The Word Cup (Welsh League Cup) – 8th September 2015
Ground #59 – Community Centre Ground, Guilsfield, Montgomeryshire, Powys
Attendance: approx. 150
- Programme: FREE
- Pin Badge: £2.00
After I had seen Gap Connah’s Quay the following Saturday in their Welsh Premier League victory over Haverfordwest County, I certainly had not expected to be watching them three days later in deepest Montgomeryshire. However as all groundhoppers will tell you, if an opportunity arises for a new ground to be visited, you can’t turn the chance down!
This week would be the first round of the Welsh League Cup (having the annoying sponsorship name of ‘The Word Cup’ – not World Cup) fixtures being played. The Welsh League Cup is the secondary cup competition for top flight and second-tier clubs in the country. It is a cup competition which includes all 12 WPL Clubs, the top eight performing clubs from both the Cymru Alliance and Welsh League Division 1 from the previous season, plus four wildcard entries. These wildcard entries can be any club who have not qualified and are adjudged to be worthy of a place due to performances the previous season, as well as ground ratings.
For this season’s League Cup competition, Holywell Town were announced as one of the wildcard entries into the competition as a result of their treble winning season, and performance in the Welsh Cup. Rather interestingly, Pontypridd Town, the team of fellow Welsh groundhopper Nicky Roberts, owner of the fantastic groundhopping blogsite “My Year in the Welsh League”, had also gained a wildcard entry in the Southern half of the competition. You can find his brilliant blog of their League Cup fixture against Taffs Well here.
[A Holywell – Pontypridd League Cup final would be splendid! :)]
Naturally when the fixtures were announced, I was focused on Holywell Town’s first appearance in the League Cup, with a home game against local rivals and fellow Cymru Alliance team Buckley Town, which was being played on the Wednesday night. However regular groundhopping compadre Greg had optional fixtures he wished to explore.
Greg is a man who likes to explore places he has never visited before – this is the type of guy who would drive (then ferry) his way up to the Orkney Islands just to see what is there, and would think nothing more than going for a walk for a few hours for something to do. In short he is a groundhopper’s ideal sidekick and always will to travel with me to far-flung places to watch a game. I’m not surprised when he suggests going to random places on the spur of the moment, but his suggestion for Tuesday night football did knock me off guard somewhat.
On the Monday afternoon, he sent a message asking if I fancied going to Guilsfield to see them take on Gap Connah’s Quay in the first round of the Word Cup. As I may have referenced in previous blogs (or maybe not), I am aiming to visit all the Cymru Alliance grounds this season, and Guilsfield’s ground was on the list of “must visit”. As Holywell would be playing at these non-visited grounds this season, it gave me the perfect opportunity to visit all of them and complete the Northern 16 grounds.
Indeed Holywell would be venturing down to Guilsfield during the season, although the journey down into Powys was scheduled in the unpredictable weather climate of early January, where fixtures are often postponed for lousy weather. Plus (and probably more crucially) the game would take place the day after my birthday, and considering I will probably be heading out to celebrate/commiserate becoming one year older, I may not be in an ideal condition to drive the hour’s journey in the cold to watch the match. With these variables in mind which could make the January trip possibly unlikely, the thought of a random Tuesday night groundhop, and that he was driving down (part of the agreed deal was I had to drive down to Caersws later in the month), it was an opportunity I would be mad to reject. We would be heading south and towards the picturesque setting of Guilsfield.
Guilsfield (Welsh: Cegidfa) is a small village of about 1,700 people in the historic county of Montgomeryshire, situated in the north of the county of Powys. It is only 3 miles north of Welshpool, and just over 9 miles east of Llanfair Caereinion, home of newly promoted Cymru Alliance team Llanfair United. The village is located of the south side of the Guilsfield Brook, a stream which meanders its way along an increasingly broad plain before flowing into the River Severn. A disused branch of the Montgomery Canal also starts nearby.
The village’s team is Guilsfield F.C. (Welsh: C.P.D. Cegidfa) and, as mentioned above, currently play in the Cymru Alliance, where they have played for the past fourteen seasons. They achieved their highest ever league position of 3rd last season with 63 points, and winning 19 of their 30 games played. Their 3rd place finish also ensured that they qualified for the 2015-16 Welsh League Cup competition.
The current club was founded in 1957 after football had been played in the village since the 1930s. The majority of their history was spent playing football in the Montgomeryshire Amateur Leagues before ground improvements in the mid-90s coincided with a rise in the club’s fortunes resulting in a promotion to the Mid-Wales League. After a few seasons in the third-tier, they got promoted to the Cymru Alliance in the 2001-02 season and have been in the league ever since. Their greatest achievements have occurred since playing in the Cymru Alliance, reaching the Welsh Cup quarter-finals in their 50th anniversary season, knocking out three WPL teams en route. Then in the 2010/11 season they won their first trophy, winning the Cymru Alliance League Cup by defeating Porthmadog.
We both left Greg’s house in Flint just after 6:00pm hoping to avoid the rush hour as we would be heading down the infamous and notorious A483 road towards Welshpool, and then onwards to Guilsfield. The 50 mile journey from Flint to Guilsfield took about 65-70 minutes southwards although thankfully the traffic was favourable on the journey (only getting stuck behind a slow moving vehicle the once), and we arrived into the village around the 10 past 7 mark. After a little confusion looking for the ground and trying to spot any floodlights in the village, and inevitably taking a wrong turn because my smartphone was struggling to pick up a signal to pinpoint our position, we eventually found the junction to the Community Ground. We saw the road sign pointing left to the village’s community centre complex and made the turn into the correct junction.
The Community Ground is located in the south-west of the village, with the junction to the ground on the B4392 road. The community centre along with the pitch was constructed in the Mid 1960s during the phase of expansion of the village. At the start of the 1990s, the main stand and the dressing rooms were refurbished to the cost of £34,000, and floodlights were finally installed in the 2011-12 season. Along with the main stand, there is also a wooden clubhouse in between the main stand and the changing rooms, plus there is a large car park by the changing rooms for supporters to park in although the grass behind the clubhouse is also available for parking if required.
Whilst travelling down, we did both consider whether there was a potential for an upset at this game. Guilsfield were flying high in this season’s Cymru Alliance situated in 3rd position after winning three and drawing one of their five league games. However they did suffer their first defeat of the season, when they travelled up to Flintshire and got defeated 1-3 by none other than the Wellmen of Holywell! It would be interesting how they would react after that defeat, although historically Guils have always been difficult to defeat at their own ground.
Connah’s Quay on the other hand were struggling this season but managed to hold onto an important victory over Haverfordwest County (as detailed in depth in my previous blog) to potentially kick-start their season, especially after some pundits’ pre-season predictions had put the Nomads as potential dark horses for the season ahead. However after a tough match like that on the weekend, would they have the energy for another battle against a dodged opponent just three days after claiming their first win of the season. Could they proverbially “do it on the cold Tuesday night in Guilsfield”?
As the large community sports centre car park was already full with cars, Greg parked up alongside the road leading into the car park, making sure he wasn’t obstructing the entrance to the housing estate next to the ground. From there, we headed towards the pitch and spotted a little shed on the path. As expected, the shed would be where you had to pay for entrance, so I paid the standard Cymru Alliance entrance fee of £5. It was here where I bought a Guilsfield pin badge that I spotted at the bottom of the hatch, costing me a very reasonable £2. Alas they did not have any Guilsfield branded mugs (it was a long shot) but I was still happy to have bought something to add to the collection from this evening’s ventures. I also bought some raffle tickets which again proved fruitless….I have to win a raffle sometime surely…
It was then a short walk up to the wooden clubhouse on the entrance end of the pitch – an impressive structure which houses the snack bar, where supporters can also stand under cover and view the game with the convenience of teas/coffees at close proximity. Whilst Greg bought some hot drinks and chocolate bars from the snack hatch, I spotted a room which housed the team sheet for this evening’s game and also had an impressive wall detailing Guilsfield’s successes – the Guilsfield Wall of Fame!
It was also in this room that I noticed one of the volunteers hastily putting together the accompanying programme for the game. Initially I thought they must have been really delayed by putting the programmes together with it being so near to kick-off time – although the actual kick-off time was not what either myself or Greg thought it was. You see folks, we had looked at the fixtures and both thought it was at 7:15, but in reality the game started at 7:45!! We had arrived with plenty of time to spare and it would mean a potentially late return back home considering the length of the journey. There was also the glaringly obvious fact that it was a cup match and could extend beyond the 90 minutes, but more about that later on…
With time to kill, I supped my cup of black coffee slowly and munched down the chocolate bar, whilst myself and Greg talked about the upcoming groundhop down to Caersws at the end of September and waiting for the game to start. The girl who busily collating and stapling the programmes together had finally completed her hasty task, and I managed to collect one back at the hut for the grand price of £0.
It was during this pre-match period that I noticed how stunningly scenic the landscape surrounding Guilsfield’s ground really was. It’s worth noting that the village is bang in the middle of the countryside, so the views of the surrounding fields and meadows on one side were extremely picturesque, whilst the hills of the Cambrian mountains in the far distance could be viewed on the other side of the pitch. Surrounded by greenery, and with a pleasant September evening emphasizing its brilliance, I think I would have to say that Guilsfield’s ground is possibly one of the most splendid grounds (in terms of landscapes) I have ever been to! The ground overall is certainly in the Top 5, if not Top 2 now! I would highly recommend a visit, although I do think the conditions might be a little less welcoming in the middle of winter!
After 20 minutes of faffing about and part-overhearing a phone conversation a guy was having on his phone (he was standing right by us and loud enough to be heard) asking the eyebrow-raising question of “well how long do you think it is acceptable before we phone the police?”, we decided to sit in the main stand just as the teams were ascending out of the changing rooms and making the extended walk from the changing rooms to the football pitch.
The main stand really impressed me as it had plenty of covered seating, was in great condition making me think it must be a recent addition/improvement, and the nice touch of lighting actually inside the stand – little touches like that were making me love this ground more and more. It was also very near to the pitch and the dugouts, which made the supporters feel close to the action. Plus the old school feel of the PA assembling the sound system together so he could read out the team selections just added to the ambience! Just a shame I couldn’t hear the team selections due to everyone talking in the main stand…ah well!
Guilsfield were playing in their traditional home strip of red and black AC Milan-style striped shirts, black shorts and socks. Connah’s Quay were playing in their all-white away kit for the first time this season – simplistic and classy (I liked it), it became highly visible as the light faded and dusk became night!
MATCH REPORT – FIRST HALF
Connah’s Quay started with a very strong team with the new signing partnership of Ashley Ruane and Les Davies (the ‘RAD’ combo) continuing their partnership upfront after starting the game against Haverfordwest the previous Saturday. Loan signing, Corey Roper, was also making his debut for the Nomads since signing from the Glyndwr Wrexham Academy the previous week. Guilsfield announced a strong squad against their higher-tiered opponent with Andrew Ford and Adam Jenkins being some of the names of the home team sheet for the game.
The first half was decent dual between the two teams and both sides had periods of dominance throughout the first 45 minutes of the match. With the tempo of the game starting off at breakneck speed, the Nomads started the brighter. Les Davies was using his experience to cause problems to the home defence either through darting runs down the wing, or making a nuisance in the penalty area. This caused the Guils defence to put a lot of their effort in isolating him from his team through successful blocks and tackles when Davies was in possession of the ball.
The Nomads continued to pressurised their lower league opponents through a series of corners which could not be fully utilised, and expertly dealt with by Guils keeper Dave Littleford. Ruane almost open the scoring account for the evening after catching Littleford off his line. An attempted curling lob caused a brief moment of panic for the Guilsfield number 1, but in the end, the effort when over the crossbar.
During the middle of the first half, we decided to move from our position in the main stand, and stand by the barriers a bit further up the pitch to be nearer to the action. Plus it helped with the photograph taking for this blog!
With the visitors unable to convert their early chances, it allowed the home side to work their way back into the match and heap the pressure on the Nomads’ defence through a series of chances. Adam Jenkins almost found the opener after a delightful surging run from the halfway line into the Connah’s Quay box. His shot from just six yards out tested the Nomads’ keeper John Danby, but the former Chester man successfully saved the stinging shot.
The Guils were on the front foot now with the momentum in their favour, and they continued to pepper the Nomads goal. They had a number of chances to score the first goal of the evening, with a couple of them drifting inches either wide of the post, or grazing the crossbar. If anyone was going to score in the first half, it was looking more likely to be Guilsfield.
Soon enough the official would signal the end of the first half with the score surprisingly staying at a goalless stalemate. Even though the score remained 0-0, but the home side could walk off feeling pleased with their performance and looked the most convincing of the two teams to score the first goal. Perhaps that pre-match prediction of a cup shock could possibly be on the cards!
HALF TIME: GUILSFIELD 0 – 0 GAP CONNAH’S QUAY
By the interval, the sun has gone down and night had begun making temperatures drop a little. With the floodlights on full beam to keep the pitch illuminated, it brought out all the moths attracted to the allure of the artificial light. This in turn brought out another nocturnal creature, and most of the 15 minutes was spent watching the numerous small bats whizzing around the pitch, picking off the many moths circling in the floodlight paths. Nature’s Battle of Britain was in full effect with the bats clearly winning the dogfight and keeping the moth population down. Needless to say I enjoyed this dual in the night sky, and nature at its full majesty – another reason for why this ground was becoming one of my favourites to date!
MATCH REPORT – SECOND HALF
The second half continued how the first half had ended with Guilsfield on the offensive and sensing that a potential “giant-killing” could take place at their ground on this evening. They threatened the Nomads goal early on with a fizzing shot which had avoided the reach of the sprawling Danby, but could only streak past the wrong side of the left post. They continued to threaten their visitors’ goal but each time, the effort was either successfully blocked or cleared by the Nomads defence, or the chance went off target.
Connah’s Quay, Alan Bickerstaff, perhaps sensing the impending danger of a cup shock started the ring the personnel changes, with Wilson and Gaul being replaced by Crowther and Sean Miller. These substitutions and fresh legs would encourage a fresh impetuous in the Nomad attacks as they started to catch their opponents on the counter-attack and exploit their strength in pace.
Ashley Ruane was finding the League Cup game a frustrating one especially in the second half, even though he used his superiority in pace to catch the Guils defence out on many occasions to go clear on goal. The Guils defence were playing a dangerous game but expertly employing the offside trap to the maximum as Ruane was denied the opportunity to convert the chances by being flagged offside on every occasion he thought he had achieved a breakthrough.
The second half would become more equal with both side having an equal amount of ball possession and opportunities to score, but neither side were able to convert them. Danby pulled off some saves to keep his side in the game, whilst Littleford made a brilliant low block to keep out Sean Miller’s rasping shot into the bottom corner. It was becoming increasingly likely that this game would go beyond the allotted 90 minute time period, and into extra time and possibly penalties.
With the requirement that a victor must be found from this fixture, it was clear to both myself and Greg that we might have to leave the game early should the game go beyond the regulation time period. As the journey would take over an hour, it was looking likely we would arrive back at home just before 11pm even if the game finished after 90 minutes. If we stayed at Guilsfield and watched the additional 30 minutes and possibly penalties, it would be likely we wouldn’t get home until 11:45 at the very earliest. With both of us having to get up early in the morning for work, and an hour’s journey under our belts, the Wednesday would become a very tiring day due to lack of sleep.
Because of this, we hoped a late winner would arrive to avoid the decision of having to leave the game early. It almost came when Guilsfield had a chance towards the end of the game, but with that chance missed, bang went our hopes of seeing the match concluded after 90 minutes. Not long after, the official blew his whistle to end the regulation 90 minute game, and it meant extra time would have to be played!
END OF 90 MINUTES: GUILSFIELD 0 – 0 GAP CONNAH’S QUAY
And so came the hard decision we knew we had to make – even though the game was about to continue, we decided to leave the game early so we could get home at a reasonable time. I know some of you groundhoppers will be aghast that I should commit the cardinal sin of leaving before a match has completed, and I felt guilty for not “sticking it out”. However as Greg had been a good sport to drive down, it wouldn’t have been fair to keep him there too much longer considering he had to be up the following morning for 5am. So we both walked past the clubhouse and changing rooms block to the car, and we descended into the night on the hour’s journey back to Flintshire.
Rather bloody annoyingly all the action happened when we left the ground, so here’s what happened whilst we were venturing home…
MATCH REPORT – EXTRA TIME
The key substitution of the match was made 10 minutes into extra time when the frustrated Ruane was replaced for Nick Rushton. His inclusion into the match would make an instant impact when he cut into the Guils final third and sent a low shot from the right hand side of the penalty area into the bottom corner of the home net. A huge relief for the WPL side finally breaking the deadlock, and a real kick in the teeth for the home side who had been more than equal to their illustrious opponents.
Guilsfield 0 – 1 Gap Connah’s Quay
With the pressure of finding a goal relieved off them, and finally getting an advantage in the tough game, the Nomads started playing like a WPL team and started to outperform their tiring opponents. Four minutes after getting the breakthrough, the Nomads punished their opponents once again and found a second goal for the evening. Fellow substitute Miller, exploiting his fresher condition and higher energy reserves, surged forward and rocketed his effort into the bottom right corner of the net effectively ending the game as a contest.
Guilsfield 0 – 2 Gap Connah’s Quay
The action would continue into the second half of extra time when first Callum Morris was dismissed for receiving his second yellow card of the evening, before the Nomads scored their third goal of the cup tie. Nick Rushton again proving to be the deciding factor when he broke through the shattered Guilsfield defence and went clear in front of goal. Rather cruelly he had enough time and space to cheekily chip the keeper to confirm his quick-fire brace and confirm Connah’s Quay position in the 2nd round of the League Cup.
Guilsfield 0 – 3 Gap Connah’s Quay
Heartbreaking for Guilsfield who’s performance certainly did not warrant being on the end of a three goal deficit!
FULL TIME: GUILSFIELD 0 – 3 GAP CONNAH’S QUAY (AET)
In the end, the strength in depth paid dividends for the Nomads who could bring on someone of Rushton’s skill to chance a game they were finding difficulties in. His freshness was the key to Connah’s Quay finally unlocking the Guils’ sturdy defence, and claiming their second win in three days. Once again they made tough work of claiming a win, but claimed it they did and it’s good momentum for the Nomads after a tough start to the season.
Did they deserve to win though? In my eyes they were very lucky it went to 90 minutes as Guilsfield had a few clear cut chances that they failed to convert. I suppose that is the main difference between the top and second tier leagues in that forwards in the WPL will convert those kind of chances that Guilsfield spurned. Had the home side had someone who could have finished at least one of the chances, they could well have been in the second round and added Connah’s Quay to the list of Bangor, Newtown and Rhyl of WPL teams knocked out by lower league teams.
Guilsfield can certainly take pride in taking a WPL to 90 minutes without conceding, and not looking outclassed one bit during that period. No doubt they’ll be gutted about the result and the scoreline is very harsh considering the performance and effort they produced during the match. However they can take a lot of positives from this match, and I think they’ll be a tough side to break down in the Cymru Alliance this season, especially in front of their own supporters.
Overall I thoroughly enjoy my mid-week groundhop to Guilsfield, and the ground has become one of my favourites so far. Picturesque landscapes surrounding the ground, friendly people and a good team to boot. I would highly encourage all groundhoppers to make the trip into the Powys countryside and enjoy the splendour of the Guilsfield Community Ground! I may well be back in January, 1 year older and perhaps a tad hungover….ha!
I would like to wish both Guilsfield & Connah’s Quay all the very best for the rest of the season!