Ammanford and Pontypridd share the spoils as Ammanford open new stand
If any game symbolises the changes to the Welsh domestic system, then it surely occurred at the Rec this weekend. Ammanford and Pontypridd played out a highly entertaining 3-3 draw, in what was the first home game in all competitions that either side had played since the end of last season. But, despite the two points thrown away late in the game, the high-scoring affair captured the feelgood factor at Ammanford right now.
The talking points in the days preceding the game most certainly centred around Damien Broad’s resignation as Pontypridd boss after one win in six leagues that left the club rock bottom. But, come Saturday morning, all focus switched towards the town’s anticipation of the club’s first home game since promotion from Welsh League Division Two last season and their first Welsh League game in front of their new 250 seater stand.
Despite the elements’ best attempts to ruin any sort of spectacle, little could dampen Ammanford’s grand day that exemplifies the upward trend of those clubs embracing the changes to Welsh football. In a game that started with the clear sign of a club dedicated to its promotion of youth, as the under 9 side were used as match day mascots, the football club are giving them something to aspire towards both on and off the field with the improvement of the facilities as well as the style of play and identity of a team battling hard in Division One.
However, if anyone was going to try and spoil that party it was to be visiting forward Luke Gullick, and he came up when it counted in his first game as joint interim manager alongside fellow strike partner Gavin Beddard. The forward silenced the Black and White Army after just ten minutes, rising highest to head home from a corner.
But, the Ammanford party was well and truly back on just four minutes later. In his home debut, youngster Alfie Stottor, who joined the club from Haverfordwest this summer, slotted home after a series of blocks and deflections after Liam Samuel crossed for Matthew Jones inside the Pontypridd area.
Ammanford maintained their pressure, and striker Jones headed wide from a corner with half an hour gone.
But, the tide turned in the second half of the first period, as Ponty retook the lead. From a quick throw in, they threaded a pinpoint pass that bisected Ammanford’s defence, and Gullick rounded Craig Morris to double his tally for the game.
The interim manager’s first half performance was clinical, giving the visitors some hope that life beyond Broad could well be positive. But, life could have been better had the forward buried another chance on the cusp of half-time. As the Ammanford defence tamely offered up the ball in their final third, the dead eye shooter cut in from the left but his effort on goal was wayward.
But, half-time offered the respite that the home side clearly needed. Following on from the half time entertainment provided by Ammanford’s next generation, the home side came out with a greater energy than they ended the first period with and it provided immediate impact on their performance, as Brett Enoch dazzled his way into the area and won a penalty.
Liam Samuel stepped up and fired past the opposition keeper to bring Ammanford back on level terms.
51’ GOAL! Liam Samuel buries the penalty, 2-2! pic.twitter.com/3KAFeAhM8H
— Ammanford AFC (@AFCAmmanford) November 3, 2018
The goal roused the Ammanford fans, and the Black and White Army added the extra level of adrenaline as the home side attempted to capitalise on their dominance in the second period.
Samuel proved to be a real threat down the right flank, giving Gavin Hooper constant problems and probably should have added to his earlier penalty just minutes later, but he fired wide when he broke into the area thanks to his pace.
Morris played his part to keep Pontypridd at bay in their few second half opportunities, but the boys in black and white will feel that they should have taken the lead after 60 minutes when the creative linchpin Brett Enoch, already having an inspired performance, played forward Jones through on goal with a thread of the needle pass that left the striker on goal with help darting onwards. But Jones lost his balance and his squared pass was smothered by the Pontypridd shot stopper, leaving a good chance gone begging.
Ammanford had to be alert at the other end too though, as Pontypridd’s attacking prowess had already proved earlier in the day that they just needed one opportunity to restore their advantage, and they almost did when a deflected shot bounced over Morris and just wide of goal before the danger was cleared, as the Ammanford fans were able to breathe comfortably after a collective sense of worry when the ball lifted over Morris in goal.
But, after a slight rejuvenation from the Dragons, Ammanford’s pressure in the second half paid dividends. Samuel, who arguably had his best performance in an Ammanford shirt yet, delivered a pinpoint delivery to Stottor in the middle of the area, who patiently waited, and position himself between the Ponty centre halves to rise high and head downwards towards the bottom corner, sparking mass celebrations in the new stand for their turnaround.
But, last season’s Division Two runners-up had not lost to Ammanford since 2004, and they were not prepared to throw away their magnificent first half performance so easily.
The visitors continued to throw everything at the hosts, but Morris maintained his composure in the Ammanford goal. But, the incisiveness and ruthlessness of the Ponty frontline became evident, as they lapsed onto confusion in the Ammanford backline and fired past Morris for their third goal of the game to equalise with just five minutes remaining.
Craig Frater came on for his first appearance of the season, following continued injury issues last season, but the game petered out for an entertaining draw.
But, the game offered both sides a sense of optimism for their season. Despite a slow start to their campaign, the capability of the attacking talent at the club’s disposal would indicate that they should not find too much difficulty in finding the back of the net to help the club ascend the league table.
For Ammanford, despite ultimately feeling dejected at having let two points go in the game, the signs of growth at the club are there, and with the support of their deafening travelling fans and unity with their youth, it signals a bright future beyond just the confines of the current season.