WELSH PREMIER LEAGUE – Rarely do finals make good spectacles and the 2018/19 Welsh Premier League season came to its conclusion without exception on Saturday, as the most valuable game in the domestic calendar was settled by a penalty-shoot in favour of Cardiff Met.
Not that Christian Edwards or any of his staff, players or travelling supporters will care of course. The game itself will matter little in the weeks and months to come as the club look forward to making their European debut later this summer.
Getting into Europe has been a painful journey for Cardiff Met. Two successive play-off defeats, they risked missing out on the play-offs altogether this season after being unable to nail down a top-six finish – a play-off final loss at third time of asking would have risked the club being defined as ‘nearly men’.
Even with a clear narrative of lessons from previous years being learnt and a strong desire to take the club onto the next level, Cardiff Met diced with fate as they failed to acquit themselves allowing Bala Town to dominate for much of game.
Gone was the swift, swashbuckling second-half display that had dismantled play-off seeds Caernarfon Town in the semi-final, instead was a meek and disjointed performance that made it increasingly difficult to see Cardiff Met’s season putting their play-off final misery behind them.
Bala Town, no strangers to grinding their way to play-off success, will have the summer to stew on their frustrations. As they assess what damage might be done to their budget after missing out on Europe for the first time in five years, Colin Caton will know that his team really should’ve got the job done.
His team struck the woodwork twice, moments apart, deep into extra-time. Hayes’ header somehow striking against the crossbar instead of the wide open net was the defining moment of Bala’s afternoon. And it may prove to be a summer of change at Maes Tegid as the Lakesiders frustrated for much of their campaign.
Bala shot themselves in the foot after Henry Jones had scrambled home an opener. Their lead lasted all of four minutes before a lapse in concentration across the entire team allowed Will Evans to stride through on goal before a weak parried save presented Eliot Evans with an equalising goal.
The game could’ve been so different if Adam Roscrow’s far-post header had found the target instead of smashing against the upright in the opening 13-minutes, but that was as good as it got for Cardiff Met as they unravelled as the final wore on.
Roscrow managed 99-minutes before being withdrawn having made little effect. Touted pre-game as someone with the ability to single-handedly determine the game, the subdued Cardiff Met striker was surely carrying an injury going into the game as he remained largely anonymous and lacked the sharpness and movement that has warranted interest in recent months from both England and Scotland.
The final whistle taking the game into penalties would have come as a relief to both teams as fatigue took its toll on what had already disjointed displays from both teams.
The mire even looked like it might continue into the shootout with tame efforts from Kyle McCarthy and Nathan Burke saw neither team convert their opening spot-kicks.
Dylan Rees then gave Cardiff Met the advantage sending Keighan Jones the wrong way, but even Chris Venables seemed bitten by the game, blazing his kick high and wide.
Will Evans’ saw his attempt saved by feet of Jones before Will Fuller was equal in the Cardiff Met goal denying Bala’s Mike Hayes.
After both Emlyn Lewis and Anthony Stephens converted to make it 2-1 with one kick each remaining, Eliot Evans coolly slotted in the most important penalty in Cardiff Met’s history.
The game won’t live long in the memory, but the repercussions of it have elevated Cardiff Met onto the next level.
Bala Town 1 Henry Jones 20′
Cardiff Met 1 Eliot Evans 24′
Bala Town: 30. Keighan Jones, 2. Andrew Burns, 3. Sean Smith, 6. Anthony Miley, 4. Stuart Jones, 17. Danny Gosset (21. Anthony Stephens 105′), 8. Nathan Burke, 25. Chris Venables, 11. Kieran Smith, 77. Henry Jones (12. Evan Horwood 102′), 9. Mike Hayes. Subs not used: 19. Shaun Kelly, 5. Stuart J Jones, 16. Ryan Valentine
Red Cards: None
Yellow Cards: Venables 39′ S.Jones 70′
Cardiff Met: 1. Will Fuller, 2. Dylan Rees, 3. Kyle McCarthy, 4. Bradley Woolridge, 5. Emlyn Lewis, 7. Eliot Evans, 8. Chris Baker, 9. Adam Roscrow (33. Brad Flay 99′), 11. Will Evans, 14. Joel Edwards, 18. Rhydian Morgan (12. Dan Spencer 60′). Subs not used: 15. Ioan Evans, 22. Liam Black, 23. Tim Parker, 25. Alex Lang (gk), 36. Dion Phillips
Red Cards: None
Yellow Cards: W.Evans 59′
Attendance: 623 Referee: Dean John
AET; ft 1-1 Cardiff Met University win 3-1 on penalties