A fine first-half display set the platform for Haverfordwest County to record a confidence-boosting 3-2 victory over Penybont at the Ogi Bridge Meadow on Tuesday evening.
On a night when club captain Ricky Watts was making his 350th league appearance for the club, goals from Jack Wilson and Martell Taylor-Crossdale either side of a wonder strike from Rhys Abbruzzese put the Bluebirds in a commanding position, with their clinical touch in front of goal rewarding the ambitious nature of their play.
The visitors pulled a goal back in first half stoppage time, before Lewis Harling reduced the deficit to one just after the hour mark to ensure a nervy last half an hour or so, but County did enough to keep their opponents out and claim a deserved three points under the lights.
This was the Bluebirds’ second consecutive win at home in the league, and their third in all competitions after Saturday’s penalty shoot-out win against Baglan Dragons in the JD Welsh Cup.
The result lifts the Town one place to eighth in the JD Cymru Premier, and within four points of sixth place heading into the last 10 games of Phase One.
Manager Tony Pennock made three changes from Saturday’s cup win, with Lee Jenkins, Watts and Wilson coming into the starting lineup. Meanwhile, there was a return to the squad for Ben Fawcett, who had missed the last four games through injury.
Haverfordwest County: Jones, Williams-Lowe (Humphreys 45′), Jenkins, Tabone, Abbruzzese, MacNamara, Watts (C), H. John (Dyer 84′), Hawkins, Wilson (Fawcett 65′), Taylor-Crossdale
Substitutes not used: Knott, Davies, J. Owen, D. John
The Town started with real purpose, and created an opening inside the first minute when Taylor-Crossdale was played in by Aidan MacNamara, but the striker’s low shot from the right side of the area was saved by goalkeeper Alex Harris.
County had their second opportunity 10 minutes later when a smart through ball from Dan Hawkins freed Taylor-Crossdale to shoot from the left side of the area, but his goal-bound effort hit the back of the retreating Dan Jefferies and went behind for a corner.
Haverfordwest County didn’t dwell on these missed opportunities, and just a minute later they took the lead when a pinpoint ball upfield from Abbruzzese picked out Wilson, whose first touch wrong-footed Gabe Kircough and gave him the space to shoot left-footed into the right-hand corner to make it 1-0.
This goal was reward for the Bluebirds’ positive start, however they had goalkeeper Zac Jones to thank five minutes later when the New Zealander was on hand to deny Keyon Reffell’s effort from close range after Bont had counter-attacked from inside their own area.
Rhys Griffiths’ side were forced into making their first change of the evening a minute later when full-back Mark Little was unable to continue, as Jon Brown came on in his place.
Pennock’s side knew that a second goal would give them some breathing room against a Penybont side who are always a threat in front of goal, and shortly after they achieved just that when Abbruzzese collected the ball from Harri John 30 yards from goal, and decided to unleash a powerful effort which flew past Harris and into the top left corner of the goal to double County’s advantage in stunning fashion.
The Town were visibly flowing with confidence at this stage, and they had an opportunity to make it 3-0 nine minutes before the interval when Wilson’s ball into the area from the right side almost picked out Hawkins, who was waiting to direct it goalwards from close range.
There was some concern for Watts, his teammates and the Bluebirds supporters when the midfielder took a nasty blow seven minutes before the break and required some treatment, which resulted in his head being bandaged to allow him to continue playing, as he displayed the same level of determination that has made him a firm fan favourite at the Meadow for the last decade and more.
County would have undoubtedly settled for a two-goal advantage at half time, but things were to get even better just before the interval when Watts hooked a ball upfield which played Taylor-Crossdale in, and the forward controlled the ball before striking it past Harris and into the left-hand corner, courtesy of the post to make it 3-0.
There was still time for another first-half goal, and this time it fell to the visitors as Reffell’s ball in from the left picked out Brown who acrobatically diverted it home from inside the area to reduce his team’s deficit to two.
Pennock made an alteration at the break, with Kayden Williams-Lowe being replaced by Iori Humphreys as the Bluebirds geared up for what they knew would be a different prospect as they contended with the wind which was now in a rejuvenated Penybont’s favour.
The Bridgend side had the first effort on goal of the second half 10 minutes after the restart when Chris Venables directed a header from a corner goalwards, but Jones was alert to produce a fantastic diving save to prevent the ball from finding the net.
Shortly after the hour mark, though, Bont halved the deficit when a cross from the right by Kircough picked out Harling who headed home from close range to set up a grandstand finish at the Ogi Bridge Meadow.
Striker Fawcett marked his return when he replaced Wilson with 25 minutes remaining as the Bluebirds battled to preserve their lead in the face of constant Bont pressure.
Hawkins came close to all but ending the contest when he shot just wide of the right post inside the final 20 minutes, before Harling’s effort from 25 yards came back off the left upright as the Town breathed a sigh of relief.
Rio Dyer came on for the impressive John for the last 10 minutes or so, with Haverfordwest County continuing to repel the best efforts of Griffiths’ side.
The final opportunity of note came with 88 minutes on the clock as Ashley Evans’ effort from range cleared the crossbar, as Pennock’s men safely negotiated seven minutes of added time to notch what could prove to be a vital victory in front of their jubilant home fans.