Gareth Morgan will take his STM Sports side up the Rhondda Valley this weekend to play AFC Porth in Welsh Football League Division Two.
As it stands STM Sports are 4th in the table and vying for consecutive promotions. Porth, who finished 5th last season, currently sit bottom having lost every league game during this campaign. On paper, it looks like STM Sports will pick up a routine win, but there is an added edge to this fixture because Morgan left the Rhondda club in the summer to take over at Cardiff-based STM and this will be the first time Morgan returns to Dinas Park since his departure.
That Morgan has made such an instant impact of STM Sports should come as no surprise; he has a track record of turning unfancied or struggling clubs into challengers.
At Llanwern (now Newport City) he took over a side that was close to going under and led them to promotion to Division Two. Similarly, when Morgan was appointed at Porth they were on a downward spiral that had seen them winless for over a year.
Morgan stabilised the Black Dragons’ league position, then took them close to promotion to Division One last season.
Although the challenge fell short, it’s a period in his management career Morgan looks back at with fondness:
“I look back on our time there as a management team with pride. We hadn’t won for 15 months when we went in there and got ourselves up to midway in season 1.
We were in the top 3 going into the last 10 weeks [of last season] before behind the scenes issues – out of anyone at the club’s control – took over and, in the end, we were all delighted to get the season finished. I still stay in touch with [AFC Porth Secretary] Huw Jones who is Porth right through to his bones and their recent improvement make me really happy.”
While the situation Morgan joined at STM was less perilous and a culture of success already embedded, Morgan’s work in quickly acclimatising his new club to the demands of Division Two not only means they are challenging at the top, but are presently the only unbeaten side in Division Two. He is delighted with the way the season has gone so far
“I would be mad to complain about our season so far. Lots of our players are playing at this level for the first time and we sit less than 2 weeks from Christmas the only team in our league who are still unbeaten. For a completely amateur club to be achieving this is ahead of where most expected us to be – though the belief within the squad is huge, so sometimes we just need reminding of the higher level we now play at.”
“[Earlier in the season] we gave the cups our best shot. We were deservedly beaten by Penydarren in the two FAW competitions, but we are in the last 8 of the [Welsh Football] League Cup in January in what should be a great game with Trefelin.”
Despite his past affinity with The Black Dragons, Morgan’s focus this weekend is entirely on continuing that run and his side getting “three points against a team fighting for their lives”.
That ruthlessness pertaining to the football side of things was highlighted by the previous encounter this season at the University Playing Fields in Cardiff as STM ran rampant in an 18-0 win. However, Morgan admits he took no pleasure in the scoreline that day.
“The 18-0 was horrific. It would have been bad for anyone but to see that club let down by five players on the day and leaving them down to the bones was horrible.
I’m not sure I got off my seat more than a couple of times in the second half. It was a freak result and not one I ever expect to see again. As you can see from their recent results, not one Porth will see again for a very long time either!”
The recent improvement Morgan refers to are the performances since AFC Porth took the step of appointing Ryan Betteney as manager last month. Betteney was brought in largely due to his success with the Ton Pentre youth team in the hope he could transform Porth’s youthful squad into a competitive outfit. While Morgan says he does not know Betteney, he believes his track record speaks for itself.
“I don’t Know Ryan personally but I have seen his youth team play and you only have to see that team and how they play to realise that he’s a guy his players respect and play for.
They’ve been unlucky not to get their points tally going a few times since he took over & they’ve made several signings that certainly drastically improve their team and squad.
Like anyone taking on a job at this level I wish him well – but especially at Porth. He’s dealing with a very similar situation to the one I took over 2.5 years ago. I’m sure he’s the right man for the job both short and long term!”
Football romantics would enjoy the notion of Porth collecting their first point(s) of the season against their former manager’s new club. Morgan believes The Black Dragons are not far away, but he won’t be out to extend them any charity on the field come Saturday afternoon.
“They are about to start picking up points – I just hope not this Saturday!”
(Featured Image: Will Cheshire)