Chad Bond strikes his goal (Photo: Gareth Elms)
Port Talbot Town extended their winning stretch to three games on Saturday as they clinched top-six qualification in a lively 2-1 win over Bala Town.
David Brooks’ classy finish put Port Talbot ahead after an evenly contested first-half. And the balance quickly tipped further into the hosts favour when Bala’s John Iriving saw red soon after.
Chad Bond’s strike from close range seemed to have rubber-stamped the win. But Bala got a second-wind in the dying stages when substitute Stephen Brown caught Craig Richards unawares from all of 40-yards injury time to ensure a tense finale.
Port Talbot, 5th in the table, were confirmed of their place in the league’s Championship Conference after Carmarthen Town were held to a draw at Connah’s Quay.
Scott Young’s side weathered the late storm with James Bloom’s vital last-ditch challenge preventing Brown from firing another goal-bound shot, leaving the Town manager pleased with his team’s resilience to hang on to their lead.
“Our forward thinking players, on their day, can beat anyone but even our rearguard – when we were all guns blazing, going forward – were battling and putting their bodies on the line to keep the ball out,” said Young.
“With ten minutes to go we were cruising hoping to see the game out and we switched off.
“I’ve just said to the lads that’s all it takes – one or two of them to switch off and they’re back in the game and we’ve got to batten down the hatches for the last two or three minutes. But I think we deserved to win the game in the end.”
The Blues line-up featured the familiar face of returning striker Chad Bond, who was drafted straight into the side in the absence of the suspended Jeff White.
And it was Bond – Young’s first signing of the January transfer window – who came closest to giving Port Talbot a first-half lead, as the Steelmen finished the opening period strongly.
Bond found space inside the box but smacked his effort against the upright to spark panic amongst the Bala defence as the ball rebounded perilously in the goalmouth. Unable to clear their lines, the visitors were mightily relieved when Carl Payne’s drive from the edge of the box was finally gathered by keeper Ashley Morris.
Morris was again called upon five minutes before interval, this time toacrobatically tip David Brooks’ curling free-kick over the bar to ensure that the Lakesiders went in level at the break, with little to offer in front of goal with the exception of Mark Jones’ over-hit attempt and Stuart Jones’ wayward drive across goal at the far-post, following Lunt’s corner.
Brooks continued his impressive run of form, testing the visiting full-backs on either flank but it was his second-half strike which typified the confidence and technique that has seen him emerge as a prominent figure in front of goal for the Steelmen this season.
In possession of the ball, Daniel Thomas drove forward through the middle towards the Bala back-four before spreading play left for the advanced Jake Parry to thread the ball inside for Brooks, who mercurially applied a one-touch finish, low into the bottom right of Morris’ goal.
Port Talbot’s case for the three-points was further strengthened two minutes later when John Irving went in late on Brooks, leaving referee Dean John with little choice but to show a straight red card to the Bala right-back.
The Blues initially struggled to settle and capitalise on having the extra man as Mark Jones’ free-kick was blocked as ten-men Bala threatened momentarily.
Having finally settled in possession, Chad Bond re-opened his goalscoring account for the club with twelve minutes remaining, tucking away Parry’s low cross across the box.
But Bala boldly continued with two up-front despite their numerical disadvantage, and although dominant in midfield, the air of inevitability of the points heading Port Talbot’s way quickly diminished as the visitors we let back into the game, with ninety minutes already on the clock.
Stephen Brown’s long-range strike stunned the GenQuip stadium as his hopeful attempt flew over the head Craig Richards.
Colin Caton’s men surged forward with new-found purpose deep into injury time, forcing Port Talbot to briefly scrap and thrash at a late flurry of corners, to ensure themselves of a deserved three points.
And it could have finished quite differently if James Bloom hadn’t have made a crucial last-ditch block on Brown’s late strike at goal, to deny the substitute of an equaliser.