Steve Lewis scored twice for Rhyl
CARMARTHEN Town's season, their best in terms of performance and achievement for many years, came to a hugely disappointing end with this crushing defeat by Rhyl in a game which turned on a highly controversial refereeing decision shortly after the start of the second-half.
Having defeated Welsh Premier League champions TNS only 10 days ago with an outstanding display for their fifth consecutive victory which secured a third-place finish in the League, guaranteeing them a crucial home tie for this European qualifying play-off semi-final, their problems began some 24 hours before kick-off with the enforced loss of that home advantage because of the need to move the fixture to Port Talbot’s Gen Quip Stadium due to the well-documented pitch conditions at Richmond Park.
But that was nothing compared to the events on the day. From the outset both teams seemed unable to master the fierce gale blowing down the length of the field – the Old Gold, with the wind behind them, continually over-hit their passes and all too easily lost possession, while the visitors persisted in lofting the ball forward only to see it blown back over their heads or out of play.
Attractive flowing football of the sort to which Town fans had recently become accustomed was sadly not in evidence and goalmouth incidents were very limited.
It was not until the 15th minute that Town’s first scoring opportunity arose when a deep cross from Luke Cummings was headed clear by a defender but only as far as Cortez Belle who saw his 20 yard drive fly just outside the post. Then on 24 minutes Carl Evans, on the half-way line, headed the ball forward to Christian Doidge who sent a swift pass through to Liam Thomas but after turning sharply past his marker on the edge of the penalty area he fired narrowly wide.
While Rhyl were struggling to make progress in the face of the wind, the Old Gold continued to press forward, albeit without seriously testing the visitors’ defence. However twice in quick succession Belle rose high to meet Kyle Bassett corner-kicks but on each occasion he was off-target. Then after 34 minutes Cummings sent another inviting cross to beyond the far post where Keyon Reffell, from a sharp angle, hit a fierce volley which was deflected just wide by a defender.
Late in the first-half Rhyl at last began to threaten when Mark Cadwallader made a strong run down the right flank before driving an excellent low cross into the goalmouth which required ‘keeper Steve Cann’s expert safe handling to avert the danger. But moments later, on 42 minutes, David Forbes put the visitors ahead when he chased a long ball to the edge of the penalty area and struck a superb shot that flew into the net giving Cann no chance.
Stung by that setback Town went in search of an equaliser and were duly rewarded deep into added time when a huge clearance from Cann, carried by the wind, deceived the visitors’ defenders and eventually reached Bassett who stabbed the ball home from close range.
Shortly after the interval came the game-changing incident when a Rhyl attack finished with Evans blocking a shot on the goal-line – the referee adjudged him to have handled the ball whereas Evans and his team-mates protested that it had hit only his chest, a view that clearly appeared to be shared by many others at the ground and was later confirmed by TV replays of the incident. Nevertheless a penalty was awarded (and subsequently converted by Paul McManus) and Evans, inevitably, was sent-off.
And further injustice was to follow almost immediately as Carmarthen, having lost their inspirational skipper and key defender, were still trying to reorganise their defensive formation – Cadwallader was allowed to force his way into the penalty area and he drove the ball under Cann to provide the visitors with a convincing lead.
The Old Gold were now compelled to throw players forward in search of goals but, unsurprisingly, with their weakened defence and numerical disadvantage they became severely stretched and more vulnerable to a counter-attack. Rhyl soon capitalised on this in the 59th minute when Forbes was able to race clear and he crossed to the unmarked Steve Lewis who was left with a simple tap-in opportunity. Then on 68 minutes substitute Paul Fowler conceded another penalty – there was nothing contentious about the decision on this occasion and Lewis comfortably dispatched the spot-kick.
On 77 minutes it seemed inevitable that Forbes would add a sixth goal but his close-range shot was denied by a marvellous point-blank save by Cann. But the tall striker was luckier in the closing minutes of the match when, after Cann had spilled Tom Roberts’ fierce 25 yard effort, the ball rebounded straight to him and he slid it into the empty net to complete Town’s misery.