High scores in low temperatures

As the second ‘Beast from the East’ prepared to blast South Wales, Penarth Hockey Club defied the elements to not only complete a slate of games in the GoCrea8 League but also produce some sizzling scorelines in the process.

Isca ‘A’  3-5  PENARTH

Six days after travelling to the south coast for their GoCrea8 Championship showdown with Ashmoor, the 1st XI repeated the journey to Exeter in search of at least one point to put promotion to the Premiership beyond mathematical doubt.

Hosts Isca, meanwhile, were not about to make the task easy for the Bears due to their own perilous position in the lower reaches of the table, and were quick out of the blocks. Catching Penarth cold – quite literally given the Arctic conditions – with an early penalty corner strike, the Devonians went 1-0 up inside the opening ten minutes, but the shock seemed to waken the visitors from their stupor and they started to play some fluid hockey from the back. Good interplay between Aaron Fulton-Brown, Tom Haran, Joe Thomas and Marcus Powell eventually began to open the path to chances at the other end of the field, but Penarth proved wasteful in the final third as their normal clinical edge in front of goal evaded them.

However, the persistent pressure eventually had to pay dividends and, midway through the half, a neat combination through the Penarth midfield involving Ross Biggar, Laith Khatib, Chris Baker and Ben Croxall resulted in a penalty corner that was summarily despatched by Croxall to bring the sides level.

Both teams had further chances before the half-time whistle, but a number of good saves from both Penarth goalkeeper Adam Putt and his opposite number kept the scores even to the break, where the game took a bizarre twist that saw the visitors reduced to ten men for the restart after Croxall was sin-binned following a disagreement with the umpire during the break.

This handed Isca some unexpected momentum and the home side quickly raced into a 3-1 lead while Penarth looked to cover for their missing man. The effect of playing with ten men was clearly magnified when Croxall returned to the fray, as a full-strength Penarth side again started to dominate possession. Thanks to the efforts of Ollie Burland, Matthew Stollery and Jack Jopson – none of whom stopped running and causing the headaches for the Isca defence – the Bears clawed their way back into the game, where captain Haran set the tone for a comeback by tackling an Isca forward in his own half, carrying the ball forward and winning a penalty corner which Croxall finished to make the score 3-2.

By this point, only eight minutes remained in the game but, despite holding the scoreboard advantage, Isca appeared nervous and sat back, allowing the Bears to attack at will. The equalising goal wasn’t long in coming, and followed a whole team move that started at the back and flowed through the midfield before creating an overload for the forwards in the D, where a clever pass by Stollery found Khatib in position to make no mistake with a finish on his reverse.

Now clearly the dominant side, Penarth launched wave after wave of attack, and looked like they could score with each one, only for Isca to clear the ball off the line on more than one occasion. The home side eventually capitulated, however, conceding a penalty corner that allowed Croxall to complete his hat-trick and put the Bears into the lead for the first time in the match.

Desperate to get at least a point from the game, Isca replaced their goalkeeper with a ‘kicking back’, but Penarth were not to be denied and, having won another penalty corner right on the final whistle, Croxall rounded the first defensive runner before flicking the ball high into the net to make the final score 5-3.

It wasn’t the Bears’ best performance of the season by any stretch, but they showed some much needed resolve to grind out another three points from a tough season which sees them promoted to the Premiership at the first time of asking. With one remaining league match before their Welsh Cup encounter with National League powerhouse Cardiff & Met, Croxall and Co will hope to rediscover their early season potential to end the campaign on a high.

Goalscorers: Ben Croxall (4), Laith El-Khatib

PENARTH ‘A’  5-2  Wotton-under-Edge ‘A’

The 2nd XI hosted Wotton-under-Edge in their penultimate fixture of the season knowing that the visitors remained in contention for promotion. However, with the Bears having upset the formbook by running out the surprise winner in the reverse fixture, they were confident that they could provide another upset and potentially seal a more than respectable fourth place in their first season in De Cymru & The Marches 2.

With a shortage of defensive players, Penarth lined up with only one recognised member of their regular back line, forcing them into fielding a formation to match their attack heavy line up, as winger Sam Salisbury and attacking midfielder Phil Lane dropped into defence to form a back three alongside Sam Docherty. With the new formation and many players starting out their unfavoured positions, however, Penarth were unsurprisingly under the cosh in the opening exchanges but weathered the early storm and slowly started to create chances.

It was the home side who eventually opened the scoring, with a trademark Andy Strong aerial finding Dave Joyce unmarked in the D, the forward simultaneously controlling the ball on his reverse side and beating the ‘keeper with his first touch to fire home into the empty net.

Wotton continued to attack with menace, but were largely contained by the back three, with man-of-the-match Salisbury continually frustrating the visitors with well-timed tackles and interceptions. Having an attacking midfielder in the defence also provided a welcome surprise for the Bears, with Lane able to execute an effective exit strategy against Wotton’s aggressive press. When the slightest opening presented itself, the visitors did manage to grab an equaliser following a well-worked long corner, but Penarth hit back quickly to regain the lead, with Strong again the provider as he found Thomas Ricaux in the D before the Frenchman produced a superb improvised finish with his first touch.

Wotton pushed forward in search of an equaliser before half-time but Penarth continued to defend superbly to break down the attacks high up the pitch, withJames Kidby, in particular, producing a string of superb tackles in midfield. When the visitors did get into advanced positions, they were constantly thwarted by Strong and the makeshift back three, limiting them to a handful of half-chances and opening the door for Penarth to grab a third goal early in the second period to pile further pressure on the promotion chasers.

Again, Joyce and Ricaux played a part in Penarth’s third, the former seeing his initial deflection well saved by the Wotton ‘keeper before Ricaux reacted quickest to scramble the rebound across the line. With a larger deficit to close, Wotton were forced to push even more men forward, leading to a very open game for the remainder of the half. The visitors were left to rue some poor finishing, coupled with several superb saves from Calum Grant, and their plight deepened when the hosts struck a killer blow as Joyce grabbed his second of the game by pouncing on a rebound following a well-worked counter-attack to make it 4-1.

Penarth added a fifth shortly after, as Chris McCarthy converted from a penalty corner – just rewards for the midfielder, who had worked tirelessly in defence and attack throughout – and, although Wotton grabbed a deserved consolation goal from a well-worked penalty corner late on, the Bears ran out deserved winners and will retain fourth in the final standings barring an eight-goal home defeat to Gwent on the final day of the season this Sunday.

Goalscorers: Dave Joyce (2), Thomas Ricaux (2), Chris McCarthy

PENARTH ‘B’  4-6  Whitchurch ‘E’

As the first frigid flakes of Spring descended on Stanwell, Penarth’s 3rd XI embarked on what should have been the first leg of a season-ending De Cymru 2 double-header by entertaining a Whitchurch side still looking to break free of the relegation zone.

With two sides in the division, their ‘D’ team already promoted as champions and another side in the bottom tier, it was perhaps imperative for the Cardiff club to maintain an interest in De Cymru 2 and they showed that they meant business from the first whistle. Penarth, by contrast, had again been affected by the late start time, with several key players – including every established senior goalkeeper – unavailable for selection. As a result, there were some unfamiliar faces in the line-up, including an inexperienced netminder making his debut at De Cymru 2 level, and the home side’s lack of cohesion was apparent.

Despite still boasting an experienced back line, the Bears conceded two quick goals as Whitchurch’s own blend of senior guile and junior pace consistently produced a spare man in the D, and it took some time for the home side to steady the ship and settle into the game. When they did, however, the Bears looked good going forward, with Lewis Ingram again impressive in creating chances for the forwards, and setting up the string of penalty corners from which Craig Llewellyn eventually pulled a goal back.

As quickly as Penarth appeared to have gained a foothold, however, they were again undone by numbers at the other end, allowing Whitchurch to retake a two-goal advantage into the half-time interval, but the home side struck back soon after the restart, with Tom Griffiths scoring the goal of the game with a reverse stick strike from the edge of the area that left the visiting ‘keeper with just the smell of singed air as it rocketed into the roof of the net.

Penarth captain James Davies had been left to ponder various line-up changes during the break, as he attempted to accommodate a handful of unexpected late arrivals on the substitutes bench, but the reshuffle, meritorious as it may have been when it came, did not bring immediate rewards. Whitchurch, clearly unfazed by Griffiths’ strike, took advantage of some slack penalty corner defence from the home side to further increase their lead, before going on to establish a seemingly unassailable 5-2 advantage midway through the half.

Penarth, however, were not about to go quietly, and a two-minute spell immediately after Whitchurch’s fifth goal brought the game right back into the balance. First, left back Graeme Jones showed impressive composure to pounce on a loose ball and drive it past the advancing ‘keeper for 5-3 and then, with less than 60 seconds having elapsed, veteran striker Dave Watkins unselfishly supplied a pin-point cross for Ingram to convert a well-deserved goal into an empty net to reduce the deficit to a single goal.

With their tails up, the home side enjoyed a brief spell of pressure, but could not convert either the chances or penalty corners that came their way, and were subsequently punished as Whitchurch capitalised on an increasingly rare opportunity at the other end to put the game beyond the Bears’ reach.

A disappointing – and frustrating – result does not end Penarth’s hopes of finishing third in De Cymru 2, but their ambitions rest on the outcome of the two games remaining in the division. While the chance to add a final three points to their tally against relegation-threatened Bridgend fell victim to the weather for a second time on Sunday, the Bears also need the same Whitchurch side that inflicted defeat on Saturday to repeat the feat against Swansea University this coming weekend to ensure the door remains open into April.

Goalscorers: Craig Llewellyn, Tom Griffiths, Graeme Jones, Lewis Ingram

Bridgend ‘C’  5-2  PENARTH ‘C’

The ‘C-Siders’ travelled to Bridgend on Thursday night to complete their league schedule and, in poor conditions more reminiscent of something from the Twilight Zone, ca,e off second-best in an ill-tempered encounter.

Despite taking an early lead when the pace and incisiveness of the young Penarth midfield and forward line resulted in a sharp finish at the far post by Gabriel Pryde, poor discipline provoked by numerous questionable umpiring decisions allowed the improving Bridgend side back in to the game, with a series of penalty corners establishing a 3-1 lead for the home side at the interval.

With time to catch breath and recompose themselves, the second period began promisingly for Penarth, as they themselves forced a succession of penalty corners. However, unlike the home side, the visitors were unable to convert anything until Matthew Birch – in his first game back after breaking a leg whilst on emergency goalkeeping duty for the 3rd XI in January – proved quickest to react to force the ball home and bring the score back to 3-2.

Despite the boost, the Penarth side, already travelling with a bare eleven players due to unavailability and unavoidable late withdrawals, continued to struggle as a combination of fatigue, injuries and further ill discipline began to take effect, and the more experienced Bridgend side quickly wrestled control of the midfield, forcing the ‘C-Siders’ to grow increasingly reliant on trying to hit the home side on the break.

Meanwhile, the excellent penalty corner conversion rate enjoyed by the home side continued as they re-established their two-goal cushion and, despite forcing numerous opportunities at the other end, the young Penarth team were unable to peg Bridgend back again and it was the hosts who finally put the result beyond doubt when an unmarked forward finished sharply from the head of the D.

In truth, the scoreline could have been more like 9-8, but profligate finishing by both sides and an excellent performance from the young Bridgend keeper – not for the first time this year – prevented something akin to a rugby score. The result, while disappointing, did nothing to affect the final standing of either side, with Penarth finishing the season fourth in De Cymru 3, one place above their opponents. The real success of the side, however, can be measured in the quantity and quality of the younger players introduced to senior hockey and now progressing through the Saturday sides, suggesting that the future of the Club looks extremely healthy.

Goalscorers: Gabriel Pryde, Matthew Birch

With the GoCrea8 League schedule winding down, slotting in games rearranged after the recent bad weather means that Penarth sides will be in action at some unusual times over the next couple of weeks. First up, and already completed by the time you read this, is the 1st XI’s season finale, at City of Bath on Tuesday night, while the 2nd XI play their last competitive game of the campaign on Sunday, against Gwent at Stanwell (1.30pm start). The 3rd XI’s twice postponed game with Bridgend is now slated for Saturday 7 April, the two-week hiatus meaning that the 1st XI’s Welsh Cup fate will already be known, with their semi-final with Cardiff & Met scheduled for Thursday 29 March at Sophia Gardens (7pm start).


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