Port Talbot Town returned to winning ways with a 1-0 victory over Abertillery Bluebirds in the FAW Trophy 3rdround at a bitterly cold Victoria Road. Conor Harris sealed the win with a penalty just after the hour mark.
After Saturday’s postponement due to a waterlogged pitch, it was the low temperatures that proved troublesome on a Tuesday night but there was a good crowd from both sides that braved the freezing weather.
Both teams started brightly, and it was Abertillery who had the first chance of the game with Brandon Withers volleying a long ball wide after seven minutes. Tom Neville, eager for his first goal in a Blues shirt, raced through the defence before Michael Vagg was able to clear. The ball was quickly recycled to Conor Harris though and he struck wide from the edge of the box.
A nasty looking challenge on Jack Underwood meant Port Talbot had a free kick in a good position, around 25 yards out, and Jordan Pike was close to giving the Blues the lead with his effort going just wide.
Port Talbot continued to apply pressure midway through the first half and Tom Neville went close again as Daffydd Myson was able to clutch the ball from the path of his intended header. Dylan Llewellyn burst into life on the left wing shortly after with some magical feet to break through a stubborn Bluebirds defence, but he was unable to find anyone in blue in the box with his pull back.
Abertillery didn’t take this one lying down though with Owen Goodenough not quite living up to his name as his curling effort from the 18-yard line was comfortably saved by James Harris in goal.
The Blues then had the ball in the net after Tom Neville met a sublime Ryan Morgan cross, only for it to be ruled out for offside. That first goal for Neville was still waiting. Conor Harris was close again to putting Port Talbot ahead with a wicked strike from outside the box just going over.
Right on half time, Goodenough nearly proved he was as he beat Harris to a long cross but saw his header loop just over. It should have been 1-0 to the away side at the break with this chance, but the teams went in goalless at the break.
Port Talbot showed great incentive at the start of the second half as Conor Harris broke clear brilliantly on the right and although his cross was cleared, captain Ryan Morgan met the rebound but saw his shot saved by Myson in goal. The away keeper clearly struggled with a groin injury and had to give up goal kick duties.
Just after the hour mark, Tom Neville continued to be lively and he was fouled off the ball in front of a boisterous Burns Road End home support and a penalty was awarded. Gavin Nash escaped going into the referee’s book. Conor Harris stepped up and smashed the penalty home to give Port Talbot a deserved 1-0 lead.
Abertillery continued to threaten with the height of Goodenough something they tried to exploit. He was close to an equaliser on 72 minutes, but Jordan Pike defended well to see out the danger and have the ball in the safety of James Harris in goal. Away claims for a back pass were rightly ignored by the referee.
Goodenough again was the Bluebirds threat and he managed to find some space in a packed Port Talbot half. His effort was not going to trouble Harris in goal though as he saw it wide.
Tom Neville thought he had his first Port Talbot Town goal once again four minutes from time, but it was again ruled out for offside. There was some great play in the build-up from substitute Morgan Thomas, but a questionable flag from makeshift linesman Robbie Clemence meant the goal was ruled out.
There was a moment to celebrate two minutes from time as popular striker Blake Morgan returned to the pitch after a lengthy spell on the side-lines with injury. He made an instant impact with a foul within twenty seconds.
There was a huge chance for Abertillery to equalise in the 89th minute as James Young managed to get a shot away, but he sliced his strike wide and over. There was then a mad goalmouth scramble in stoppage time with the home side defending for their lives. James Harris produced a stunning save low to his right to ensure that victory was sealed.
The win ensured that Port Talbot Town advanced into the 4th round of the FAW Trophy and we caught up with manager Mark Pike for his reflection on the win: “A typical cup tie! We dominated throughout but we really do make it hard for ourselves. We had plenty of possession, but we weren’t really doing anything with it which was a disappointment. We have to learn to be more ruthless in certain areas of the field.”
“Tom Neville is still searching for his first goal for us and having put the ball in the net twice, it is a big shame for him that they were both disallowed for offside,” added the gaffer.
“Tonight was also an opportunity to see some fringe players and give them much-needed minutes. Sion Lewis did very well in his first start of the season and Matty Baker did well after being out for a while.”
“Blake Morgan coming back from almost six months out was positive and it was fantastic to be able to give him some minutes at the end. He’s a great character and it’s like a new signing who brings fresh energy into the camp. The support tonight was again first class in what started a tame affair but ended very feisty…”
Port Talbot Town return to Welsh League Division One action this Saturday (2 November) with a trip to Goyre. Kick-off for that one is at 2pm.
All image credits: Russell Morris.