Haverfordwest County kept their JD Cymru Premier top six hopes alive after an impressive performance earned the Bluebirds a deserved 1-0 victory over Caernarfon Town at the Carling Oval on Saturday.
Rio Dyer’s well-taken second-half goal was enough for County to earn all three points, as the Town closed the gap on the Canaries to just three points as we enter the business end of the first phase of the campaign.
Haverfordwest County started the contest with real purpose and intent, and should have been ahead early on, but Tony Pennock’s men weren’t able to capitalise on their good play.
With the wind against them in the second half, the task became that much more difficult, but a moment of brilliant improvisation from Dan Hawkins set Dyer up to score the winning goal, as we ended our three-year wait for victory at the Oval.
The result sees us leapfrog Penybont into seventh place, having played a game less, and we can now look forward to playing at the Ogi Bridge Meadow three times in our final four matches of Phase One.
Manager Pennock made three changes to the side that lost out to Cardiff Metropolitan in the JD Welsh Cup last weekend, with Rhys Abbruzzese, Jack Wilson and Kai Whitmore coming into the starting XI, as the fit-again Jazz Richards was named on the bench for the first time this season after his injury in Europe during the summer.
Haverfordwest County: Jones, Wilson (Jazz 64′), Jenkins, Tabone, Borg, Abbruzzese, Watts (C), Whitmore (T. Owen 90+2′), Hawkins, Dyer (J. Owen 90+2′), Taylor-Crossdale (H. John 46′)
Substitutes not used: Knott, Humphreys, Williams-Lowe
The Bluebirds were on the front foot in the opening exchanges, and had the first opportunity of the afternoon after just two minutes when Abbruzzese’s cross from the left side picked out Hawkins, but he directed his effort just wide of the left post.
The hosts replied with their own effort on goal three minutes later when Danny Gosset’s shot from just outside the area flew wide of the right post, before a defensive error from Richard Davies’ side gave Hawkins the chance break through on goal, however his low effort was pushed away by Hari Thomas.
Then, only a minute later, Martell Taylor-Crossdale was presented with a brilliant opportunity to give County the lead when Oscar Borg’s pinpoint cross into the area from the left went over the header of the defender and picked the striker out, however his effort was saved by Thomas from close range.
The Bluebirds were continuing to knock on the door, and their next opportunity presented itself almost half way through the first period when Dion Donohue misjudged the bounce of the ball and Hawkins gladly collected it to advance on goal, but he was once again denied by Thomas as his low shot was pushed just wide of the left upright.
Having had opportunities to open the scoring, Hawkins could well have turned provider when his through ball looked to have played Whitmore in, but a last-ditch challenge prevented the midfielder from getting a shot away.
After failing to convert a number of presentable chances, the Town could easily have been punished when the Canaries created two good openings on the half-hour mark. First, Zack Clarke’s effort from point-blank range was blocked on the line by Abbruzzese, before the ball was worked back to the striker to allow him to get another shot away – but this time, captain Ricky Watts was in the perfect place to block the effort with his head and clear the danger.
It was Pennock’s men who had the final effort on goal before the interval, as Wilson’s free-kick from 25 yards – which was heading for the right corner of the goal – was pushed around the post by Thomas.
Pennock made his first alteration of the game during the half-time break, as he brought on Harri John in place of Taylor-Crossdale, with Hawkins moving further upfield to partner Dyer.
The first action of note following the restart saw the Bluebirds appeal for a penalty when Whitmore went down inside the area after appearing to have been held, however the referee waved the protests away.
Caernarfon were carrying a threat going forward themselves, and their next chance to open the scoring arrived 10 minutes after the restart when Clarke was played in by Sion Bradley, but his effort from inside the area went wide of the left post.
Pennock turned to his bench for the second time with just over 25 minutes left on the clock, as Jazz was introduced in place of Wilson – who had once again given everything for the cause.
With the wet and windy conditions making life difficult for both sides, the likelihood of either team creating further clear-cut opportunities appeared to be slim, with a moment of quality likely to be the only way to break the deadlock, and this was exactly what happened when Hawkins received the ball 30 yards from goal and spotted the run of Dyer before lifting a smart reverse pass over the top to pick out his strike partner, who did very well to control the ball and quickly turn his body to create the angle for the shot, which took a slight touch off the glove of Thomas before nestling into the right-hand corner to make it 1-0.
Having taken the lead, County expected a barrage from the hosts in the closing stages, and goalkeeper Zac Jones had to be alert to push Bradley’s free-kick to safety, before a skirmish inside the area momentarily caused problems for the Town, who eventually cleared their lines.
The Canaries continued to push for an equaliser in the dying moments, and they were again thwarted by Jones when Davies’ header was saved low down by the Kiwi.
With a total of three substitutions made during the initial four minutes of added time, the drama was set to be extended, and what followed was exactly that. First, defender Gruffydd John was shown a yellow card for a strong challenge on Jazz, with the tackle sparking a fracas inside the Bluebirds area which resulted in home captain Donohue being given his marching orders for violent conduct.
The excitement didn’t end there, though, as in the eighth minute of time added on, Caernarfon worked their way into the area before putting a dangerous ball across goal which was diverted narrowly over the crossbar by Luke Tabone, following which referee Tom Owen blew the final whistle to spark scenes of relief and jubilation from those wearing blue, the staff on the sidelines and the supporters who had made the long journey north to cheer their team on to what could prove to be a vital victory.