Cymru Alliance – 20th August 2016
Ground #71: The New Oval, Holyhead, Anglesey/Ynys Môn
- Distance Travelled: 66,2 miles
- Travel Time: 1 hour 25 minutes
- Entrance: £4.00
- Programme: £1.00
- Pin Badge: £3.00
- HHFC Mug: £4.00
- Hamburger: £1.80
- Cup of Coffee: £1.00
One of the groundhopping goals of the previous season was to have visited all the Cymru Alliance grounds, and potentially write a blog on the groundhop. Alas by the conclusion of the 2015-16 season, that goal alluded me as only one ground was beyond my reach and stopped me from completing my quest – The New Oval at Holyhead. Now it wasn’t through lack of trying as I had intended to travel down to Holyhead by train to see their league game against Mold in one of the final remaining league games of the season. But a combination of poor time keeping, miserable weather conditions and people dropping out at the final moments resulted in a missed train at Flint Station and an opportunity gone!! Frustrating!!
Anyway I was super determined not to miss the opportunity this time around and ensure I could tick off Holyhead Hotspur’s ground as soon as possible (for my own sanity if anything ha!). Obviously I was looking to head to one of Holyhead’s first home games of the season, mainly because the threat of postponement from poor weather would be drastically reduced when compared to winter times. The last thing you want is to travel for 90 minutes by train and then find out the game has been postponed due to a waterlogged pitch! In addition, and please forgive me all Holyhead locals, the gusty winter weather conditions at Holyhead are not the most appealing for your typical groundhopper. “Can they do it on a breezy January afternoon at Holyhead?” is the Cymru Alliance equivalent of “a cold winter’s night at Stoke” – I think Messi/Ronaldo would do the latter but would struggle with the former! So you can imagine my delight when I scouted the opening fixtures of the campaign and saw that one of Holyhead’s first home fixtures of the season would be against Holywell Town!
As you are all aware (and if not, have a look through my previous blogs) I am a Holywell Town supporter, and have seen them play in a number of far flung places in the North Wales region. Seeing them play at the far western settlement of Holyhead meant I had no excuse not to visit Holyhead early on in the season, and providing illness would not strike me, Holy Island would be my desired destination for the second weekend of the 2016-17 Cymru Alliance season!
Obviously with Holyhead being the terminus of the North Wales railway line, ‘letting the train take the strain’ seemed the most logical and convenient choice to travel down there. However with my usual groundhopping accomplice, Greg, not being available until half 12 due to work commitments, it meant the journey would have to be made by car (a shame really as I was looking forward to the train ride). Therefore we set off from HQ around about 12:45pm onto the A55 Expressway, hoping that there would be no further traffic problems or incidents on the road which could further delay our progress.
Also with weather conditions looking incredibly undesirable due to an anticyclone coming from the south-west bring in rain and gale force winds, there was the risk the game could be postponed. This risk would be further enhanced if the traffic officials closed the Britannia Bridge, the bridge crossing the Menai Straits, to traffic because of the high velocity winds. It would seem travelling to Holyhead for a game was never going to be straightforward regardless of the season!
Holyhead (Welsh: Caergybi) is a major sea port town situated in the far north-west corner of Wales, and is considered the major travel hub for travellers coming to and fro from Ireland. Having a population of nearly 11,500 people, Holyhead is the largest town within the county borough of Anglesey. However the town is neither the county town (that would be Llangefni situated 16,5 miles east of Holyhead) nor is it actually on the Isle of Anglesey itself, being situated on Holy Island (Welsh: Ynys Gybi) to the west of Anglesey. Originally connected to the rest of Anglesey via Four Mile Bridge (so called as it was situated four miles or six kilometres away from Holyhead), it is connected by the major roads of the old A5 road and the more modern A55 Expressway, which are main arteries into the rest of Wales. It is also connected by rail through the North Wales Coast railway line, with Holyhead’s train station being the western terminus of the North Welsh railway line. There are regular direct trains running to and from Holyhead to/from both Chester and London Euston, allowing passengers to easily jump on a ferry to Ireland using public transport.
Holyhead is most famous for its sea port and being one end of a busy ferry route crossing the Irish Sea, linking itself with the Irish ports of Dublin and Dún Laoghaire (situated roughly 75 miles west of Holyhead). Multiple daily crossings operate from the Port of Holyhead to Dublin, with a daily ferry heading to Dún Laoghaire. As a result of the numerous ferry crossings, Holyhead is a crucial part of the haulage and car passenger movement coming to and from Ireland, allowing the Irish to connect with markets in both Britain and continental Europe. Because of its importance, Northern Europe’s biggest ferry company, Stena Line, operates from the port as do Irish Ferries, and the port itself is a huge employer within the locality.
Although there is evidence of prehistoric settlement within the area with burial chambers and standing stones in high concentration on Holy Island, the foundations of the town originate with the Romans who founded a fort in the area approximately in the mid-to-late 4th Century. It was built in a strategically sound position as part of a major defensive scheme by the Roman Empire to protect the major fort and settlement at Segontium (now Caernarfon), as well as the rest of the north-western coast of Cambria against Irish sea-raiders. The fort is unique in Roman architecture as was built with three protective walls, with the fourth side supposedly protected by the quayside and Irish Sea beyond. The Romans garrisoning the fort also built a watch tower on the east side of Holyhead Mountain (Welsh: Mynydd Tŵr) inside a prehistoric hillfort, which was used as the fort’s look-0ut point for raiders coming from the sea or around the coast.
Holyhead Mountain is the most prominent geological feature in the area as it looms over the town being situated just two miles west of Holyhead. At 220m (or 722 feet) in height, it is the highest mountain in the county of Anglesey and can provide ideal views out to sea from its rocky summit. On a clear day, it is possible to see as far as the Wicklow Mountains situated on the east coast of Ireland. Because of its prominence, there is evidence of prehistoric settlement from the Stone Age to the Iron Age either at the foot or on the mountain.
It is estimated that the Roman fort was abandoned around 393 when troops were sent to respond to the revolt of Eugenius of Gaul. However in the 6th Century, the old fort was given to the Cornish bishop and Christian missionary, Saint Cybi, by King Maelgwn Gwynedd where the saint founded a large and important monastery. Subsequently the fort became known as Caer Gybi or “Cybi’s Fort”, and is still the Welsh name for Holyhead today. The Church of St Cybi still stands on the site of the old Roman fort and monastery today, with a small detached chapel (Eglwys y Bedd) reputedly standing over St Cybi’s grave.
The strategic location of Holyhead as a port was crucial to Britain’s trade shipping routes, and this was apparent in the 19th Century when Holyhead’s maritime importance was at its height. This was a result of a 1,7 mile (3 km) long sea breakwater being constructed turning Holyhead into a safe harbour for vessels caught in stormy waters in the Irish Sea. Shipping on their way to the massive trading port of Liverpool or the other industrial ports of Lancashire would use Holyhead as a safe haven before venturing onwards once the weather was more favourable. Holyhead Breakwater was created from limestone quarried from nearby Holyhead Mountain and is the longest breakwater in the United Kingdom.
Sailing crossings between Holy Island/Anglesey and Ireland has existed for thousands of years, and it was this position which encouraged Thomas Telford to build the crucial post road of the A5 towards Holyhead. The old A5 road started in London and concludes at Admiralty Arch in Holyhead. This strengthened Holyhead’s maritime position as it would be the port from which the Royal Mail would dispatch mail to and from Dublin on the Mail coach. Holyhead initially lost the London to Dublin mail contract to the Port of Liverpool in 1839, with the introduction and construction of railways throughout Britain resulted in the London to Liverpool railway being opened. Only after the completion of the Chester and Holyhead Railway in 1850, and the subsequent construction of Holyhead railway station, did the Irish Mail contract return back to Holyhead.
In recent times, the port has been influential for major employment to develop within the area. The largest example of this was the establishment of an aluminium smelting works in 1971 and operating just outside of the town, including a plant that refined bauxite. To accommodate the factory, a jetty was constructed in the harbour to receive ships from Jamaica and Australia carrying their cargoes of bauxite and aluminium ores. The factory was one of the largest employers in North Wales employing 540 staff and producing 142,000 tonnes per year. It was also the largest consumer of electricity within the whole of the United Kingdom. Alas the factory shut down in 2009 after problems securing power after the previous contract with the nearby nuclear power station in Wylfa was terminated.
Despite this blow in employment, the Port of Holyhead continues produce a steady amount of jobs for locals, with the majority of the jobs linked to the Irish ferry services operated by Stena and Irish Ferries. However with the introduction of large cruise ships stopping off at Holyhead during their voyage, it is hoped that the increase of tourists from such large cruise ships will bring money and added employment into the area by improving the tourist industry. The aim to utilise such venues as Holyhead’s arts centre, the Ucheldre Centre, which holds regular arts exhibitions, performances, workshops and film screenings, or the Holyhead Maritime Museum is key to the town’s future. Put them into conjunction with emphasising the stunning landscape surrounding the town, and hopefully that will encourage more tourists to visit the area.
- 1 x Cymru Alliance Runners-Up
- 1 x Welsh Alliance League Champions
- 1 x Gwynedd League Champions
- 2 x Anglesey League Champions
- 1 x FAW Trophy Finalists
- 1 x Cymru Alliance League Cup Finalists
- 1 x Cookson Cup Winners
- 1 x Mawddach Barritt Cup Winners
- 1 x NWCFA Challenge Cup Finalists
Holyhead has always been a hotspot for Welsh football since the late 19th Century, with the port town being one of the first towns in Anglesey to fully embrace football. The first record of a Holyhead-based team playing in Welsh competition is the appearance of Holyhead Railway Institute playing in the 1898-99 North Wales Coast League. Eventually such teams like Holyhead Town and Holyhead United would eventually appear in the port town, with Town being the more successful of the teams. Holyhead Town would reach the Quarter Finals of the Welsh Cup in the 1960-61 and 1961-62 campaigns, and would later play in the English FA Cup in the late 1960’s. The furthest they reached was the Second Qualifying Round in the 1967-68 competition, when they defeated Porthmadog before getting knocked out to another Arfon-base team in Bangor City 1-3.
Holyhead is also home to a former Welsh international player, as the current Welsh national team and Swansea City Goalkeeping Coach Tony Roberts was born in the town. He played for Holyhead United Juniors before he moved to Queens Park Rangers in 1986.
The town’s main football team currently is Holyhead Hotspur, and they are nicknamed “the Harbourmen”. The team was founded in 1990 after a group of local football lads (aided by Ken Chambers and Gary Williams), who were playing for another local team, decided to establish a team in their home town. The club’s unique name was chosen through an actual ‘draw out of a hat’ with numerous name suggestions coming from the players themselves. In the end, the suffix of “HOTSPUR” was picked out of the pile, and thus the alliteratively pleasing name of Holyhead Hotspur was created.
They initially started in the local Anglesey League and played there for six seasons before winning the Anglesey League in the 1995-96 season and getting promoted to the Gwynedd League. The Harbourmen would only spend a single season in the Gwynedd League before they achieved their second promotion in two seasons by claiming the Gwynedd League title and getting promoted to the Welsh Alliance League. The rapid rise of Holyhead Hotspur would continue unabated as they achieved their third promotion in as many seasons when they became the Welsh Alliance League champions in their debut season. They would also win the Alves Cup and Aluminium Môn Cup in the successful 1997-98 season to achieve an unprecedented treble winning season.
Their first eight years in the Cymru Alliance were uneventful for the Harbourmen, finishing in the bottom half of the table for seven of the first eight years in the league. Their best league position during this period was a ninth place finish in the 2001-02 season. However results would improve from the 2006-07 season when they finished in seventh position, before improving upon that the following season by finishing in fifth position. The 2006-07 season would also see them achieve their best result in the Welsh Cup when they reached the Quarter Finals of the competition, before being hammered by WPL side Welshpool Town 1-5 in the Last 8 fixture.
Their best season in Wales’ second tier came in the 2008-09 season when Hotspur managed to achieve their highest ever league position when they finished in 2nd place. Having won 23 games from their 32 game season and scoring 71 goals, they missed out on promotion by just three points to current WPL team Bala Town, under the management of Colin Caton. They also managed to reach the final of the CA League Cup, although they would ultimately fall at the final hurdle and lose to CA champions Bala Town in extra time suffering double heartbreak to the Lakesiders.
The heartbreak on missing out on promotion by three points and a cup victory would only be half the problem for Holyhead in the 2010-11 season when they suffered relegation back down to the Welsh Alliance League. This was a consequence of the reduction of Welsh Premier League teams from the previous 18 team situation to the current 12 team format. As a result of the large amount of teams coming from the top flight, the Cymru Alliance had to relegate the bottom ten teams of the league to ensure 16 teams remained in the league. Just one year after finishing in the runners-up position, they would be playing the following season in the third tier of Welsh football even after finishing in 8th position in the table.
Their stay in the Welsh Alliance League would only last for two full seasons as Hotspur would finish no lower than second place. They would get promoted back to the Cymru Alliance as champions by winning the 2011-12 Welsh Alliance Division 1 title, winning 25 games from their 30 game season. They would also add the Cookson Cup and Barritt Cup to the trophy cabinet to achieve a treble-winning season. They came incredibly close to achieving a quadruple winning season by reaching the national FAW Trophy final. However they would lose in the final to Sully Sports by a scoreline of 1-2.
Their period back in the Cymru Alliance has been a decent one for the Harbourmen as they have continually finished in the top half of the table. Their first season back in the second tier ended up with them finishing in 7th position, before following it up with a 9th place finish and then an impressive 5th place in the 2014-15 season. Last season’s campaign saw Holyhead Hotspur achieve a league position of 7th in the Cymru Alliance table, earning themselves 46 points in total and winning thirteen games.
Holyhead Hotspur’s last league result prior to this game:
- Sat 13th August: Buckley Town (A) 1-1
Holyhead had started this Cymru Alliance season with an away score draw at Globe Way, as they achieved a 1-1 draw at Buckley Town. Having taking the lead after just ten minutes from a Michael Kelly goal, they would concede 12 minutes later through an Asa Hamilton header. It would prove to be a fair result as both teams had chances, with captain Rhys Roberts having a goalbound header cleared from the line. However a point away at Buckley was a decent result for Campbell Harrison, who would go into the Holywell game with great confidence. Buoyed no doubt having seen new signing Paul Pritchard perform well between the sticks, as well as decent performances from defenders Rhys Roberts and Alex Jones, with Mel McGinness looking a threat upfront.
All four would be starting for the match against Holywell, whilst Holyhead would be bolstered by the loan signing of Peter Jones from WPL side Llandudno. Having scored nine goals during Llandudno’s CA title winning season, he was also part of the Llandudno side when they came up against Swedish giants IFK Gothenburg in the Europa League. Jones would be a good signing for the Harbourmen and provide strength in the attacking department.
Holywell Town’s last league result prior to this fixture:
- Sat 13th August: Gresford Athletic (H) 1-0
Their opening game of the 2016-17 saw the Wellmen grab a hard fought single goal victory over Eddie Maurice-Jones’ Gresford side. An 82nd goal from substitute Phil Lloyd was the deciding factor between the two teams who were competing in their second season back in the Cymru Alliance. Holywell Town are much changed from last season with a number of new signings coming into the Wellmen’s first team squad. Such signings like Luke Wandless, Gareth Sudlow, James Graham and loan signing John Rushton (signed from Gap Connah’s Quay) have been brought in by Johnny Haseldin to compliment the local lads such as Steve Thomas, Graeme Williams and Paul Williams, as they push to improve on last season’s league finish of 5th position.
Six new signings would start for Holywell against Holyhead with John Ruston in goal, Gareth Sudlow in defence, James Graham in midfield and an all new attack with Sam Jones, Mark Bridge and Luke Wandless looking to get the goals. Last week’s goalscorer Phil Lloyd would start on the bench once again and would be used as an impact sub later on in the game.
Holywell would be heading into match having completed the double over their opponents last season. The match at Holyhead back in late November 2015 was the first game between the two teams since the infamous banner (“bannergate” I suppose you could call it) was displayed by the celebrating Holyhead Hotspur team after they gained promotion from the Welsh Alliance at Holywell’s expense. Having beaten the Flintshire team to the league title, the Harbourmen unfurled a banner saying “BYE BYE HOLYWELL”. That was not forgotten by everyone involved with the Wellmen, and it would inspire them to beat their former Welsh Alliance rivals 2-1 at Holyhead, before hammering them 4-0 in the reverse fixture at Halkyn Road.
THE NEW OVAL GROUNDHOP
Despite being buffeted all the way along the A55 towards Holyhead by the strong summer gales, the road was relatively clear of traffic, especially as we drove through the interior of Môn. Although there was a slight delay at the natural traffic bottleneck of the Britannia Bridge, the journey went without hardly any delays and we arrived at the ground at about 2:10pm. It is relatively direct to reach Holyhead’s ground as it positioned practically at the very end of the A55 Expressway. Travellers just have to divert off the dual carriageway at the final junction before the road eventually terminates at the Port of Holyhead.
Holyhead Hotspur’s ground is located on the southern outskirts of the town, near to the industrial parks, and on the same road as the town’s leisure centre. Therefore it was a case of just following the road signs pointing in the direction of the leisure centre on the two roundabouts, and we knew we would soon have sight of the grounds at the end of the leisure centre road. There is plenty of parking just outside the grounds with enough space to park either side of the road, although there are additional spaces at the leisure centre if required.
Notice that I stated “grounds” as Holyhead is unique in the Cymru Alliance as their old ground and current ground are directly next to each other. In akin to what happened at Athletic Club’s San Mames and what is currently happening at White Hart Lane, the new ground was constructed in the same location at the old ground. However unlike the two old grounds previously mentioned, the old Holyhead stadium continues to exist and was not demolished to accommodate the more modern ground. The old ground has a couple of covered stands for standing supporters whilst it also has a small covered stand which accommodates roughly 50-75 seats. Holyhead moved into their new ground in preparation for the 2007-08 season when it was opened in July 2007, opening with a friendly match against a Wolverhampton Wanderers XI team.
The changing rooms and entrance are located between the two grounds, and it was towards the entrance we headed towards after the car had been parked up. As fully expected, the gusts seemed to have a bit more velocity behind them in the exposed town and it became a laughable struggle to put a light coat on with the winds almost taking the garment of clothing from my grasp on a couple of occasions. Despite sporadic rain showers, today was not a flat cap friendly day and was wisely left in the car. I had a horrible feeling that had it been worn, unquestionably it would have been lifted off my head and land somewhere on the other side of the island.
Entrance to the game was a bargain price of just £4 per person with the match programme an additional pound. The programme is an award-winning one by winning last season’s Cymru Alliance Programme of the Year award. The programme is certainly excellent quality with plenty of information on the Holyhead Hotspur team and its previous fixtures, as well as detailing the history of Holywell and its players.
The first point of call once inside the ground was the club shop, which is located in an individual building just by the entrance. The club shop is very impressive a large number of Holyhead Hotspur emblazoned merchandise on sale, as well as sports books. As regular readers will know, I like to collect mugs and pin badges from each club I visit (should they be available) and so I bought a special commemorative 25th anniversary pin badge for £3 from the club shop. However I initially thought I had lost the newly-acquired pin badge when I returned back home and couldn’t find the badge. However an intense, almost forensic style search of the car produced results. The badge had somehow fallen out of the coat pocket and under the driver’s seat – not sure how it ended up there but it managed to get to 94th Minute HQ in one piece!
Another purchase from the Hotspur bazaar was a splendid looking HHFC branded mug which cost an additional £4, joining the Prestatyn Town, Porthmadog and Holywell Town (of course) mugs previously acquired from other Cymru Alliance teams. Talking of Prestatyn, I owe their goalkeeper £1 after he gave me a pound to buy the mug, as he was currently talking to the friendly and helpful people running the shop when I arrived. I only had a £20 note and just £3 in change with the club shop having little change, therefore he provided that extra pound to make the mug deal happen. Next time I am at Bastion Gardens, I will pass that pound back to you mate!
As I said before, the people in the shop were really friendly and we had a chat about the upcoming game, whilst they were trying to convince me to buy a Holyhead scarf to complete the collection! Ha! Sorry gents but I only like my football scarves red and white striped! Plus I was discussing my previous groundhop attempts to come to Holyhead and how they had been scuppered by the weather conditions on every occasion. “The weather in Holyhead is never any good” was the reply from the local club member – from the “summer” conditions outside, I was starting to think he could be right!!
A quick scoot back to the car to drop the Hotspur mug off, and it was next to the snack hatch located opposite the club shop, and part of the changing room complex by the entrance. All the usual hot food and beverages are available from the snack hatch, and for reasonable prices. A normal hamburger (no cheese as I’m lactose intolerant) with onions cost a decent price of £1.80, with a supplementary cup of black coffee for the standard price of a single pound. Can’t argue with those prices, especially as the hamburger was good also!
With hamburger clung one hand and the mug of coffee gripped in the other, it was a short walk towards the main covered stand in the new ground. Not before being almost whisked off my feet (not in the romantic sense) from the squalls and being rained upon by one of the many heavy downpours which would have an impact on the majority of the first half (as well as cooling my coffee down rapidly). It’s safe to say conditions were more autumnal rather than what should be expected for August – but that’s North Welsh weather for you!
The main stand is an impressive structure within the ground, and certainly one of the best in the Cymru Alliance and easily within WPL standards. Sandwiched between the leisure centre road and pitch, it contains about 250 covered seats and provides a great view of the entire pitch. A huge upgrade in facilities from the old stadium on the other side of the changing rooms!
In between the main stand and the club shop and entrance is the impressive looking large clubhouse. Here you can purchase the traditional pre and post-match pints or ales, as well as other non-alcoholic drinks, and can also be hired out as a function room. On the other side of the main stand is an additional, smaller shelter which allows supporters to stand up and watch the game whilst being helpful covered from the elements which inevitably descend upon Holyhead throughout the season. Finally Holyhead’s ground has permanent floodlights installed allowing evening matches to be played at the ground throughout the season.
Sitting in a row towards the back of the stand, it was great to see a considerable number of Holywell fans had also made the long trip along the A55 to Caergybi. The Holywell Ultras were in good force for this afternoon’s “Clash of the Holys”. The majority of the home support was positioned right at the top of the main stand, standing above the seating area and being vocal in their support throughout the encounter.
With the light rain being swirled around in vortices above the well maintained pitch, the teams soon made their way out onto the changing rooms. Holyhead Hotspur would be wearing their home kit of royal blue and white striped shirts, royal blue shorts and socks. Holywell Town would be wearing their new Macron kit of red shirts with white trim and half a white stripe, red shorts and red socks. At this point, I shall state for the record that I hugely dislike the new Holywell home kit. Call me old-fashioned but I believe Holywell should be playing in the traditional red and white striped shirt! This red shirt with HALF a white stripe in the centre is just not a Holywell shirt in my opinion…anyway I digress…
As expected, the weather conditions would be the dominant variable in this encounter as it would seriously affect how both teams would play each half, creating the proverbial “game of two halves” as either side benefitted from playing with the winds during their half. Any long balls played into the wind were quickly halted and sent back the direction from whence they came from!
For the first half, the advantage of the wind would go to the home side and would naturally dominate play as Holywell struggled to cope with the gusty conditions and Holyhead used it to their advantage. Although a number of long passes were blasted out of play, they almost got the tactic perfect when a long punt forward from former Caernarfon goalkeeper Paul Pritchard almost found Mike Kelly running into the Wellmen penalty area. Despairingly for the home support, Kelly couldn’t quite get hold of the pass and the danger soon passed. Although the first real chance of the game fell to the Harbourmen in the 20th minute, when a long wind-assisted ball fell to debutant forward Peter Jones. Unfortunately he had his shot blocked inside the Wellmen’s penalty area as the visitors stoop firm in the testing conditions.
A couple of free kicks by Kenleigh Owen tested the Holywell defence but were ultimately dealt with. Had there been any connection from a home player from the set piece crosses, it could well have potentially crafted a goal for Holyhead. Nonetheless they would get closer to scoring later in the first half when Mel McGuiness managed to break clear of the Holywell defence and advance goalwards. It would take a well-timed, ‘last ditch’ diving tackle from Wellmen defender Matty Harvey to keep the scores level and ensure his side would not concede.
Despite being pegged back in their half for a vast majority of the first half, there were the odd occasions of counter attacks into the Holyhead half from the visitors. Graeme Williams looked the most threatening outlay for any Holywell attack with his attacking runs from midfield, but ultimately the Wellmen failed to fully test Pritchard in the Holyhead goal for the first 45 minutes of the game. Any Holywell attack was either successfully dealt with by the home defence or hampered by the relentless detrimental winds.
With time ticking away in the first half, and the early wind advantage quickly coming to a conclusion, Holyhead surged forward to find the game’s opener and create an advantage in the game. New boy, Peter Jones, could only direct his fierce effort just wide of John Rushton’s post, before Dean Garmey squandered the final clear chance of the half when he also directed his shot to the wrong side of the woodwork ensuring the first half action would remain a goalless affair.
HALF TIME: HOLYHEAD HOTSPUR 0 – 0 HOLYWELL TOWN
Half time was spent in the impressive looking clubhouse, where the majority of the other supporters had congregated to consume a few pints whilst sheltering from the gusts coming from the Irish Sea. As with many clubhouses in the league, it is a decent sized room (which can be hired out for all respectable functions) and has its own bar which sells all the usual soft and alcoholic drinks. Greg treated himself to a pint of Kronenbourg (‘La Taste Supreme’ apparently according to the collar-erecting former footballer turned actor Eric Cantona) whilst the designated driver here contented himself to just watching the scores come through on Soccer Saturday, which was being broadcasted on the clubhouse’s TV, and tutting over the sadly inevitable Liverpool result against Burnley.
With Greg’s blood alcohol level sufficiently topped up, it was back out for the second half action. This time we decided to stand in the “bus shelter” style stand, next to the main stand, at the far end of the ground where a few other supporters were standing. This stand might not provide a raised viewing position as the main stand, but allowed us to be closer to the action. As we walked passed the main stand, I noticed Holywell’s manager John Haseldin sitting high in the stand. No doubt positioning himself in a higher viewing position to get a better overview of the pitch for the crucial second half performance.
The second half started with both teams trying to gain control of the game, but with the wind now in Holywell’s favour, there was only going to be one winner in ball possession for the second half. Assisted by the elements, the visiting side where now threatening the Harbourmen’s goal more regular than they had in the first 45 minutes. Captain Steve Thomas forced Paul Pritchard into making a comfortable catch after a long free kick was launched into the penalty area, whilst forward Sam Jones’ powerful shot inside the penalty area could only whistle past the Holyhead post around five minutes after the restart.
Despite Holywell’s dominance, Holyhead were strong on the counter-attack and had a great chance to break the deadlock through Peter Jones around the hour mark. A superb threaded pass through the Holywell defensive line from Dean Garmey found Peter Jones clear of the defence and advancing goalwards after he had superbly created room for himself to surge forward. However for the home support, a perfect timed sliding block from Gareth Sudlow ensured Jones’ effort would not trouble Rushton’s goal and the effort had dissipated.
Graeme Williams had a firm shot well held by Prichard with just twenty minutes remaining before Holywell substitute Ryan Davidson almost produced the decider in the contest. A great Ross Ankers free kick found Davidson, who was rising above everyone in the penalty box melee to connect with the cross. Unfortunately for the visiting support, both Davidson just headed over the crossbar and the assistant referee had flagged for offside. The home side would continue to threaten on the counter-attack with Holyhead’s McGinness and Jack Griffiths almost breaking through the Holywell defence but just scuppering their chance just as they broke clear. It was starting to get more likely that one goal would be the decider for this game this afternoon!
The Wellmen decided to bring on Paul Williams and Phil Lloyd, hoping to inject some pace into their attack and for a repeat of the previous weekend’s result when Lloyd grabbed the winning goal over Gresford Athletic with just his first touch of the ball. This double change had an immediate impact on Holywell’s attacking threat as they came close to scoring on a number of occasions. James Graham had a shot go over the crossbar with five minutes remaining, before he grabbed a late winner a minute later, when his second effort eventually beat Paul Pritchard and went into the Holyhead net. Alas for us Holywell fans, the assistant referee had flagged (rather late) for offside and the ‘goal’ was disappointingly chalked off.
Deep into injury time, substitute almost became the game winner for the second consecutive game when he had a superb chance to score and earn Holywell an important away victory. Luke Wandless deftly looped the ball over the Holyhead defence towards Lloyd who had beaten the offside trap and was clear in the penalty box. However luck was not with the forward this afternoon as he couldn’t control the ball correctly to set up a potential volley, and could only lash the ball wide of the Holyhead post.
That would be the final action of the second half and ultimately the game as the referee would soon blow the final whistle to end the game. It would be prove to be a goalless affair for this afternoon’s “Holy Derby”.
FULL TIME: HOLYHEAD HOTSPUR 0 – 0 HOLYWELL TOWN
With the final whistle still ringing in my ears, it was short walk back to the car ready for the long journey back home. Despite my initial fears, the journey back to 94th Minute HQ was fairly straightforward with the A55 relatively clear of traffic or delays ensuring I was able to get back home for about 6ish in the evening. Just enough time to have something to eat before I was off exploring the pubs and clubs of Ruthin and Denbigh (fellow Cymru Alliance towns) and enjoying some real ales. The new season has officially started for The 94th Minute ladies and gentlemen!! 🙂
This game will not go down as a classic by any stretch of the imagination, with the conditions having a negative effect on the game in my opinion. However a draw is probably a fair result considering both teams had decent chances although Holywell possibly had the better ones towards the end of the game. Holywell might be a little disappointed not to grab the winner in the end, but four points from the first two games is a significant improvement on last season’s fixtures when they only picked up 1 point from first two fixtures. Also two consecutive clean sheets will pleasing to John Haseldin and the rest of the management team, as they look to keep it tight at the back this season.
Holyhead’s manager Campbell Harrison will be more pleased of the two managers as a clean sheet and point at home in difficult conditions is a good result. It is certainly something they can be built upon for the away trip to Guilsfield and for the opening fixtures of the season. It also ensures that they stay undefeated for the first two games of the season and can progress forward throughout the season.
Even though the game was not the best I had seen over the years, the groundhop to Holyhead was really enjoyable, and I was pleasantly surprised at how decent their ground was also. I don’t think the ground is too far away (if at all) from the WPL standard. The welcome both the Holywell supporters and myself received by everyone helping out at the club were second to none (no banners thankfully ha) and I would encourage people to visit Holyhead Hotspur as they’re a decent team who are trying to progress and develop things the right way. I would like to wish them all the very best this season and hope they have another solid season in the Cymru Alliance.