Haverfordwest County maintained their push for a top six finish after a hard-fought 2-0 victory over 10-man Barry Town United at the Ogi Bridge Meadow on Boxing Day.
Dan Hawkins’ first league goal of the season shortly after the hour mark, which was followed in quick succession by substitute Martell Taylor-Crossdale’s close-range effort, saw the Bluebirds collect all three points and continue their momentum in the race for a top half finish.
County weren’t at their best in the first half as the visitors made life difficult for Tony Pennock’s side, however the Town were able to go up a couple of gears after the break and, in the end, were full value for their victory against a Dragons team who played 70 minutes with a man less after Jordan Cotterill had seen red for a challenge on Kai Whitmore.
The result sees Haverfordwest County move on to 27 points, which is the same tally as Caernarfon Town, who were narrowly beaten 2-1 by The New Saints on Boxing Day. With two games remaining in Phase One, the Bluebirds remain in the hunt for a first-ever top six finish in a 12-team JD Cymru Premier, with a visit to Aberystwyth on Saturday followed by a meeting with Bala Town on January 13.
Manager Pennock made two changes to the team that was narrowly edged out 1-0 by The New Saints on Saturday, with Jazz Richards coming in for his first league start of the season, while Ben Fawcett was picked to start up top alongside Rio Dyer. A positional shift saw Hawkins start at left wing-back.
Haverfordwest County: Jones, Jazz (Abbruzzese 60’), Jenkins, Tabone, Borg, Hawkins, Watts (C, J. Owen 77’), H. John, Whitmore, Dyer (Taylor-Crossdale 31’), Fawcett (Wilson 60’)
Substitutes not used: Knott, Humphreys, Williams-Lowe
After a rather cagey and low-key opening to the game, the first opportunity of note arrived on the 10 minute mark when Fawcett was freed down the left side before putting a cross in from the byline which was cleared by the Barry defence just before it could reach Harri John.
The visitors came close to taking the lead eight minutes later when the ball fell to Jordan Cotterill, who released a shot from just inside the area was tipped over the bar by a fantastic diving save from Zac Jones.
The dynamic of the match was changed just three minutes later, however, when Cotterill was shown a straight red card after appearing to stand on the ankle of Kai Whitmore after the pair had competed for possession in midfield.
County’s focus was now on taking control and making their man advantage count, however they suffered a setback just after the half-hour mark when Rio Dyer had to be replaced after pulling up while chasing a ball upfield. Taylor-Crossdale came on in his place.
Chances were few and far between in the first half, with the Town not quite hitting their straps and the Dragons spurning any bright moments they could have had. John could have opened his account for the club when he exchanged a quick one two with Hawkins before firing into the side netting from the right side of the area.
Barry were also forced into making their first change of the afternoon with the interval approaching when Curtis McDonald was replaced by Harrison Bright.
The talk in the Bluebirds dressing room at the break will have focused on upping the tempo in the second half to really make the man advantage tell, and they had their first chance eight minutes after the restart when Evan Press conceded a free-kick for dissent just outside the area, which Hawkins lifted over the crossbar.
With the score line still level on the hour make, Pennock turned to his bench to make a double change as Jack Wilson and Rhys Abbruzzese came on for Jazz and Fawcett.
These changes saw an increase in the tempo and directness of the Town’s play, and just three minutes later they were ahead when Whitmore’s ball into the area found the unmarked Hawkins, who had time to control it and turn his body before firing a low effort into the right-hand corner to open his account for the campaign.
Things got even better for County four minutes later when Wilson’s long throw into the area found Taylor-Crossdale who controlled the ball before hooking it past Luc Rees from close range to double his team’s advantage.
Along with Abbruzzese, Wilson was providing a welcome attacking threat down the flank, and he could have provided another assist for Taylor-Crossdale with 15 minutes remaining when his inviting ball into the area was directed wide by the striker.
The result was all but secured as the game headed into the closing stages, but Pennock’s side were conscious of the potential importance of goal difference in the top six race and continued to press forward in search of more goals. They could well have found a third when Jones’ long kick upfield was headed away by counterpart Rees, however it landed at the feet of Hawkins who sent a looping first-time effort goalwards, and he was only denied by a great piece of work from Ben Blythe who got back just in time to clear the threat.
Hawkins might have turned provider when his corner picked out the onrushing Wilson who caught his effort well, but saw it blocked on its path to goal.
The Dragons had the final opportunity of the match when substitute Sam Snaith’s effort from just outside the area was well saved by Jones, who got down well to preserve the clean sheet as the Bluebirds returned to winning ways.