Welcome to Llanelli
A couple of weeks ago, when I booked my train tickets for the trip to Llanelli, travelling to support our U21s in the cup had seemed like a fun idea. Yesterday, as I explained to colleagues why I was taking today off, I questioned my sanity. My arrival in Llanelli didn’t do anything to lift my mood. Having passed the grandeur of the Liberty Stadium on the train, the area outside Llanelli station looked positively second rate and the walk up and down hills through housing estates made me wonder where I was going to end up. However, when I finally reached Stebonheath Park, I was pleasantly surprised to find that it’s a lovely little ground. I was also happy to see the Watford team coach as confirmation that I was in the right place. As I entered the ground, I saw three other fans
The stand at Stebonheath Park
walking around the perimeter. When I caught up with them, I was delighted to see that that one was Robin, a friend from WML, who introduced me to Steve, another WML stalwart, and his friend, Jane, who is a Swansea fan. As Bernard Mensah is a friend of Robin’s family, I asked if the youngster would be missing out due to his appearance on Saturday and was pleased to be told that he would be playing. Another pleasant discovery was that the seats in the stand were yellow and red, surely a good omen.
When the team was announced, it was a young group without the permitted overage player. I believe the oldest in the squad was 19. The line-up, 1 to 11, was Wilks, Barnum-Bobb, Doherty, Byers, O’Nien (c), Kyprianou, Cumberbatch, Hope, Ikpeazu, Mensah and Martin. Tom Rosenthal was on the bench, so we were joined in the crowd by Rocket Ronnie.
We had an early scare as Cumberbatch gave the ball away, Bray interchanged passes with Lucas but fortunately his shot went into the side netting. Soon after, Swansea threatened again as Meade went on a run down the wing where he was stopped by a foul from Doherty. He took a low free kick, which was diverted over the bar by Ikpeazu. Then Swansea launched another good break, Sheehan put in a decent cross, but Jones headed it back across goal when it looked easier to score. On 15 minutes, Watford’s youngsters had their first attack of note as Ikpeazu robbed Shephard, but his cross was cut out. Swansea were immediately on the offensive as a cross from Donnelly was knocked wide by Bray. Then Sheehan played a through ball to Bray who found Donnelly in front of goal.
Defending a set piece
He looked certain to score, but just tapped the ball towards goal and Wilks gathered safely. Donnelly turned provider as he fed Jones, but his shot was gathered easily by Wilks. On 24 minutes, Martin went on a run down the wing and found himself boxed in close to the bye-line with two defenders on him. Somehow he managed to flick the ball into the box, it reached Ikpeazu, who had his back to goal and was unable to get into a shooting position. Then Martin lost out to Bray in midfield, he advanced and whipped in a dangerous looking cross which was cut out by O’Nien. Just before the half hour, a through ball was played to Donnelly running into the box, but Wilks dived at his feet to
Waiting for a goal kick
gather the ball before he could shoot. Soon after, a chance fell to Loveridge who shot just over the bar. With 8 minutes to half time, Byers gave the ball away to Donnelly, Kyprianou pushed him over to stop the attack and was booked for his trouble. Jones put the resulting free kick wide of the target. We had our best chance of the half as the clock reached 45 minutes. Ikpeazu was through on goal, but was being pulled back, which put him off and his shot went harmlessly into the side netting. So, we reached half-time goalless. Swansea had had most of the play and the majority of the chances, but our defence had done well, particularly Wilks. During the interval, we met Alan Cozzi in the tea bar, who confidently predicted a draw with us nicking it on penalties.
Hope on the attack
At the start of the second half, Swansea were immediately on the attack and a dangerous cross was headed off the line. On 50 minutes, O’Nien just failed to cut out a ball to Donnelly whose shot was brilliantly kept out by Wilks. Then Sheehan broke into the box, but Barnum-Bobb did a great job in dispossessing him and averting the danger. Next Mensah was on the attack with a run down the left wing, but his shot was across the area and did not test Davies in the Swansea goal. Watford were having a decent spell of possession and the next attack was a lovely passing move that culminated in a shot from Ikpeazu straight at the keeper. Loveridge for Swansea then had a shot from distance that went over the bar. The next incident that went in my notebook was a Swansea player being penalized for a foul on Ikpeazu. This may not seem worthy of note but, for those that
O’Nien sharing a joke with Mensah
haven’t seen Ikpeazu play, he’s a big gangly lad and referees seem to pull him up unfairly, particularly in 50-50 situations. I think this was the first time I’d seen him win a free-kick. Just before the hour, a Swansea corner was headed up by Doherty and Wilks had to punch it over. Soon after, we won a free kick wide on the right, Doherty shot for goal and Davies had to stretch to keep it out. On 65 minutes, Swansea should have been ahead. First a shot was cleared off the line by Ikpeazu. In the follow-up, Donnelly was fouled and the ref pointed to the spot. Loveridge stepped up to take the penalty. He hit it to Wilks’s right, but the young keeper dived and kept it out. The resultant corner was poor and Watford launched a promising counter attack, but a pass through to Martin was short and the chance was gone. On 69 minutes, Swansea had another corner that was met with a point blank header from Donnelly, but Wilks stood tall and blocked the chance. Soon after, Ikpeazu was replaced by Rosenthal. Young Tom’s first contribution of note was to break forward and be taken down by Lucas, who was booked. On 78 minutes, a quick Swansea attack finished with Donnelly hitting an audacious chip goalwards catching Wilks off his
Rosenthal and Mensah
line. Fortunately for us, the ball bounced wide. Then Donnelly broke again but Wilks pulled off a great save to deny him. On 81 minutes, Bray was replaced by Gorre. Swansea’s last chance of normal time fell to Loveridge whose cross was easily gathered by Wilks. Watford pressed for a winner in the last couple of minutes. First a shot from distance by Hope was kept out by Davies. Then, the final action of the game when Mensah went on a dangerous run, but his cross was cut out.
Huddle before extra time
Extra time in the Bristol Rovers game had been a worry as the lads all looked out on their feet. Today, they looked a lot fresher and eager for the extra period, while I congratulated myself on remembering to book a late train home. In the second minute of extra time, Gorre tried a shot from distance that went well wide. Then Mensah went on a run and dinked past two players before Shephard took him down and earned a yellow card. On 102 minutes, Watford hearts were in their mouths as a dangerous ball into our box was almost turned into his own net by O’Nien. Soon after, the dangerous Donnelly sent a glancing header wide. Mensah had taken a knock in the first half of extra time and looked likely to be replaced at the break. He started the second period, but was soon replaced by Bawling, who was named on the teamsheet as Alfred. Surely Bobson Bawling isn’t actually an Alfred! O’Nien was then booked for kicking Jones as he ran past. The only attempt on goal in the second period of extra time was a cross from Sheehan that Donnelly nodded wide. There was a final substitution as Joseph Jones replaced Meade, but the tie was to finish goalless and go to penalties.
Watford took the first penalty as our captain, Luke O’Nien, stepped up but skyed his kick (0-0). It was heartbreaking for the lad, who had performed brilliantly during the game.
Gorre took Swansea’s first spot kick, putting it to Wilks’s right as the young keeper went the wrong way (1-0). Doherty was up next and his shot went in off the crossbar with one of the Swansea crew by pitchside jokingly asking for goalline technology to prove that it had crossed the line (1-1). Alfei stepped up next and put his penalty to the keeper’s left, just past Wilks’s stretching arm (2-1). Hope hit a very cool penalty straight down the middle (2-2). Donnelly hit his penalty to the right of the keeper with Wilks going the wrong way (3-2). Martin hit a lovely penalty high to Davies’s left (3-3). Then, with Robin shouting at Dan to go to his right, Loveridge hit a penalty to the keeper’s left and Wilks dropped to save it (3-3). Byers hit a lovely penalty to the keeper’s left with Davies going the wrong way and we were ahead with only one spot kick remaining (3-4). Lucas stepped up to take the penalty and the Watford contingent was delighted to see it end up behind the goal. On the balance of play, that was cruel for the Swansea boys, but the defensive heroics, particularly by the wonderful Dan Wilks, meant the Watford youngsters were through to the final 16.
At the end of the game, we applauded the lads off, although they were soon back out for a warm down. Bernard Mensah came over to talk to Robin, so I was introduced and the lad gave me a hug and thanked me for coming to support them. As we walked around the pitch to leave the ground, we were chatting about what an enjoyable game it had been when we saw the Watford players all running in our direction. I was confused as the tunnel was the other way, then I realized that they were coming over to us and each of them, along with David Hughes and the other coaches, shook our hands and thanked us for being there. Luke O’Nien apologized for missing the penalty, but said he would step up and take another if necessary, a good leader as well as a great little player. The lads were all beaming and so was I.
Early this morning, I wondered why I was taking a day off work to travel to Wales for this game. After an enjoyable afternoon, with good company, watching a competitive game in a lovely little ground and seeing the reaction of the boys at the end, I have to say it was a day well spent.