First Team
Cymru Premier Sun 21 April The SDM Glass Stadium
  • Venables (6')
Haverfordwest County

Chris Venables’ early goal was enough to condemn Haverfordwest County to a 1-0 defeat away at Penybont in the final game of the 2023-24 JD Cymru Premier regular season, as the Bluebirds missed out on a place in the European play-offs.

A clinical finish from the top-flight’s record appearance maker and former Golden Boot boot winner five minutes into the contest gave the hosts the ideal start, in what was a fine advert for the top-flight played in front a large crowd in Bridgend.

However, despite the early setback, County responded well and were the better side for the remainder of the match, but were ultimately made to rue a lack of clear-cut opportunities in front of goal as they searched for the equaliser, knowing a draw would have been enough to clinch top spot in the Playoff Conference.

There were a few close calls for the Town, who were cheered on by a fantastic away following from the travelling Bluebirds faithful, however it simply wasn’t to be on this occasion as the Bridgend outfit booked their place in the end-of-season European play-offs, where they’ll be joined by Newtown, Caernarfon Town and Cardiff Metropolitan.

Luke Tabone and Rhys Abbruzzese head out onto the field
Luke Tabone and Rhys Abbruzzese head out onto the field. (Pic by Lewis Mitchell/FAW)
Team news

Manager Tony Pennock made just one change to the side that had defeated Colwyn Bay 3-1 at the Ogi Bridge Meadow a week prior, with Harri John coming in for Declan Carroll to make his 50th senior appearance for the club at the age of just 18. On the bench, there were returns for Corey Shephard and Dan Hawkins after they missed the victory over the Seagulls, while Martell Taylor-Crossdale was also back in contention after sitting out the win for receiving five bookings.

Haverfordwest County: Jones, Humphreys, Jenkins, Tabone, Borg, Abbruzzese, Watts (C, Taylor-Crossdale 23′), John, Whitmore, Dyer (Hawkins 81′), Fawcett

Substitutes not used: Knott, J. Owen, Evans, Carroll, Shephard

First half

It was the hosts who were on the front foot in the opening exchanges, and they were able to get off to the perfect start after regaining possession in the Bluebirds’ defensive third, with captain Kane Owen’s cross finding Venables who directed his effort past Zac Jones and into the right corner to make it 1-0.

The Town weren’t necessarily rocked by the early setback, and began to settle into the contest as Rhys Abbruzzese’s corner picked out Kai Whitmore, who headed straight at Adam Przybek in the Penybont goal.

Shortly after, there was a moment of uncertainty for Bont when a throw in bounced around inside the area, with Oscar Borg directing his looping header just wide of the right post.

Harri John was making his 50th senior appearance for Haverfordwest County. (Pic by Lewis Mitchell/FAW)

Rhys Griffiths’ side had a second attempt on goal just after the 20-minute mark when Eliot Richards’ effort from inside the area hit his own player and went behind.

A minute later, County were forced into making their first change of the afternoon when Ricky Watts suffered a knock and had to be replaced by Taylor-Crossdale.

The Bluebirds were still very much in the contest as the game ticked past the half-hour mark, and a nicely worked move freed Iori Humphreys down the right wing before his cross into the area was gathered by Przybek.

The final opportunity of the first half saw Rhys Abbruzzese send his free-kick from 30 yards just over the crossbar, as it his set-piece goal tally for the season remained at two.

Second half

While the Bluebirds knew they needed to find the net in the second period, they were also aware of the risk of leaving themselves open and conceding a second goal, which would have made the task doubly difficult.

The first 20 minutes or so after the restart were relatively low key, with both sides cancelling each other out.

With just under 20 minutes remaining in the contest, the Town crafted a big opportunity for themselves when an unmarked Ben Fawcett had the chance to shoot on goal from close range, however Przybek got down to make a crucial save.

Pennock’s side had the ball in the back of the net with 11 minutes left on the clock when a cross into the box was diverted home by Humphreys, however the referee’s whistle blew to signal a foul on the goalkeeper.

Iori Humphreys produced a solid display at right wing-back for the Bluebirds. (Pic by Lewis Mitchell/FAW)

With time ticking away, John tried his luck when the ball landed at his feet just outside the area, but his first-time half volley flew wide.

With the fourth official having signalled a minimum of six minutes added time, there was still an opportunity for County to salvage the situation, however there no further clear-cut opportunities in stoppage time and the hosts had done enough to hold on for the victory.

Despite the disappointment, the Bluebirds can look back at the 2023-24 season with pride after battling back from a slow start to the season – which was no doubt affected in part by our European exploits – to almost qualifying for the Championship Conference and then taking qualification for seventh down to the final day against a very good Penybont side who finished third last season and boast a very experienced squad. We wish Rhys Griffiths and his side all the best in the European play-offs.