Welsh Cup Semi-Finals – 4th April 2015
- Entrance: £7.00; Programme: £2.00
- Tea: £1.00; Cheeseburger: £1.70
The first weekend of April and the start of the Easter weekend saw a break in the Welsh Premier League as the focus returned back onto the Welsh Cup as the semi-final matches would be played. Unsurprisingly it would also see me travel to one of these semi-final matches, which would be played in a neutral ground I had not yet visited. It would also be the first of a potential two games I would watch over the Easter weekend.
The first Easter match I had chosen to attend was a game between two former Welsh Cup winners as Rhyl would compete against Newtown for a place in the final. It was being played at the neutral venue of The Rock, Cefn Druids’ ground, and a ground that I had not previously visited. With the other semi-final between The New Saints and Airbus UK Broughton being played at Newtown (where I have been several times), it was the obvious choice for Easter Saturday action!
This all Welsh Premier League semi-final match would see 6th position take on 8th, with Newtown in 6th place but bottom of the Championship Conference, whilst Rhyl were 8th in the Relegation Conference and chasing the 7th position that would qualify them for the playoffs that decides the 3rd and final Welsh Europa League qualifier. Both teams were having near identical seasons in terms of results with Rhyl achieving one point/draw more in the bottom conference, but Newtown having a three goal advantage in goal difference.
In their previous league matches prior to this cup fixture, both teams ended up losing their games despite producing spirited performances in one of the halves. On the Friday night, Newtown went to Park Hall to take on newly crowned WPL champions The New Saints and would take a 2-0 lead, but a Greg Draper double brace would see the Robins lose 2-4. On the Saturday (in a game that I blogged upon) Rhyl would find themselves 0-2 down to Connah’s Quay at half time, but an improved second half performance meant they would just lose 1-2 at Belle Vue. With both teams suffering defeats in the league, this match was critical for their seasons to both reach a cup final and the potential of claiming a trophy and European qualification, as well as regaining some momentum heading into the final league games of the season.
Rhyl’s route the semi-final started back in late November in Round 3 when they started their campaign at home against a tricky opponent in the Welsh Football League Division 1’s Goytre United, winning the tie 2-1. In Round 4, they went away to northern Montgomeryshire to take on Llanrhaeadr, overcoming the Mid Wales League team 4-2 in a high scoring game, which looked a potential cup shock at one point during the tie. Finally in the Quarter Finals, a fantastic 2-1 victory away at fellow Welsh Premier League team Carmarthen Town booked their place in the last four of the Welsh Cup at the expense of the Old Gold. The 4 times Welsh Cup winners were looking to reach their ninth Welsh Cup final in total, and their first national cup final since 2006 when they beat fierce rivals Bangor City 2-0 that day.
Newtown’s journey to the semis was no less tricky than their opponents as they had to face three away trips to reach the final four. In Round 3, they went to Flintshire to take on Welsh National League team FC Nomads of Connah’s Quay, and left Deeside with a scrappy 2-0 win. In Round 4, and in front of the S4C cameras, they took on their Montgomeryshire rivals Caersws in a derby cup match. On that day they managed to come away from the Recreation Ground with a narrow 3-2 victory. In the Quarters, a fantastic 2-1 win over WPL strugglers Bangor City at Nantporth ensured their passage to the semi-finals. The Robins, who had won the Welsh Cup on two previous occasions and were the second team to win the cup (as Newtown White Stars) were looking to reach their first cup final since 1897!! An unbelievable statistic considering the size and support of the club!
Joining me on the journey down to The Rock would be my mate Simon, who had last travelled on a groundhop with me when we visited Caerwys a couple of weeks back. Both of us were hoping for a better game than the one we had seen at Lon yr Ysgol that day. It would take me about 45 minutes to drive down from Holywell, past Wrexham, to the village of Rhosymedre where Cefn Druids are based. On the way down, I avoided the troublesome roadworks at the A55/A483 roundabout which could have caused potential delays (especially during Easter weekend) by going through Penyffordd, Hope and Llay and back onto the A483.
The Rock is newly built ground after Cefn Druids moved from its traditional home of Plaskynaston Lane in Cefn-Mawr to Rhosymedre in 2010. It’s not the first time they have played in the village as Druids United (one of the teams who had merged with Cefn Albion to create Cefn Druids) played there in the 1920s as Rhosymedre Druids. The ground itself is located to the west of the village, off the main High Street, up Church Road onto Rock Road, and it is situated in a former quarry (a sort of Welsh version of the fantastic stadium at Braga). The ground has a large car park available for supporters to park in although I decided to park on the side of the access road leading up to the ground from Rock Road as a few supporters were already parking up there and the visitors car park looked a bit full when we arrived at 1:45pm.
Once parked up, we walked up the access road and under a footbridge into the car park. When we arrived in the car park, we instantly realised how the ground acquired its name as the ground is located at the bottom of an imposing sheer rock face that is clearly visible on entrance to the ground. As you would expect, the ground has a modern feel to it with a large all-seater covered stand of around 500 seats running alongside the opposite side of the pitch to the rock face and a large social club that houses a licensed bar, tea bar and the changing rooms for the teams. Standing is available on the other three sides as there is a concreted path running around the pitch, with the television gantry situated in the middle of the rock face side.
We paid the £7 entrance fee at the turnstiles (standard WPL entry price) alongside an additional £2 for the programme and got into the ground. The programme was an FAW publication of the day and had details on both teams as well as their routes to the final. I felt the programme was a bit sparse and possibly not worth £2 in comparison with other programmes produced for the same price. Then again it is ‘semi-final prices’!
There is no entrance from the ground into the social club so a steward has to stamp your hand (on this day with a smiley face stamp) and they let you out the side gate to allow you to going into the clubhouse. We did this to get into the social club and have a quick look around. The social club was full of Rhyl and Newtown supporters mingling together discussing the upcoming match which was good to see, although neither of us fancied any alcoholic drinks, so we returned back into the ground via the side gate. I did notice that the club shop was also located by the entrance of the social club although unsurprisingly for this match it was closed – a little disappointing but not unexpected as I was hoping to pick up a Cefn Druids mug for the collection (if they sell them of course). Ah well, I will have to pop down again for an Ancients game and collect one then…
Once back inside the ground, I noticed the tea hatch which is located on the side of the clubhouse but facing inwards and accessible to those already inside the ground. Here two teas were bought for £1 each and they were readily slurped down whilst watching both teams go through their warming-up exercises. There is also a snack bar in between the main stand and clubhouse that sells all the usual hot and cold snacks for the hungry supporters. After some deliberation and some fantastic smells coming from snack bar (yes I did use the line “Do you smell what The Rock is cooking?” – one for all you old school WWE fans out there!!), I decided to purchase a cheeseburger with onions for the very reasonable price of £1.70. Well worth the price considering how tasty it was!
Whilst we were queuing up for food in the ever increasing line, our mate and fellow groundhopping companion Greg had unexpectedly arrived at the ground. He had originally declined the offer to come along due to attending a barbecue (in early April!!) that his wife’s colleague was hosting. However he had got his timing all mixed up as the barbecue wasn’t being held until the evening, so he came along to meet us at the ground. Great stuff! Greg quickly bought himself a drink (not a fizzy drink as he has given them up for lent) and chocolate bar for about £1.70 and then the three of us moved away from the tempting snack bar and got ourselves some seats in the main stand. The stand was filling up nicely with a nice mix of both Rhyl and Newtown supporters, who had arrived in great numbers for both sides, and we were lucky to get our second row seats, located right on the half way line and subsequently near to the first half action!
It wouldn’t be long after finding our seats that the teams walked out to a loud chorus from both sets of supporters all eager for a great cup match. Once all the photographs, handshakes and usual pre-match formalities had been completed (all in front of our position by the way), it was all ready for kick off. Rhyl were in their usual home kit of white shirt with black trim, black shorts and socks, whilst Newtown were in their traditional all red kit.
Greg Strong’s side began the semi-final the brightest of the two teams and it would be the Lilywhites who would take an early lead in the semi-final. In the first chance of the game, the centre half Ryan Astles ran around the back of everyone in the penalty area and got his head on a Levi Mackin corner to give Rhyl the opening goal of the game after just three minutes.
Rhyl 1 – 0 Newtown
Throughout the first half, Rhyl provided a constant aerial threat to their opponents and the Robins struggled to cope with this during set pieces. As the game progressed Newtown started to get back into the game with several chances and half chances although it more likely that the Lilywhites would extend their lead as they had the better chances throughout the half.
Matthew Cook came close to equalising for the Robins when a defensive mix up ricoheted the ball back in his direction allowing him to surge through on goal, but his effort could only go wide of the far post.
Whilst at the other end, Danny Gossett went very close to doubling Rhyl’s advantage during a period of sustained pressure. He put his long effort shot over the crossbar after the ball had been headed back in his direction after it was initially cleared from a corner. Rhyl had a couple more half chances during the half but the efforts were either cleared or cut out by the Robins defence. Despite their first half performance, they were unable to convert their possession into goals – something they would come to regret in the second period!
HALF TIME: RHYL 1 – 0 NEWTOWN
During the half time period, we decided to move from our viewing position in the stands and take a walk around the ground – something which was ideal as I could take a load of pictures from the other side of the pitch. During the walk around I noticed a UEFA flag attached to the fence at the opposite end to the entrance. No doubt this is a relic of Cefn Druids’ brief venture in the Europa League qualifiers when they qualified for Europe by being runners-up to TNS in the Welsh Cup in 2012, whilst still playing in the Cymru Alliance! An amazing achievement and something all Ancients fans will remember for a long time!
After a wander around the ground taking a few pictures to add to this blog, we decided to stand behind the goal Newtown would be attacking in the second half. Not before noticing that The New Saints manager Craig Harrison was in attendance, no doubt doing a bit of scouting for any potential final in the future. As Newtown were chasing the game and needed a goal early on, we thought that Rhyl’s goal would be the goal which would see the most action. It would prove to be a wise decision on our part!!
Newtown, managed by former Prestatyn Town assistant Chris Hughes, came out for the second half with a renewed sense of purpose eager to break their final hoodoo. They started the half the brighter and started to play decent football, a much different performance than they had given in the first half.
The game changed in the 59th minute when the Robins managed to get the equaliser and I was positioned in the perfect spot to see it scored. Former Lilywhites defender, Jason Oswell, found space at the far post and nodded in a dangerous mid-height cross from Luke Boundford that curled in the area between the Rhyl defender Astles and keeper. The goalscoring hero of the first half Astles became the villain of the second half as he missed with his clearing kick leading to a air shot allowed Oswell to nod it home from close range without any pressure. A bad goal for Rhyl to concede as neither defender nor goalkeeper Mike Askew (who was deputising for regular keeper Alex Ramsay) took charge of clearing the goal.
Rhyl 1 – 1 Newtown
With Newtown working their way back into the match, they almost conceded for a second time when Rhyl substitute Liam Dawson almost regained the lead for Rhyl when he fired a volley over from a David Thompson cross after a quick counter attack. They would have further chances from set pieces which resulted in Levi Mackin firing high and mighty and later Dawson blazing his effort wide of the left post.
However it would be Newtown who were in the ascendancy and started to get the lion’s share of possession and momentum in their favour, especially as they were now dominating the crucial battle in midfield. Former Wrexham trainee Matty Owen and Steff Edwards being the highlights of the Newtown midfield putting in magnificent shifts in the midfield and chasing every ball.
It would be Owen who would be the hero of the Robins fans as he scored Newtown’s second goal of the afternoon in the 76th minute. Picking up the ball in midfield after a pass from goalscorer Oswell, who had received the ball from a goal kick from David Jones in a classic route one fashion, he made a positive surge into the Rhyl penalty box whilst evading a couple of Rhyl defenders. Wriggling into a bit of space at the edge of the area, he unleashed a thunderbolt left foot strike which flashed past Askew into the top left corner of the net. A fine strike which the keeper had no chance of saving!
Rhyl 1 – 2 Newtown
After Newtown’s second goal, urgency came into Rhyl’s play as they threw more caution to the wind to try and grab the equaliser and regain a control in the game. Encouraged by the Rhyl fans who had congregated behind the goal they were attacking, the Lilywhites had a couple of half chances through set pieces but alas they were failing to conjure up anything similar to that which they produced in the first few minutes of the game. All the while, Newtown were happy to sit back and hold onto possession when they received it, and catch Rhyl on the counter attack when they were overcommitting players for the attacks.
In the end, the heavy pitch and resolute Robins defence managed to hold out against the Rhyl urgency in the final 10 minutes and they were unable to craft an equaliser. After three minutes of injury time, the official Mr Nick Platt blew the full time whistle which confirmed Newtown’s first Welsh Cup final appearance since 1897.
FULL TIME: RHYL 1 – 2 NEWTOWN
Newtown were undoubtedly elated at finally breaking that hoodoo that has hung over the grand club for so long and finally making it to the Welsh Cup final. The huge huddle after the match and the appreciation to the supporters afterwards shown what it meant for all concerned with Newtown. It was a great comeback from the team after a poor first half performance on a difficult pitch shows the fighting nature and strong character of the Robins.
It will be a difficult game against current cup champions The New Saints (who vanquished Airbus UK Broughton in the other semi-final), especially as the champions are looking to go through the season undefeated and winning an unprecedented treble. However if Newtown show the same guile and determination they shown in the second half for the full 90 minutes in the final, and with the final being strangely played at Latham Park, surely they have a great chance to derail the TNS juggernaut and claim their long awaited third Welsh Cup victory!
Rhyl can feel unlucky not have seen out the game when they had a 1-0 lead but a defensive error through a lack of communication allowed the opposition a way back into the match. From there on in, they were always fighting against the swing of momentum and with their efforts on goal either going wide or clearing the bar, it seemed as if it just was not going to be their day! The Rhyl supporters were once again fantastic and were vocal in their support throughout the entire game and probably deserved something for their ardent support, but there has be a losing team.
The Lilywhites must put this defeat behind them quickly as they now turn their attention to ousting Carmarthen Town from the Europa qualifying playoff place, with the pair set to square off in a pivotal Welsh Premier League clash this Saturday at Richmond Park. A win for Greg Strong’s side would see them move to level points with the Old Gold, with defeat all-but ending their hopes of European football next season.
Overall I really enjoyed the game at a very impressive ground and it was good to see both teams well represented in terms of the amount of supporters who had also made the trip to Rhosymedre. It was a great advertisement for Welsh Premier League football especially as both sets of fans mingled well together before, during and after the match, and there lots of good humour and respect with both sets of fans applauding the two teams off the pitch. I am quite relieved that the game was decided after 90 minutes as deciding the game with penalties at such a late stage of the competition is a cruel if necessary way to end it and would have created a “villain” out of someone. Greg was also grateful that it ended after normal time as he had to dart off as soon as the final whistle blew to pick up his wife for his April barbecue appointment, and would have missed any potential extra time and penalties.
A big thank you to the Rhyl and Newtown supporters that we encountered on the day to make it a brilliant day out, as well as all the Druids stewards and volunteers that we interacted with throughout the day and successfully hosted the match superbly. May I wish Newtown all the best in the Welsh Cup final, and Rhyl all the best for rest of their league campaign! Also I hope to visit The Rock again sometime in the near future….