Once again Merthyr suffered heartbreak at Bulpit Lane when they conceded a late goal with the last 10 minutes of the game throwing up the biggest talking points. The condition of the pitch mirrored the surface we lost the play off final on a few years ago as it was as hard as concrete.
With Garner, Traylor and Scotcher unavailable Clarke took over in goal and Prosser came in for Traylor. Jones, after his recent injury was only fit enough for a place on the bench and Chappelle, Bloom, Hugh and Bowen joined him.
Hungerford, with former Martyr Preen in their ranks seemed to win the toss as Merthyr kicked off playing down the considerable slope and Evans sent a long ball down towards the opposition area but Prosser was beaten in the air by Day and Hungerford cleared. Merthyr had the early pressure but failed to make much headway due to the home defence and the difficult playing surface and Hungerford and from a long ball Wright cleared but only as far as Preen who made progress down the left and he cut inside and sent the ball towards the 18 yard area but Baggridge cleared the danger.
A few minutes later, Prosser was fouled just inside the Hungerford half on the right and Brown’s free kick was headed clear but it fell to Prosser on the 18 yard line and he seemed to be bundled over by Day but the referee, Mr Forrester waved play on and the ball reached Reffell on the right but he was tackled and the ball went away for a Merthyr throw which came to nothing. A little later, McLaggon tricked his way past Tyler on the right hand touchline and found Reffell in the area with a low cross and Reffell turned and shot in one movement but Strudley in the Hungerford goal went down low to his right to make a very good save and Horgan completed the clearance.
Hungerford hit back when a free kick came in from the right which was headed down by Brown and it bounced up high and wide of the Merthyr goal. Then a ball came in from the Hungerford left and Clarke did well at his near pot to keep out a Jarvis effort. Merthyr then got down the other end and Reffell beat 2 Hungerford players on the right and tried to cross the ball but a defender got a foot in and the ball went away for a throw near the corner flag. Tancock took it to Reffell who gave it back and Tancock crossed the ball into the area where Prosser and Strudley challenged for it and the ball went loose with Jones tried to get it clear but his effort came off McLaggon and back into the grasp of Strudley.
Merthyr were having the bulk of the play but the Hungerford defence held firm and were keeping the Merthyr attackers largely at arms length although Merthyr did miss a few good chances when Reffell did really well to get the ball into the area and Prosser headed it forward towards Reffell, who had continued his run but he completely missed his kick when about six yards out on the difficult surface and the ball ran out for a goal kick. Merthyr then gained a free kick on the left and Brown sent in a good ball which dropped nicely for McLaggon on the six yard line but his half volley went high over the bar. McLaggon also had a half chance when a ball from Davies found him just outside the 6 yard area but from an awkward angle he sent a lob just over the bar. Hungerford gained a throw on their left roughly in line with the 18 yard area which came in long and it was partially headed clear by Baggridge but only as far as Rees who shot towards goal but Clarke, going down to his right made a good save and pushed it wide of the post for a Hungerford corner which was easily cleared by Evans at the near post. Preen was prominent in the Hungerford attacks and from one of his crosses a Hungerford attacker sent a header well wide of the Merthyr goal.
Merthyr retaliated when a good ball by Brown went into the area and Jenkins’s goalbound shot was deflected wide by a Hungerford defender and away for a corner which was sent into the area by Brown and McLaggon sent a looping header over the bar. A few minutes later, McLaggon was brought down about 25 yards from goal in a central position. Brown, fresh from his first Merthyr goal last Monday, sent the kick towards goal but it deflected off a defender down and up into Strudley’s hands near his right hand post. Tancock then sent in a ball towards Jenkins from the right hand touchline and he got it across towards Brown who brought down a difficult ball and on the turn he sent a shot just wide of Strudley’s right hand post and that was the last action of the half, in which Merthyr had the vast majority of the chances, as it was brought to an end by Mr Forrester.
Hungerford started the second half playing down the slope and as expected it was the usual onslaught of long diagonal balls out to the wide men to cross into the box although they hadn’t found their range from the kick off as their first effort went straight over the goal line for a Merthyr goal kick. Shortly afterwards another long ball found Jarvis on the edge of the area and he made progress forward but his shot went high and wide of Clarke’s right hand post. Hungerford then sent a ball towards the Merthyr area and the ball broke to Tyler but his shot went just over the Merthyr bar. Hungerford then gained a free kick just outside the Merthyr area on the left when Tancock brought down Tyler and Preen lined up the kick but his effort went wide of the near post which Clarke seemed to have covered.
A little later the ball bounced down on the edge of the area and Wright’s attempted clearance saw the ball run free and Preen got in a shot which was touched by Clarke and it rocketed against the post and away to safety. Hungerford certainly had the upper hand in this half but Merthyr were defending gamely. Another long throw into the Merthyr area was partially headed clear by Wright but only as far as Herring but his shot went high over the Merthyr bar. Clarke’s goal kick was short and it came off a Hungerford player towards Jarvis but his shot cannoned off Wright and away for a corner but Preen’s kick went high into the area and was too high for everyone and went across goal and away for a goal kick. In a rare Merthyr attack, Reffell tried to latch onto a long ball from the Merthyr half but it bounced up off the pitch and Rees headed it back to Strudley. Another long ball into the Merthyr half seemed to be well dealt with by Wright but it fell to a Hungerford attacker who was fouled by Jenkins on the right hand edge of the Merthyr area earning the Merthyr player a yellow card. Preen seemed to line up the kick but it was the Hungerford substitute Goodger (on for Jarvis) who ran up and his shot was charged down by the Merthyr wall and Brown got the ball clear deep into the Hungerford half. Baggridge then gave away a free kick when he pushed over Preen 30 yards out from goal. Preen sent in a high cross which was headed down and across goal by a Hungerford attacker but Clarke made a good catch down to his left. Shortly afterwards, in an effort to boost the midfield Bowen replaced Jenkins.
Then Hungerford with about 10 minutes left got the goal their second half display earned. Good interplay on the Hungerford right saw Horgan send the ball through to Preen which Evans did well to get away for a corner. Preen took the corner high into the area which was headed down towards goal by Herring which was cleared off the line by Davies. Mr Forrester spotted that a hand was used and immediately awarded a penalty and showed Davies a red card and he trudged disconsolately into the dressing room. Both sets of players spoke to the officials and Mr Forrester called Evans and the Hungerford captain, Day, towards him and after further discussion with the assistant referee who had lined up for a penalty, as had the Hungerford team, he awarded a goal. The Merthyr players protested that as Davies had not prevented a goal scoring opportunity he should not have been sent off, so Forrester recalled Davies and rescinded the red card and awarded a yellow instead.
Davies was quickly back into the action as he did well to put the ball behind for a corner after a good break down the Merthyr right. Preen’s first attempt was put behind by McLaggon at the near post giving Preen another opportunity to get the ball in the Merthyr box. His second attempt was headed on at the near post and a Hungerford attacker headed towards goal and Clarke did well to clutch the ball out of the air and as he descended he was bundled over the line, ball and all, by Goodger. It was obviously going to be a free kick by Merthyr but there followed handbags by both teams with virtually all the players squaring up in the Merthyr goal with Clarke lying prone on the ground. After things had calmed down it looked as if a Hungerford supporter was escorted from the ground after throwing beer over Baggridge.
Merthyr did get the ball upfield and gained a corner. Brown’s kick was cleared at the near post as far as Preen but Evans got in a good tackle and had the ball when he was fouled by Herring in a central position about 25 yards from goal. McLaggon sent his shot high over the bar.
On the balance of play, particularly in the 2nd half, Hungerford probably deserved their win as they used their home pitch to good advantage despite some stout defending from the Martyrs. As we’ve seen in the past their tactic of diagonal balls down the slope does work and on a pitch where it was virtually impossible to play football on it was what won the game for them. If nothing else, today’s game was a very good advert for 3G pitches with their consistent surface and bounce whatever the weather.
Onwards and upwards to Cambridge on Wednesday with hopefully a League Cup to celebrate!