so far and sat 3 points above Bangor City before this round of games, so defeat would be all the more bitter for them if it saw them surrender a 15 point lead so early. TNS, of course, were the favourites for this one and with a line-up featuring New Zealand International Greg Draper, Scotland International Steve Saunders and Northern Ireland U21 lad Ryan Brobbel, this was a strong squad looking to win what would be a seventh league title in eight years.

Enough talking, let's get the show on the artificial road
TNS started the game stronger, but as with the game we'd seen yesterday at Cliftonville, the first-half was played at a very pedestrian pace. With neither side wanting to lose this one, the opening 45 offered very little in the way of chances and the fans started to become tense as both sides attacked but never really looked desperate enough to take the lead. One chap shouted over to the Saints left-back "There's a goal over there, Pryce!" as a potential move broke down and was passed back towards the green and white defenders to maintain possession rather than go for goal. TNS clearly had a game plan, and that was to frustrate the opponents and try and draw them out so that they could use a bit of their quality to punish them. On the pitch, the Nomads players did not seem one bit fussed by this and they coped very well without exposing themselves to chances- and apart from the away manager Andy Morrison getting more verbal at his own side's lack of attacking movement, the team must've been happy enough at half-time. Amongst the home fans were a young group of fans who were belting out a very fine-tuned version of "when the Saints go marching in", and next to this was a rather crude bunch who took to pelting out a verse of "the Keeper's got a boner!" as Gap's John Danby received treatment from the female Nomads Physio. Always nice to see the life-cycle of football fans in action side-by-side!

All growl, no bite as the Saints try to forge a goal
Just before half-time we did see a half-chance for the Saints but unfortunately for the club's future legend, Alex Darlington, he sliced his volley hopelessly away from the goal on this occasion. With that, it was half-time and therefore time to pop back into The Venue for a pint. Admittedly, sitting and drinking it was quite surreal, as to one direction we saw a group of kids playing, to the other we could glance at the Chelsea-Southampton match, and ahead of that was a few families enjoying Fish and Chips. It was a nice atmosphere, don't get me wrong, but it was a wee bit different to the party animals of Dundalk we had sat amongst on Friday night.

It wasn't all fancy Nancy, mind
One think that I haven't mentioned yet is that before the day I had been chatting with the Saints' Twitter administrator and lead commentator on TNS Radio "The Rev", and whilst we had been chatting online he had asked me to pop up and join him during the match to chat a bit about the game, the ground and our adventures of the weekend. Not knowing what to expect, I waited until the second-half started before popping up to say hello. The Rev, who is on his own Ground-hopping mission this season, was a very friendly chap who clearly loves his football. A Stourbridge fan and Midlander, The Rev got me up for the best part of the second-half alongside himself and former QPR player Tom Matthews, who is now of the Saints. I won't go on too much about this, but feel free to watch the Live Coverage of another weird and wonderful turn on this tremendous weekend.

People have told me in the past that I have a perfect face for the radio
Whilst I was live on-air, I managed to witness all three of the Saints goals and the first would be a first for former Burnley and Motherwell man Wes Fletcher, who scored a nice goal after arriving from the bench. He turned a defender with his silky movement and then placed his finish across the reach of the Nomads Keeper to break the very tight deadlock. TNS 1-0 Nomads. The second came from young left-back Pryce who cut the ball back well from the left and it would be another ex-Motherwell man Steve Saunders who dispatched the crucial finish to double the Saints lead and surely clarify that a 13th straight WPL win was in the bag. TNS 2-0 Nomads. With the Nomads now desperate to attack and try to rescue a point, they were punished yet again on the counter and after a good break from Brobbel, the ball eventually fell to Jon Routledge and he broke his duck for the club with a first Saints goal. TNS 3-0 Nomads. Game over and with a drive back to Stoke we departed quickly from Park Hall, despite the temptation of foody goodness from The Venue, and we headed home. A decent ground with a very similar style of game to the Cliftonville trip yesterday- a slow, tense first-half which was followed by a solid home victory for the home side who came out on top in the latter stages of the game. Connah's Quay played well in parts, but they just did not have the quality that the Saints had to throw at the game, which can be optimised by the players that came off the bench making a big impact against their tiring opponents. So, with Hednesford Town up next, we have so far seen 3 games in 3 days in 3 countries, with the home side winning each by 3 goals! Amazing stuff, you just couldn't write it....

Good night Park Hall

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