Port Talbot Town returned to competitive action for the first time in nine months, being eliminated from the Nathaniel MG Cup on penalties after a 1-1 draw with Cambrian & Clydach.
Jordan Edwards had given the Blues an early lead, but after an onslaught of Cambrian pressure they got their goal deep into stoppage time with a fine strike from Josh Bull to send the game to spot kicks.
It was a bright start for the Blues who returned to action for the first time since a 1-0 win at Caldicot Town in March. However, it was the visitors who had the first opening from a corner with the ball bundled into the net after a foul on James Harris in the build-up.
Jordan Edwards had a good chance from the edge of the box but the lengthy spell on the sidelines showed as his effort wasn’t strong enough to seriously threaten Clarke in the Cambrian goal.
He would soon make amends though as he struck a lovely curled strike into the bottom corner to give Port Talbot Town the lead after seven minutes.
Edwards continued to be a spark up front and linked well with Jackson Hall to create an opening, but the latter could only slice his effort wide.
Rhys Jones impressed on the wing in the first half and he worked well with Conor Harris to open up the visitor’s defence, only for Harris to have his shot blocked.
Dylan Llewellyn, playing in an unfamiliar right back position, enticed the first booking of the game after being chopped down by Ceri Morgan and he continued to be an attacking threat from full back throughout the game.
After 25 minutes, Cambrian had their first noteworthy effort through Josh Bull who forced a great save from James Harris at the near post. This was just the first of many for Harris who was arguably the Blues’ man of the match.
Jackson Hall had another chance after a good Jordan Pike free kick deliver but he was unable to get a clean strike away with the effort ending up over the bar. Rhys Jones had a great opportunity to double the lead straight after at the back post, but his header was comfortably saved.
After an impressive and well-organised start, Port Talbot were forced into an early change on 38 minutes with (big) Ryan Morgan forced off with what appeared to be a back injury. A reshuffling of personnel was required with Rhys Jones moving into central defence after Morgan was replaced by Jack Underwood.
There were no further chances of note for the remainder of the half with Jordan Edwards’ goal the difference at the break.
Team talks were conducted on the pitch as part of the Covid-19 precautions, and Cambrian came out of the traps flying with a dominant second-half performance.
John Hall was forced to in a fantastic block to deny Sam Jones’ goal-bound strike and Conor Young then headed wide from the resulting corner after finding space in the Port Talbot box.
A frantic minute saw Port Talbot prevent an equaliser off the line not once, but twice. John Hall once again prevented Sam Jones from opening the scoring and then Jordan Pike kept the ball out after a good Ceri Morgan header as the Blues continued to soak up the pressure from the Cam Army.
As Cambrian continued to assert pressure, a series of bookings occurred with Liam Reed going into the book for a foul on Rhys Jones before Cambrian manager and ex-Blue Lee Kendall was booked for comments on the touchline in his first match in charge of the away side.
Port Talbot joined the yellow card party with two bookings in as many minutes with Owen Williams cautioned for use of his arm and then Conor Harris followed for a late challenge as the Steelmen looked to hold onto the slender lead.
With fourteen minutes remaining, Cambrian thought they had the equaliser their play merited with Sam Jones heading home from close range, only for Josh Bull to be deemed offside in the build-up and the goal was disallowed.
The bookings continued as the match turned feisty with Dre Griffiths receiving a yellow car for a late foul on John Hall. Frustration continue as Port Talbot were forced into another change as Dylan Llewellyn was replaced by Adam Llewellyn, resulting in another shuffling of the pack with Morgan Thomas moving to right back.
With less than ten minutes remaining, Cambrian continued their onslaught of pressure through possession and Sam Jones headed over with a decent chance before Jarrad Wright went into the referee’s book for remonstrating with the officials. Kyle Jones followed for a late challenge on Adam Llewellyn.
James Harris produced a big save late on to deny a fantastic curling effort from Sam Jones to keep the Blues ahead with five minutes of regulation time to play.
Late on, Port Talbot had a chance to seal it as Jordan Edwards pounced onto a loose back pass and he found Harris who saw his lobbed effort agonisingly cleared off the line.
Cambrian refused to accept defeat and Harris was forced into another excellent save to deny Wright on the turn as we entered stoppage time.
With the allotted four minutes of added time played, the final chance came for Josh Bull who cut in well inside the Port Talbot box and unleashed a superb strike that curled into the bottom left corner and agonisingly past Harris to send the game into penalties.
Liam Edwards and Conor Harris opened the shootout with successful penalties, before Dai Thomas and Jordan Edwards saw their spot kicks saved. Jarrad Wright and Jack Underwood dealt with the pressure to score and keep the scores level.
Sam Jones scored his penalty before Morgan Thomas devastatingly struck the bar. That left Cambrian’s fifth spot kick to their goal scorer Josh Bull who delivered into the bottom corner to send the visitors into the hat for Round 2 with a 4-2 shootout victory.
It was a bitter pill to swallow for the Blues, being eliminated on penalties for a third successive competition after shootout defeats to Ton Pentre and Risca United in the Welsh League Cup and FAW Trophy last season.
Despite the defeat, manager Mark Pike was pleased with the performance after less-than-ideal preparations.
“Preparation going into this game were non-existent,” said Pike. “Given the week we have, I cannot fault the lads who pulled on the shirt today.”
“As a club, we chose to cancel all training and pre-season fixtures for the wellbeing of our players and their families due to a Covid outbreak within the camp. Two positive test, two pending results and three showing signs along with a number of isolations due to track and trace was far from ideal going into our first competitive game.”
Pike continued: “Whilst it’s no excuse, we have demonstrated that we have got a great squad and group of players. In my opinion, the game itself was one of two halves.”
“We played ever so well in the first period and should have gone in at the break three, maybe four, goals up. But it felt from the sixtieth minute that we were backs to the wall and it seemed that we wanted to protect our lead and allowed Cambrian to come at us whilst relying on the counter.”
“In that period, James pulled off three great saves to keep us in it and late on we had a great opportunity to seal the game with Jordans Eds through on goal and linking well with Conor Harris who had his goal bound shot headed off the line.”
“It’s a bitter pill to take for sure,” admitted the gaffer. “Yet again we allow Cambrian into the game with a great strike in the fifth of four added minutes… and it’s another cup competition we have gone out on penalties.”
Pike concludes: “Given our lack of preparation and circumstances, man to man we were superb and threatened a very organised Cambrian side. At this level, we must make the right decisions from the first to the ninety-sixth minute.”
“All in all, it was a very pleasing first competitive performance and whilst I am disappointed not to be in the hat for the second round, we can certainly build upon the positives.”
The Blues are scheduled to return to competitive action in 2021 with a truncated 15-game JD Cymru South season set to take place. Keep your eyes peeled to the club’s social media for announcement and fixtures as soon we get information.
All image credits: Lewis Mitchell.
Match highlights courtesy of Sgorio;