Pre-Season Friendly – 29th July 2015
Ground #55 – Gladstone Playing Fields, Hawarden, Flintshire
- Entrance: Free; No Programme Supplied
As stated in my previous blog, I was currently on my two week factory shutdown and decided to use this time (wisely might I add) to watch some football and continue in the groundhopping adventures. You might have noticed that I haven’t posted a Holywell Town game during this pre-season, with the most recent being the Mawddach Cup win at Bangor in May (as well as being the 50th ground visited achievement). With that in mind, I was incredibly eager to watch a Holywell pre-season match and prepare myself for this season’s Cymru Alliance campaign. Having missed the first three pre-season matches, this upcoming match was the one fixture I was incredibly eager in watching during my first week of holiday and was one I earmarked when the pre-season fixtures were announced, as the visit would add to the groundhop tally.
It would be played on a Wednesday evening (a day after the Gresford game) in a village I have often driven through, although curiously at a ground I had not visited during the whole of last season…..nor any season for that matter. A Flintshire-based team I had not seen = disaster!! Well I was all set to rectify that groundhop anomaly and would make the short journey into deepest Deeside to see the Wellmen take on Hawarden Rangers!
Hawarden (Penarlâg in Welsh) is a village located in the far east of Flintshire, and part of the Deeside conurbation on the Welsh-English border, with the population of the greater Hawarden community (including the villages of Ewloe, Mancot & Aston) is just under 14,000 people. Traditionally the village was a significant settlement in the area due to the medieval castle there, which played an important part in the Welsh Wars of Independence. The ruins of the medieval castle are located in the grounds of the new Hawarden Castle estate, which was owned by the local Glynne baronets, and now controlled by the Gladstones.
Today the village is considered a quaint and sort-after place to live with Hawarden being named in the 2014 The Sunday Times’ annual Best Places To Live List. As well as it’s picturesque charm, the location of the village is ideal for commuters living there, with locals working in Chester or more commonly the nearby Airbus factory in Broughton. There are also great links to Liverpool or Manchester due to the village having a centrally located railway station that is situated on the Borderlands Line.
The village’s local football team is Hawarden Rangers, and they will be playing in the Welsh National League (Wrexham Area) Premier Division this coming season after finishing an impressive fourth place in the 2014-15 season. The club was formed in 1974 by local Elwyn Owen, and were founder members of the Clwyd League, which was set up to improve the level of competition in the area. The junior section of Hawarden Rangers was created in 1984 by the amalgamation of the two local teams Hawarden Wayfarers and Hawarden Pathfinders. Following the amalgamation, the club became known as Hawarden United before changing to Hawarden Rangers Football Club, which now has over 200 junior playing members aged 6-16 plus senior teams.
As a result of the team having one of the best youth teams in the area, a number of players who played for the youth team progressed into professional game. Welsh internationals Barry Horne and Andy Dorman played for the club, as well as two goalscorers who are considered to be the best produced from these isles. Both Ian Rush (who is Wales’ all-time top goalscorer at international level) and famous local resident Michael Owen played for the youth team before progressing onwards into the professional game with the latter breaking the formers goalscoring records at youth level.
This pre-season has seen a transitional period for the club as they restructured their management structure with Steve Hurlin returning to the first team management set-up following a year off duty, working alongside Mark Evans, while Andy Lovett will undertake a coaching role. They will also be hoping to progress on their fourth placed finish and will be considered one of the challengers for this season’s WNL title.
Hawarden Rangers’ ground is located within the Gladstone Playing Fields, which are located in the west of the village and directly opposite the village’s high school, with the entrance to the fields located on the main street that runs through the village. The Playing Fields are named after former British Prime Minister, Sir William Ewart Gladstone, who lived in new Hawarden Castle estate for the majority of his life in the Victorian period of the mid to late 19th Century. He left the playing fields to the local people for future enjoyment, and as a result of this generosity, the club proudly displays the Hawarden Castle gates on their club crest. In addition to this, their club patron is the grandson of Sir William Gladstone.
In recent times, the club has tried to develop their ground in preparation for future progression through the leagues. Currently there are standing fencing located around the pitch as well as newly laid concrete paths circling the pitch. Alas there are no permanent dugouts, floodlights nor permanent stands but I would imagine they will be forthcoming should the team want to progress into the Cymru Alliance League.
Their ground was a short car journey from my Holywell HQ, taking only 20-25 minutes down the A55 & A494 (coming off the dual carriageway at the Ewloe junction) to get there. If you decide to travel by train for a match, the ground is only a 10 minute walk from the station and within half a mile (as are many decent pubs…). The entrance to the fields aren’t well signposted so keep an eye out for a yellow height barrier opposite the high school and you’ll see the opening to the car park. As I arrived fairly early for the evening match, there were plenty of spaces available within the communal car park and so could park up easily.
When you park up, you’ll see the other sports which are available to locals with tennis courts and a bowling green nearby. Also located by the car park are the communal changing rooms although I could not see any places to get any refreshments so bear that in mind when arriving for a match. If you follow the path in between the tennis courts and bowling green, you will see the pitch to your left with a large expanse of public fields next to it – idyllic for such a summer evening!
Arriving at the pitch, I noticed that both teams were already doing their pre-match warm-up routines with Holywell using the pitch to train, whilst Hawarden were using the large public space next to the pitch. Holywell’s manager, Johnny Haseldin, had a good long discussion with his players prior to the start of the match, no doubt making his feeling known about their disappointing 0-2 home defeat to West Cheshire League team Maghull and ensuring no repeat of that result this evening! In fact Holywell’s pre-season had not gone as well as they had planned and been erratic, with a home 0-3 loss to South Liverpool also suffered, with the two defeats sandwiching an impressive 5-1 away victory to WNL side Ruthin Town. Myself and the other Wellmen fans who made the short trip down the road were hoping for another victory this evening!
After their pre-match warm-ups, they made the long walk back to the changing rooms (the walk a warm-up routine by itself) and returned with the referee five minutes after they had departed. As with many pre-season friendlies, there was only the referee present so either side contributed a member of their travelling party to run the lines and act as assistants.
The conditions for this evening’s match were sunny but typically for a Welsh summer, quite windy conditions also with the pitch surface in perfect condition. Hawarden Rangers were in their home kit of sky blue shirts with navy blue trim, navy blue shorts, and sky blue socks with white & navy blue trim. Their opponents Holywell Town were in their traditional home kit of red & white striped shirt with red shorts, and red socks with white trim.
Four minutes into the game and Holywell had the first chance of the game through club captain Tom McElmeel. Resulting from a throw-in on the right hand side, the ball was lobbed towards McElmeel who was positioned in some space between the defence and midfield, and managed to volley a shot goalwards. Unfortunately for the visiting side, his shot went well wide of the right post.
A couple of minutes after McElmeel’s chance and the game was becoming quite equal with both teams having chances to break the deadlock. Firstly a long ball from the Holywell defence was fired towards to the effervescent forward Phil Lloyd which allowed him to break beyond the defensive line and run towards goal. On this occasion he could only blast his effort high and wide of the goal. Hawarden then had their first chance when their #11 lobbed a shot over the crossbar after a scramble in the penalty area resulted in the ball ricocheting in his direction. A couple of minutes later and they missed another chance after their centre back #6 managed to just fire his header over the bar after he connected onto a long free kick from Rangers’ #14.
Despite Hawarden managing to possess a healthy amount of possession in the first half, Holywell were getting the lion’s share of the chances. Firstly a shot from their new signing from Airbus, Brett Cotton, was easily caught by the Hawarden keeper, then another long ball towards Lloyd to chase upon was cleared by the home defence after the forward scuffed his shot. Then a dangerous free kick from McElmeel, just outside of the penalty area, was comfortably saved by the Hawarden keeper who dived the correct way and read the flight of the ball.
Holywell attempted another punt up-field for Lloyd to run onto, clearly identifying a weakness in the Hawarden defence which were vulnerable to the long, direct passing tactic. Once again Lloyd ran towards goal and again could only fire his shot wide, but he was causing the home defence real problems and had many chances to get the opening goal. A couple of minutes after Lloyd’s attempt the breakthrough eventually came to the visiting side and it was a result of free kick. The set piece was fired in from the right hand side of the pitch into the penalty area. There was a mad scramble in the area as the Hawarden defence failed to clear their lines effectively resulting in the ball falling into the path of another new signing from Airbus, Connor Littler, to prod the ball past the diving keeper on the half volley to open Holywell’s account for the afternoon.
Hawarden Rangers 0 – 1 Holywell Town
A minute after they had taken the lead, Holywell almost doubled their lead through the tried and tested tactic of the route one pass towards Lloyd. He broke clear on the right flank and successfully chipped the onrushing goalkeeper, but the defence had covered the space behind the keeper and cleared the danger. Alas for the struggling home defence, their clearance could only find Holywell’s Marc Gunther, who only just managed to volley the ball over the crossbar with the keeper struggling to get back in time.
It wouldn’t be long before Holywell would punish their hosts defensive errors as three minutes after they took the lead, then they gained their second goal of the evening, once again coming from a set piece. Hawarden conceded a direct free kick in a central position outside of the penalty area, about 20-25 yards from goal. Their left midfielder Josh Roberts stepped up and hit a fierce low drive, which curled around the helpless defensive wall and passed the diving keeper into the bottom left corner of the goal. Seemingly the keeper had seen the shot late due to the wall blocking his view but it was a pinpoint free kick which would have left any goalkeeper struggling to keep the effort out.
Hawarden Rangers 0 – 2 Holywell Town
Five minutes after Holywell had gone two-up, then they were searching for their third of the half. Hawarden conceded possession in their opponents’ half which resulted in a rapid counter-attacked orchestrated by Lloyd and Littler, through some slick interchange play between the two strikers and cumulated in a corner for the Wellmen. From the resulting corner, the ball was arched towards left back Ryan Davies who rose highest and got a thumping header onto the cross which left the keeper stranded but left the crossbar shaking as the ball rebounded off it.
With half time rapidly approaching, Hawarden were struggling to keep the deficit down to just two goal as Holywell punished them on the through ball passes which continuous split their defensive line apart. Firstly a through ball by Littler to Gunther breezing through from the flank resulted in the keeper pulling off a fantastic save in the duel scenario. Then just before the half time whistle, a through ball by Roberts sprang Lloyd free to terrorise the Rangers’ defence. He ran towards the goal line which brought the keeper out to close the angles but left the goal opened up. Lloyd attempted to square the ball to his team mate Littler who had occupied the space by the penalty spot and would have had a simple tap into an open goal had the pass reached him. Unfortunately for both players, the final pass was a tad heavy and went just beyond Littler for him to get any contact on.
That would be the final play of the first half as the referee then blowed for the interval after the Hawarden defence had cleared the danger.
HALF TIME: HAWARDEN RANGERS 0 – 2 HOLYWELL TOWN
With both teams remaining on the field to receive their instructions for the second half (due to the long walk back to the changing rooms), I decided to move from my original viewing position down to the other end of the pitch to the end which Holywell would be attacking. The reason for this decision was that I believed the majority of the second half action would be taking place in the Hawarden half. Rather disappointingly for the Rangers fans standing around the ground, my decision to move would prove to be advantageous as my prediction for the next 45 minutes metamorphosed to be a correct one.
With Hawarden just the two goals in deficit, they were endeavouring to craft an opening that would start some kind of a resurgence and comeback into the game. Alas just two minutes into the second half and the hosts found themselves three goals down, again a result of sloppy defensive marking. From a throw-in from the left hand byline, the ball was lobbed to McElmeel who again found acres of space and time between the defensive and midfield lines on the edge of the box to wrong foot the keeper and delicately nod the ball into the bottom left hand corner of the goal. A poor goal to concede for the home side but great vision from the Wellmen’s captain.
Hawarden Rangers 0 – 3 Holywell Town
The third goal had knocked the stuffing out of Rangers’ attacking drive with the majority of the second half proving to be a sort of “attack versus defence” training for the new Cymru Alliance team as they controlled the ball possession and had nearly all the chances. With substitutes being made by both sides, on the 65th minute the Wellmen came close to scoring their fourth goal when substitute Luke Tyson surged down the right hand byline and whipped a pin-point cross to fellow substitute Stuart Hayes. The attacker fired a bullet header towards goal but once again it ricocheted off the underside of the crossbar and bounced down on the wrong side of the goal line (if only the linesman had been Russian/Azeri, he might have given it….).
It wouldn’t be long before Holywell got their fourth, and 5 minutes after Hayes’ chance had bounced the wrong side of the line, then the visitors tore apart their hosts defence again. Another long ball to Lloyd to run onto lead to him dinking a through ball to Hayes which resulted in a one-on-one chance for the substitute striker. Yet again Hayes was unable to score, this time through the brilliance of the keeper who managed to block his lobbed shot, but Hayes managed to regain possession of the ball and spotted fellow sub Graeme Williams in a better position and an open goal in front of him. A simple squared pass to Williams ensured the Wellman midfielder could easily stroke the ball home and extend Holywell’s lead to four goals. Bad defending again from Hawarden who had failed to follow-up on the block by the keeper.
Hawarden Rangers 0 – 4 Holywell Town
Holywell had not finished their hunt for goals and continued to punish their hosts’ critical issue of dealing with route one passes pumped forward to Lloyd. On the 76th minute, another long ball from the defence to Lloyd caused panic in Rangers’ defence, and they would have been punished had Lloyd not volleyed his long range effort just wide of the post. Hawarden failed to learn their lessons and got caught out once again with the long ball to Lloyd on the 82nd minute. Lloyd exploiting the space afforded to him by the right back surged towards the goal byline and squared a dangerous cross into the box. I am a bit uncertain what happened next but either Paul “Willow” Williams (who has returned to the club this season) or the Hawarden defender challenging him got a deflection from the squared cross and diverted the ball past the keeper on his near post. Either way, the Wellmen were now five goals to the good!
Hawarden Rangers 0 – 5 Holywell Town
With their guests completely dominating the game, and the game running away from them, it was good to see Hawarden finally get a chance on goal on the 85th minute. Some decent play from midfield allowed their attacker an opportunity on goal. Through heavy pressure by the challenging defender, Hawarden’s effort fired well wide of the goal and resulted in a goal kick. In keeping with their luck this afternoon, I thought it was the wrong call by the official as the ball had deflected off the foot of the Holywell defender trying to block the shot and Hawarden should have had a corner. Sometimes when your luck isn’t in….
With the game almost at a conclusion, and and the temperatures dropping rapidly due to an increasingly vigorous gust, the Wellmen would punish their hosts for the final time of the evening in a cruel fashion. Substitute Graeme Williams this time becoming provider and continuing his impressive impact on the game by slotting the ball through to Lloyd to successfully latch onto and put the striker in a one-on-one situation. The home keeper stood up well and successfully blocked Lloyd’s effort, but typically of Hawarden’s fortunes this evening, the save rebounded into Hayes’ path who finally beat both the keeper and woodwork and had the easiest of tap-ins to increase the Holywell goal tally to six for the evening.
Hawarden Rangers 0 – 6 Holywell Town
Thankfully the referee soon ended the home side’s tough evening and the distinctly one-sided contest as a whole as he blew his whistle for full time.
FINAL SCORE: HAWARDEN RANGERS 0 – 6 HOLYWELL TOWN
You had to sympathise with Hawarden in the end as they got completely dominated in the second half, with Holywell continually punishing them with the long ball to Lloyd tactic. Also Holywell’s strength in depth was superior to the depth of Hawarden’s bench, which I think made the game turn out how it did in the second half. Saying that I think Hawarden can take some positives from the game as it was a good test against a higher league team, and that the game exposed their vulnerability to the long ball tactic. Hopefully having identified that issue in a friendly game, that will be solved in their upcoming training sessions and they won’t be exposed to it come the start of their league campaign.
As for Holywell, it was a good test in breaking down defences and there were some slick interchanges between the midfield and forward line-up, with the Lloyd-Littler combination looking very promising for this upcoming Cymru Alliance challenge and McElmeel stepping up nicely as the new club captain. Plus I was impressed with their set-pieces with Josh Roberts delivering a peach of a free-kick which I enjoyed seeing!
Naturally I would like to wish Holywell all the very best for their first season back in the Cymru Alliance and I’m looking forward to seeing Johnny & the boys’ exploits throughout the season. I would also like to wish all the very best to Hawarden Rangers in their WNL season, and I hope they push for that title. I am looking forward to seeing them in another WNL ground sometime this season, and seeing how they develop under the new management structure! All the very best Rangers!!