My Favourite Match: Port Talbot Town 2-1 Swansea City

Mark Pitman is a Welsh football journalist, regularly contributring to several blogs and publications, including  In bed with Maradona and The Ball is Round, all of which can be found via his own website http://www.markpitman1.com/. 

Continuing our "My Favourite Match" series he details the 2007 FAW Premier  Cup tie between Port Talbot Town and Swansea City. Enjoy.

When people reflect on their favourite moments and matches in football, it is easy to base judgement primarily on the result before considering the full ninety-minutes or more that had taken place. For my favourite match however, the occasion and reflective glory starts nine days before as the scene slowly sets itself for one of the Welsh Premier League’s crowning moments and a match widely regarded as the best ever for South Wales side Port Talbot Town. Sadly the FAW Premier Cup competition is now defunct but there are stirrings within FAW headquarters that the lucrative tournament may soon make a return, if the powers that be need any further justification to bringing back the competition that mixed the best of the domestic top-flight against their Welsh compatriots in the English pyramid system, then they should read on and enjoy one of it’s most romantic tales to date.

Having disposed of league rivals Haverfordwest County and Rhyl in the two previous rounds, Port Talbot Town entered a quarter-final draw that also welcomed in the English pyramid trio of Swansea City, Cardiff City, Wrexham along Welsh Premier League champions The New Saints. The quartet would be away from home in the last four, and the draw handed Port Talbot Town a lucrative South Wales derby against League One side Swansea City. With strong support for the Swans in the South Wales town a bumper crowd was expected for the match that would take place on Tuesday, 9th January 2007. While realistically thinking only of the bumper attendance and significant prize money that the draw would offer Port Talbot Town, the club also remained quietly confident that Swansea’s FA Cup run and 3rd round tie at Premier League side Sheffield United the Saturday before would offer them half a chance of claiming a huge upset.

That thought carried more weight in one way and less in another as Swansea City went to Bramall Lane and convincingly took Neil Warnock’s side apart with a 3-0 victory in one of the cup upsets of the season. Alan Hansen and company offered nothing but praise for the performance of Kenny Jackett’s side on Match of the Day that evening and as the highlights rolled, Port Talbot Town began to fear what could happen on Tuesday night. Jackett also offered a sarcastic warning in an post-match interview – “As the dressing room reminded me, the big game is on Tuesday night - we've got Port Talbot away in the Welsh Cup.” The win guaranteed a bumper crowd for Port Talbot Town that Tuesday night, but as queues formed outside the ground, the weather decided that the fixture would not take place.

If there is one thing guaranteed with Port Talbot Town, it is that games will not be called off due to a waterlogged pitch. This night however, possibly the clubs biggest night ever, would prove to be the exception to the rule. With a heavy bed of sand and even heavier investment into the playing surface, the ground boasts incredible drainage, but the visit of Swansea City would prove to be one of the very few occasions when wet weather would dictate matters and the much-anticipated fixture would have to be re-arranged.

As desperately disappointing as it was unavoidable, the match was called off an hour before kick off as torrential rain and a forecast of more to come left both Jackett and Port Talbot Town boss Wayne Davies to concede that the match would have to wait another week. The crowd dispersed and an announcement soon followed that the match would now take place on the following Monday night. One week later the crowds again arrived, milling around the surrounding streets for parking spaces and forming long queues into each turnstile. A change in the weather meant that the fixture was not in doubt and a record crowd of 2,640 prepared to witness FAW Premier Cup history in the making.

Swansea City treated the competition with respect and named a strong squad with a smattering of youth as Jackett rested a handful of his FA Cup heroes but still rewarded the crowd by naming established stars such as goalkeeper Willy Gueret, defender Alan Tate and star striker Lee Trundle in the starting line-up, in addition to some of his League One regulars on the substitutes bench should things not turn out as expected. Port Talbot Town named a number of former Swans in their starting line-up including Matthew Rees, who scored Swansea’s first league goal under Kenny Jackett, leading out his side as captain. As the two sides took to the field, Port Talbot appeared to have already made as much from the match as they could with a record crowd, but there would be a lot more to come.

Under the guidance of manager Wayne Davies, the home side were expectedly organised and cautious as Swansea City enjoyed long periods of possession in their own half. There were chances at both ends, although Port Talbot Town goalkeeper Kristian Rogers, a former Wrexham player and one-time Swansea City target, was the busier of the two. Matthew Rees came close for Port Talbot Town while former Swansea City striker Chad Bond, recently released from the Swans by Jackett, led the front-line alone but could not turn his half-chances into anything more as both sides went into half-time with the game level and goalless. A significant substitution at half-time by Swansea City showed that Wayne Davies was the happier of the two managers as Kenny Jackett brought on £300,000 signing Rory Fallon for young Joe Allen. Jackett appeared keen for the visitors to claim the victory inside ninety minutes with the introduction of the New Zealand International, but the dogged determination and exceptional stamina of Davies’s Welsh Premier League side would again prove frustrating for their high-profile opponents as the second half began.

After 58 minutes however, it seemed that Port Talbot’s battling performance would be in vain as youngster Kyle Graves scored from outside the area with a deflected shot that beat Rogers after playing a one-two with Lee Trundle. The relief was evident across the Swansea City fans, players and bench but the unfancied home side were not about to let their hard work be undone and continued to prove their worth as they pressured their opponents in midfield and substitute Martin Rose, replacing former Swan Bond on the hour mark, came close to scoring an equaliser. A fine save from Gueret followed and it seemed Swansea City would hold onto their lead.

That would all change on 74 minutes. A free-kick from Lee John in the middle of the pitch brought a well-guided header back across goal from influential midfielder Dean Johnston that would ask questions of Gueret and his fumbled attempt to catch the ball offered the challenging duo of Matthew Rees and Richard French the opportunity to score from close range. French was credited with the goal although Rees appeared to make just as much contact as the home faithful at the Burns Road End celebrated their equalising goal. The tide had turned and the match would move into extra-time. Swansea City had substantially strengthened their side with the arrivals of Adebayo Akinfenwa and Tom Butler, a two-goal hero in the win over Sheffield United, but it was Port Talbot Town who looked the fitter of the two sides in extra-time as they enjoyed more possession and even hit the top of the crossbar through midfielder Dane Williams early on in the additional thirty-minutes.

With their main three strikers in Akinfenwa, Fallon and Trundle now occupying the forward positions it was inevitable that Swansea would create chances in extra time, but for every attempt they created on goal, Port Talbot Town seemed to respond by creating two of their own. A strike into the corner of the net from outside the area by Richard French appeared to be heading for the back of the net before Gueret made another fine save, and the match was now just five minutes away from heading to penalties. With undoubted quality in the Swansea City forward line, a shoot-out did not seem the best option for Port Talbot Town, if they were to win they would have to score in open play. They did.

Enter Andrew Mumford. A 111th minute substitute for Dane Williams, Mumford was a familiar face to the Swansea City crowd as he had been named the clubs Player of the Year just a few seasons before. Released from the club by former manager Brian Flynn, Mumford was now back in his previous surroundings of the Welsh Premier League, but his performances had not even warranted him a starting place for what would be a very personal occasion for the midfielder. Within five minutes of his arrival however, Mumford had moved from squad player to the hero of the hour, as he scored an incredible winning goal against the club that had ended his Football League career.

Defender Craig Hanford is a talented player in his position and regarded for his tackling ability far more than for his creative ball-playing skills. On this night of all nights however, things would be very different, as Hanford picked up the ball outside the area before threading a perfect ball between to Swansea defenders and onto the run of Mumford. With the pass from Hanford matching his long strides into the area, Mumford hit the ball first time and into the same corner that French had seen his shot saved in minutes earlier. Gueret had saved the first effort, but he would not save this one. With four minutes left in extra-time, Port Talbot Town were ahead for the first time in the game.

Desperate defending followed for what seemed an age, but after just over 120 minutes of action referee Steve Hames brought the game to a close and with it signalled emotional celebrations from the players, management and supporters of Port Talbot Town. The side from the Welsh Premier League had beaten the FA Cup heroes of Swansea City. What was important about the victory however was the manner of it. As the game had progressed Port Talbot had become the better side, Port Talbot Town had deserved their victory. As the post-match interviews rolled, Wayne Davies echoed the above – “I think we were just a little bit too good for them”. He was right. There was also a memorable quote in the South Wales Evening Post newspaper the following week, as sports reporter Mark Orders stated in his review of the week - “A good week for Port Talbot Town – Imagine what they would do to Sheffield United.”

The opening line of this reflective blog stated the following – ‘When people reflect on their favourite moments and matches in football, it is easy to base judgement primarily on the result before considering the full ninety-minutes or more that had taken place’. On this occasion the result and performance were indeed matched by so much more, and that is why it was chosen. The drama started with Swansea City defeating Premier League Sheffield United in the FA Cup just a few days before the original fixture, this was then followed by the unheard of postponement due to a waterlogged pitch at Port Talbot Town. Roll forward a week and with a record crowd in attendance, one-time Swansea City Player of the Year Andrew Mumford scores the winning goal against the club that released him, after latching onto a previously unheard of perfect pass from Craig Hanford.

But there was something else, something far more poignant and significant than the story that unfolded on the field, as the match also marked the opening of the ‘Gerald McCreesh Stand’. With a safety certificate granted on the morning of the match, the 750-seater stand would be used for the first time and also filled to capacity for what would subsequently be a fitting occasion. Named in memory of the clubs late Vice-Chairman after his untimely passing, no better script could have been written, planned or played out than the two-hours of football that would mark the opening of the memorial to the outstanding contribution he made to the football club that he loved.

People remember certain games, people remember certain moments from games, others reminisce on football occasions and stories that take place outside of the ninety-minutes. From the build-up the week before to the emotion of the victory and the occasion, to the stories that evolved on the field to the fact that a record crowd were there to witness, the match did indeed have it all. Standing behind the goal and in the same corner as Andrew Mumford’s winning strike, the initial impact of the result over-shadowed the sub-plots and romance that would evolve form the victory, but it is the collective memory of the match and its accompanying stories that single it out from countless others.

If this article has excited you as much as it has us, check out the extended highlights of this fantastic game here.

Visit http://www.markpitman1.com/ for links to all blogs, news stories, features, reports and opinion as the big Welsh football news stories break. You can also follow Mark Pitman at www.facebook.com/1markpitman and www.twitter.com/markpitman1.

1 comment:

  1. Brilliant mark I can only agree I just remember Kenny writing down is penalty takers when Hanford slot that ball through the legs of a swans player for Munf to score the winner One night in history for me . Leon