The Cofis have an impressive record against Flint Town United of late, with a record of nine victories, two draws and a solitary defeat against the Silkmen in the past five seasons. This run includes three League Cup final victories, which probably means we’re not of Flint’s favourite opponents and I’m sure they would have been looking forward to trying to get one over on us during our latest visit to Cae y Castell.
As covered in the last blog, Caernarfon had drawn the three matches leading up to Flint and this led to plenty of North Wales football gurus predicting the Cofi bubble had burst. I won’t embarrass these local Carraghers by pointing at the social media threads where they confidently proclaimed the wheels had well and truly come off Town’s title aspirations but you’ll probably be aware of what and who I mean. I doubt that Sean and the players felt any added pressure as a result of those draws but would guess that the critics will have galvanised them even more to get back to winning ways at Flint.
The hosts had recently appointed former Rhyl manager Niall McGuinness to take over from Andy Holden at the helm and the team had responded with three victories in five outings under his charge, so they were in decent form and it promised to be a tough test for the Cofis.
I had been encouraged before kick off when Darren Thomas told me he was nearing a return to fitness and hoped to train with the squad the following week. This was excellent news as the Cofi Messi is a key member of the squad and I often believe that people from outside the club underestimate how good he is. Most have also decided to ignore the fact that we have remained unbeaten and top of the league despite his absence since the first week of December which, considering his importance to the team, is a pretty impressive feat.
So, what of the match itself? The first thing I noted was the pitch, which looked heavy and wet, although the groundsman must have worked overtime on the surface because most matches in the area had been called off due to heavy rain in the preceding hours. This resulted in a swollen attendance at Cae y Castell and I’m sure that the majority of us will have enjoyed what the players served up.
As expected, the hosts began well but, having weathered their initial ten minute storm, Caernarfon settled down and took control of the game. There were a few near misses and half chances in the Flint penalty area as the Cofis pressed forward and it seemed just a matter of time before we broke the deadlock. However a red card for Jay Gibbs after thirty minutes levelled the action temporarily as the Silkmen found renewed hope although Caernarfon continued to edge proceedings up to half time. Jamie Breese and Nathan Craig gave Town a two goal lead within five minutes of the restart and really, Flint did well not to go further behind as they struggled to deal with Caernarfon’s pacey breaks upfield. The extra man advantage finally began to show in the final quarter of the match as the Silkmen pulled a goal back through Jack Lewis and took a more direct approach in search of an equaliser. Alex Ramsay pulled off two fines saves to keep us ahead and some heroic defending by the whole team finally ensured we got back to winning ways, and handing out a king-sized slice of disappointment cake to those who were pronouncing the Cofis’ demise.
|Breesey was on target against Flint|
It was a gutsy performance from the players, one that showed plenty of character and determination after the early red card and whilst it was squeaky bum time in the final stages, I don’t think there can be any question that the Cofis deserved the points. There was an impressive following from Caernarfon at the match and the Cofi Army certainly encouraged the players on, especially in the final minutes. Their rousing rendition of ‘Ain’t Nobody Like Sean Eardly’ at the final whistle was rewarded with a Klinsmann dive in front of them by the manager and, to be honest, it was a fitting way to end the afternoon.
Away from the action it had been nice to catch up with former Cofi Rob Jones, who now plays for Flint. Rob was an important member of our title winning squad of 2015/16 and was unlucky last year to suffer from injuries and suspensions. I remember talking with him after his final match for Caernarfon last season, where he had been sent off at Llanfair United, and he was extremely disappointed at the dismissal which effectively ruled him out for the remainder of the campaign. Despite his frustrations last season, his quality is in no doubt and it was great to see him on the pitch again, although not in our colours this time1 Unfortunately, Rob suffered an injury in the opening minutes and so had to miss out on most of the action but I hope the ovation he received from the Cofi Army helped him feel better and reminded him of his successes at the Oval. Thankfully, his injury was not as bad as feared and it was good to see he was back for Flint’s match at the weekend.
Once I’d posted the match report, photos and post-match interviews I settled down to Twitter and it definitely seemed a much quieter place that it had been the previous three Saturday evenings. It may well have been that all the footballing gurus of North Wales had gone off to a Sky Football Convention for tactical geniuses or maybe our defender Joe Williams got it right when he tweeted:“I’m sure all the doubters will undoubtedly be doubting Sean Eardley’s ability as a manager! I’m off to watch Mrs Doubtfire!”
Having successfully overcome one stiff test, the Cofis were faced with another six days later when we faced The New Saints in the fourth round of the Welsh Cup. There’s no point in me recounting what happened the last time the sides met in the same competition and of more relevance is the encounter earlier this season, when TNS beat Caernarfon 2-0 in the Word Cup. The difference between the sides had been minimal then and goals at the beginning and end of the tie had been enough to see the hosts through.
Caernarfon’s Welsh Cup curse struck again in the fortnight before the tie as Chris Williams and Ryan Williams suffered injuries that deemed them unavailable whilst Jay Gibbs was suspended and Kevin Lloyd and Shaun Cavanagh were both cup-tied. This meant that Sean was without five of his first team squad for the match but, on the flip side, the Cofi Messi was back, which must have given his team mates as much of a boost as it did the supporters. We still had a very strong starting eleven to face the Welsh Premier League Champions and, despite going behind in the fourth minute, the Cofis proved a match for the full-timers in every aspect.
Correct decisions at key moments can make a huge difference in tight contests and Friday’s match was a good example. Caernarfon had a strong penalty shout just before half-time when a Darren Thomas header hit Connell Rawlinson’s arm at the far post but the referee waved play on, and the ball was cleared. It’s impossible to say how a penalty at that time would have changed the outcome of the match but against excellent sides like TNS these are the moments that you need to go your way.
The Town players deserve huge credit for sticking to their tasks so resolutely after the visitors doubled their lead almost immediately after the restart and, as the match wore on, I felt the Cofis improved and looked quite comfortable against their highly rated opponents. When Darren halved the deficit in the seventy seventh minute I sensed we could get back on level terms and it was great to see Sean pushing his team on in search of an equaliser. The Oval was rocking for those final thirteen minutes as Town put the pressure on, and I think it said a lot that TNS keeper Paul Harrison was looking for every opportunity to waste a few second whenever he could – and not just after Darren scored!
Aeron Edwards showed his quality in injury time when he scored a third for the visitors but, despite the result, I think Caernarfon Town were still winners on the night. An impressive crowd of 1489 saw the Cofis go toe to toe against their full-time opponents and, just as impressively is that we played football that was every bit as good as the Welsh champions.
I note that in his post-match interview TNS manager Scott Ruscoe was quite complimentary towards Caernarfon and also alluded to the fact that the Oval pitch was not the type they’re used to, which is definitely worth bearing in mind if we manage to get back into the top tier. o many of the WPL clubs play on 3G pitches these days that keeping a real grass surface may well be an advantage to us in the future. I know the club is looking at putting down an artificial pitch at the Oval to enable it to compete financially with other big clubs in the country and I agree with this, but it would be such a shame to see us lose what’s already there, and something we can use to our advantage in the future.
So, a disappointing result for us but everything else on the night was a success. The players put in one of the best performances from a Caernarfon Town side in recent years and showed again that they’re good enough, individually and collectively, to play in the top tier. The football they played was on a par with a team that play the game professionally and what’s even more important is that nearly fifteen hundred people were there to see the sides put on a great show. I was impressed by TNS, but more so by Caernarfon Town. In the words of a former football commentator who got too big for his boots before getting caught out: Take a bow Alex Ramsay, Joe Williams, Nathan Craig, Gareth Edwards, Rhys Roberts, Clive Williams, Kevin Roberts, Gareth Evans, Jamie Breese, Darren Thomas, Danny Broookwell, Telor Williams and Aaron Davies-Thomas.
I’ll finish this blog off by once again putting my head on the social media block. We had queues stretching out of the car park and half way down Marcus Street on Friday evening as people looked forward to a real football match on a grass surface between two sides who rarely face each other. 1489 people eventually walked through the turnstiles and witnessed a cracker of a match between two very good sides. Yes, I appreciate that the Welsh champions were in town, that it was a cup tie and there were no other matches on in the vicinity but it was still a pretty big crowd, one that other teams in the Pyramid would dearly love to have.
If you were to check the attendances for the next round of Welsh Premier League matches, the chances are that the combined total from all them will not reach Friday’s crowd at the Oval and in my opinion the fault lies with the FAW. They really do need to realise that many people have no interest in watching the same teams face each other between four, five or six times a season. Of course we can all guess at the reasons why the powers that be refuse to change the format (I’ve heard that it may be because they don’t want to dilute the product?) but, common sense and business wise, it must make sense to change things.
I know there are some who are extremely sensitive when it comes to the FAW and WPL but even those who are so precious about the top tier must see it’s time for the governing body to increase the number of teams in its flagship competition to sixteen? Sides facing each other just twice a season may produce better crowds and better matches, as both we and Ruthin proved against higher ranked teams in the cup this weekend.
And talking of Ruthin, the Cofis will be facing them this weekend in what promises to be another very tough fixture. Sean Eardley has already told me the players are really looking forward to it and I can’t wait to see how we go against yet another strong side.
Ain’t Nobody Like Sean Eardley……..