Penybont 1-0 Haverfordwest County (Friendly)
I’ve swapped Mitre Delta’s and Adidas Tango’s for Kookaburra’s and Dukes balls this summer, last week alone I was in Chelmsford, Canterbury and Bristol to watch and report on cricket in a bid to fill my football void. Back to what I know best tonight though, the start of a new soccer season, my first ‘PFS’ of 23/24… Although it’s not exactly worked out how I planned…
I know little about Penybont, a club formed in 2013 who play in the Cymru Premier, but what I do know is, they have qualified for the UEFA Conference League this season and face a first ever European competitive match against FC Santa Coloma of Andorra next week.
We usually get accreditation for matches in Europe but that doesn’t kick in until the group stages so checking the Welsh sides fixture list for alternatives I noticed a match against Haverfordwest County which looked appealing to go watch, a quick google search telling me Pen y Bont was only an hour and half drive from my house, what I didn’t realise was, it was the wrong bloody Penybont.
There’s actually hundreds of Pen-y-Bont’s in Wales (English translation is ‘top of the bridge’), the one I thought I was visiting, near Shrewsbury and Oswestry, is doable in 90 minutes from my door, the one I got, a 350 mile round trip to Bridgend, will instead, take over 6 hours of my life sat in my car.
Penybont’s opponents, Haverfordwest County, are one of those names that stick in the mind from when the full times are huskily read out on a Saturday afternoon… Formed in 1899 the Bluebirds have long stood the top table in Wales before recent relegation and promotion again, they finished seventh last season and also qualified for Europe after winning a league playoff against Newtown, Managed by former Yeovil goalkeeper Tony Pennock (who’s son Alex plays in goal for Penybont), they’ll face North Macedonian minnows Shkendija next Thursday night, also in the first qualifying round of the Europa Conference League.
It's mid-afternoon, I’ve made the wife a cuppa before heading out the door, down the M1 from Nottingham and across the M42 onto the M5 where it starts raining.
I’m driving down the M50 to Ross-on-Wye where I stop off for some petrol and spot a Greggs at a services. Not liking the look of a lone chicken pasty I go for a steak bake and brew, get back in the car and head off down the A40 towards Newport, I’m wrestling with the paper bag whilst driving and eating as a piece of steak falls onto the top of my hand, it’s red hot, the bastard has burnt my skin, I’m in agony, I have to pull over on the hard shoulder and pour some water over my thumb, a big red mark on my hand, these bloody pasties should come with a warning, you never know if it’s going to be ice cold or furnace hot!
Back on the road whilst clutching my wrist in pain I’m through the Gibraltar Tunnels of Monmouth enduring a lovely drive to the M4, coming off where I spot the Celtic Manor Golf Resort hotel. Through the traffic of a now busy motorway towards Cardiff, I eventually reach Bridgend and pull up at a Tesco outside the ground where I put some air in my tyres.
Brewery Field is actually a rugby ground and home to Bridgend Ravens who once beat Australia on the very patch during the Wallabies tour of 1981. Not much I presume has changed since then? The match being played here today ahead of Penybont using the venue for their Europa League tie, their usual home of Bryntirion Park considered too small for such lucrative event.
With a capacity of 8,000 the venue has two large but lusciously dated stands on either wing, one end has a roofed terrace behind the goal whilst the other is open ended, used mainly for players parking.
I’m walking through the puddles ahead of the turnstile where I’m scanned in through the ticket office window, I ask a steward where I can get a cup of tea and a wee “they’ve not opened the tea bar” he says, “you’ve missed a trick there” I reply, having specifically gone to the cash machine earlier in case the club only took pound coins.
Bladder emptied but dry mouthed I head up to the centre of the seated stand which has wooden desks across a couple of rows for press, dugouts in front, there’s pillars to the left and right holding up the roof but partially blocking my view, pitch green and flat, it’s been raining heavily but is brightening up, an old woman with a couple of blokes starts hobbling up the steps towards her seat, moaning about the lack of food and drink facility, she sounds English and we get chatting, living on the Pembrokeshire Coast they’re fans of Haverfordwest but her grandma was from Newark, she reminds me of her time going to see her and running to the bridge above the Northgate train station to watch the Flying Scotsman go past.
It’s a 7:30pm kick off but the two sets of players are still out on the pitch warming up at 7:35… No PA system in place, the crowd now built up to less than an eighth full, a good few hundred in attendance, chatting away, asking each other “did we get the wrong time”.
Finally, fifteen minutes late, the two sets of players come out to play, not your usual formal walkout of the tunnel led by referees, Penybont in all blue first out in old-skool 70’s and 80’s ways, captain leading his side, running out and leaping up to mimic a header as the sparse crowd claps them in, followed by Haverfordwest in their changed yellow and blue, a macron number which looks very similar to my beloved Nottingham Forest away kit from last year.
It’s a slow paced start, the away side kick it between their back four and look competent in possession, no real threat up front, they play out from the back and have a few neat midfielders but rarely trouble the Penybont defence, in return the hosts, are more direct, more down and dirty, a massive tackle in the opening seconds by Luke Sylvester sets their tone, they get it out wide quickly, and they’re not afraid to put their foot in.
Despite the aggressiveness of Penybont, their lack in attack and the patience and organisation of Haverfordwest ensures chances are few and far between, a post is cracked on half time from a long-range effort by the home side, the rebound put over, but other than that, nothing bar a few corners of note.
The second half is hardly much better, it’s competitive and there’s moments, but goalmouth action is a non-event, substitutions are made which interestingly opens things up, Keyon Reffell is a handful for the otherwise cool and calm former Welsh international Jazz Richards to mark, former Wolves defender Mark Little also adds some experience for the Bont, who take a late lead, when a cross by Georgievsky is headed home by centre half Dan Jefferies, up in the box from an earlier corner.
That goal, on 89 minutes is enough to win the game, a good honest battle between two sides excitedly featuring in Europe, Haverfordwest having the luxury of hosting their match in a fortnight at the Cardiff City Stadium after a first leg playing at the wonderful national stadium of Skopje next Thursday. Penybont will be back at Brewery Field before heading for the hills of Andorra.
No player caught the eye more than Haverfordwest centre half Jazz Richards who at 32 can still play at a higher level if he so chooses, the former Swansea, Fulham and Cardiff man played largely with a cigar in his mouth and at one stage even Cruyff turned an opponent inside his own area, before nonchalantly playing out of defence, cool, calm, vocal, experienced, a man who’ll be essential if the side are to progress in Europe.
Other good shows from County players included winger Dan Hawkins who looked a menace when in possession out wide, midfielder Kai Whitmore who shown some nice touches looks to have elegance, also right back Kaiden Williams-Lowe who I was impressed with at Peterborough Sports last season, the former QPR youngster got up and down well and looks to be a player who could use his ‘European’ experience as a stepping stone to greater things.
As for Penybont, skinny number seven Kostya Georgievsky was the talisman with some silky hips and some special deliveries, non-least for their goal, I liked Sylvester and Lewis Harling in midfield and Reffell when he came on, match winning hero Dan Jefferies solid at centre back, they have a good strong physical spine in their team and might be feeling confident about going through in their first ever Europa journey.
Not one for the purists but a journey, venue and game I rather enjoyed. A friendly with a bit of bite and some friendly people in attendance to make it that bit more enjoyable.
Two good teams with a lot to look forward to over the coming weeks, I’ll certainly be keeping an eye out for both sides results and wishing them well on their European travels.
Penybont: Kelland Absalom (Alex Pennock 65), Kane Owen (Mark Little 72), Ashley Evans (Jack Carson 65), Dan Jefferies, Mael Davies (Lewis Taylor 63), Billy Borge (Keyon Reffill 63), Lewis Clutton (Ryan Reynolds 72), Kostya Georgievsky, Lewis Harling, Luke Sylvester, Teejay Vickery (Jack Shaw 72).
Haverfordwest County: Zac Jones, Kayden Williams-Lowe (Harri John 60), Iori Humphreys (Lucas Davis 70), Jazz Richards, Oscar Borg, Rhys Abbruzzese (Rio Dyer 60), Tyrese Owen (Jak Wilson 60), Kai Whitmore, Dan Hawkins, Ben Fawcett, Martell Taylor-Crossdale (Lucas Jenkins 76).
7:45pm Kick Off. Tuesday 4th July 2023, Brewery Field, Bridgend (att 400).