THE Penarth Hockey Club 1st XI went a long way to strengthening their position in the De Cymru and The Marches 1 division of the Davis Wood Hockey League with back-to-back victories over tough opposition in recent weeks.
It has not been very often in recent weeks that Penarth can attest to having deserved a win and actually got one but, against high-flying Lansdown, the Vale side finally redeemed that statistic by winning in style.
It must be said that, at times, Penarth did their very best to throw it all away with some cumbersome defending and lacklustre striking, but at least the fire and passion that has so far eluded Cardiff City this season was in ample supply at Barry Sports Centre.
Beginning with a strong line-up, Penarth took the early ball and kept it. If there was a Paul Scholes prize for possession, captain Mark Thomas would win it, and it was through the skipper that Chris Baker was allowed to run on and smash Penarth into the lead.
Tom Harran ploughed through a Lansdown striker. The subsequent penalty flick was tucked away by a grateful Lansdown side, albeit somewhat fortunately as Penarth ‘keeper Mark Harris got a stick to the ball before it crossed the line.
A melee of action followed the equaliser, with Lansdown only kept at bay by the fine heroics of defensive playmaker Joseph Wells, before the game calmed with the coming of half-time, allowing both teams to regroup.
The break appeared to suit Penarth best as a quick solo goal from ‘man of the moment’ Baker immediately stunned the opposition into submission and an equaliser seemed unlikely until Thomas was sin-binned for what appeared a minor transgression. To make matters worse for the Bears, he was swiftly joined by defensive general Wells, whose protestations also landed him on the wrong side of the umpire.
Forced to play with only nine men produced an uphill struggle over the following 10 minutes, and Lansdown took full advantage of Penarth’s misdemeanours to pull level once again.
However, once the teams were restored to parity, Penarth again looked the better side, and a period of inter-play that Arsene Wenger would have been proud of allowed Sam Wooding to sneak in at the back post and seal the win for the Vale side.
Absurd as it might sound, the 3-2 result felt more like 10-0 and, with five tough games remaining, the win might prove to be the saviour of Penarth in a closely-contested division.
CARDIFF MEDICS 1
Buoyed by the victory over Lansdown, it was important that Penarth built on the success with another good result against a Cardiff Medics side that had manhandled the Bears in a very convincing manner earlier in the season.
Once again, the Vale side started well and controlled the early possession, with the back four of Harran, James Davies, Sam Docherty and Dave Stevens transferring the ball and giving the midfield trio of skipper Thomas, Gareth Herman and Phil Lane the chance to buy space for the forwards.
The front line, comprising Wooding, Baker, Matt Birch and Dave Kidby, constantly caused problems for the Medics’ defence, and it was only a matter of time before Kidby smashed the visitors into the lead.
Penarth controlled both field position and possession but, as half-time approached, the Medics sprang a counter-attack, eventually earning a penalty corner that was converted at the second attempt after a fine save from Penarth ‘keeper Harris.
With the teams turning around level, Penarth knew that they would have to raise the stakes to get the victory that their first-half performance deserved. Once again, the visitors’ passing was crisp and precise and, having put the Medics’ defence under a lot of pressure, was rewarded when Lane found space at the top of the ‘D’ to crash the ball home.
Kidby grabbed a second goal shortly afterwards, following up after a Penarth penalty corner was saved.
At this point, the game became very stretched, which played into Penarth’s hands as they found a lot more space in the final third. A fourth goal came quickly, after a superb run from the sideline from Herman supplied Birch, who proceeded to play the pass of the season - through his legs - to the top of the ‘D’ where Lane stood and beat the 'keeper.
The veteran then completed his hat-trick with another superb strike as Penarth pulled off a surprisingly easy win over what had been expected to be tougher opposition and to cement themselves in fourth position in their division.
PENARTH A 0
CARDIFF MEDICS A 3
While the 1st XI were embarking on their winning run, however, the Seconds were finding life tougher in De Cymru 2, although neither result proved to be a fair reflection of their performance.
A 5-1 defeat at Abergavenny could be largely attributed to a blinding display from the home goalkeeper, who stopped almost everything - bar a late Tom Parkinson nudge - that Penarth threw at him, while the scoreline only became unflattering to the visitors in the final period as fitness and a loss of shape at the back allowed the home side to build on their lead.
A tough run of fixtures, which saw Penarth have to face the sides in fourth, third and second places in successive games, culminated with the visit of league leaders Cardiff Medics A to Barry. Despite missing a couple of key players, Penarth started resolutely, determined not to allow their young opposition an easy victory.
With returning skipper Nick Pratt and Paul Thomas alternately anchoring the midfield, and the hard-running Arthur Jones and Dave Thomas providing good ball for the forwards, Penarth created as many early chances as the student side, but pressure from the visitors eventually told, and they went into the interval with the slimmest of advantages.
Penarth’s back four of Ian Smith, Zbig Sobierserski, Craig Llewellyn and Paul Roberts remained dogged throughout, harrying the numerically superior Medics' forwards into mistakes and frequently dispossessing them at the last moment when a break did make it as far as the ‘D,’ but their rearguard action - and the sterling efforts of ‘keeper Calum Grant - could not hold out forever and a penalty corner routine eventually doubled the deficit.
Despite falling two goals behind, Penarth continued to look for a way back into the game, with youngster Rory Vizard providing an additional outlet up front in tandem with comparative veterans Graeme Jones and Dave Watkins. The consolation goal refused to come, however, and the students eventually put the game beyond doubt with a screamer that threatened to take a few defensive heads with it on the way into the net.