Ammanford 1-3 Pontypridd Town – second-half comeback secures promotion win for The Dragons
Pontypridd Town sealed promotion to Welsh League Division One on Saturday with a 3-1 win at fellow promotion rivals Ammanford.
Trailing 1-0 at half-time to a Craig Frater penalty, second-half goals from Danny Hooper, Gavin Beddard and Scott Hillman ensured the win to take Pontypridd Town up.
After missing out on promotion by a single point last season, it is the latest step in the ambitious club’s bid to become a Welsh Premier League club. It also brings a positive end to a turbulent few weeks in which Pontypridd Town had it’s application for a FAW tier 2 licence rejected, but since granted on appeal over the move to Leckwith Stadium in Cardiff.
In the first of a doubleheader between the two, which both sides knew could be decisive in their promotion bid, the occasion seemed to get the better of both sides in a drab first half that showed little of the quality of two sides pushing for the top 3.
Ammanford – 12 games unbeaten at the start of play and unbeaten at home in a year – in particular, looked nervous, failing to show much control in possession with Craig Frater finding himself isolated and on the margins of the physical duel with Scott Hillman and Zac Iheanacho.
Pontypridd Town – with co-manager Dominic Broad playing at left back – were more assured and purposeful with the ball, but a lack of quality in the final third let their play down. So little was the goalmouth action that when the deadlock was broken in the 18th minute it came from the first meaningful shot on goal and that came from the penalty spot.
There was a tinge of fortune in the build-up. Symptomatic of Ammanford’s nervousness, an attempt to play a quick free kick went horribly wrong with a mishit crossfield pass going straight to Pontypridd forward Andrew Smith and a free run at goal. However, referee Ben Williams called the play back for a rolling ball. From the restart in play, Ammanford’s long punt into the penalty area led to a foul on Cerith Williams and a penalty, which top scorer Frater converted with composure.
Despite having the best away record in the division, Pontypridd Town have lost four of their five matches away to top 7 sides this season. However, from the moment of going behind The Dragons started to show some of the attacking form that has seen them accrue the most points on the road in Division Two. Top scorer Luke Gullick produced a powerful snapshot on the turn but it was a little too close to Ammanford goalkeeper James Kirkwood to unsettle him.
A characteristic Ponty counter-attack saw Andrew Smith set-up Gullick for another shooting chance, but it was deflected away for a corner. Hooper’s resulting delivery then provided three shooting opportunities, ending with Aiden Lewis slicing his effort wide.
At the other end, Ammanford, while enjoying less of the ball, saw a few sporadic moments. Ponty captain Scott Hillman had to be on alert to block a Frater shot, although Hillman almost gifted Ammanford a second goal. A sloppy crossfield pass led to a quick counter that forced David Burnett to tip over a Gavin Jones header.
Before half-time, a high challenge with studs showing by Euros Griffiths might have been punished with more than a yellow card on another day. In injury time, a scramble in the box saw Luke Gullick hook the ball onto the bar and the rebound headed towards goal by Gavin Beddard. There were appeals that the ball had crossed the line but the officials were unmoved.
If the first-half was fairly even, the second-half was definitely Pontypridd’s. From kick-off they looked like the side with more energy and purpose and once Danny Hooper had equalised three minutes after halftime with a rasping 20-yard drive there only ever looked like being one winner.
Smith and Gullick were now using every opportunity to run at a tiring Ammanford defence and they again involved in the build-up to the second goal. Smith, bursting through, saw his initial shot hit the post, Gullick hit the bar with a rebound before Ammanford cleared for a corner. From the set-piece, Gavin Beddard hooked home from close range. The chances kept coming for Pontypridd with Beddard and Rhys McCarthy both wasting good opportunities.
Ammanford’s chances of getting something from the game took a blow shortly after the hour when Nick Glendon was sent off for a lunge at Smith. There were few complaints from the Ammanford side about Ben Williams’ decision and after several minutes of treatment Smith had to be substituted through injury. To make matters worse Pontypridd quickly added the third goal; Scott Hillman – so often a set piece threat – heading home powerfully at the back post from another Hooper delivery.
Ammanford tried to press but this was simply not their day and they rarely got close to the Pontypridd goal, let alone staging a comeback in the final twenty minutes. The early withdrawal of Frater – with Wednesday’s ‘return leg’ possibly in mind – was probably indicative that Gruff Harrison knew this wasn’t going to be his side’s day.
After eight minutes of injury time, the final whistle from Ben Williams brought the moment of release for Pontypridd Town and no doubt celebrations through the night.