Having pretty much taken the subconscious (and, on the days in question, conscious) decision to become, quite literally, a ‘fair weather’ local football spectator this season, such was hoped-for to coincide with the event of our heroes Gresford Athletic’s concluding home fixture of the Huws Gray Cymru Alliance league season on Saturday and, blessedly, nature complied in the form of a glorious warm sunny afternoon, thus the short journey was made to the Clappers Lane ground to attend, sagging-off from what should probably have been another painting session on a rare day of fine natural light – such are the conflicts of the football-nerd artist.
The visitors were the wonderfully-named Holyhead Hotspur as, coincidentally, they had been for the corresponding fixture of last term on the occasion of my inaugural attendance at a match at ‘the Lane’, on a dank December day as opposite to Saturday as could be. That game proved to be something of a corker, one indeed to warm the cockles, as Gresford, at one point of the second half 1 – 2 and a man down, rallied to prevail 4 – 2 and instantly earn a place in the favourite football teams compartment of the heart. Subsequent visits to watch ‘The Colliers’ during the course of last season proved them to be a whole-hearted, well-organised and obdurate team who were a match for all but the top sides in the division (please see here), although alas I wasn’t fortunate enough to see them score another goal, as was again the case in the instance of a pre-season friendly hosting the local professionals of Wrexham one Friday evening last July, going down late and most unluckily to a single own goal in a match that has proved to be more of an indication of Wrexham’s uninspiring travails this season than Gresford’s, who, adding a more expansive and goalscoring dimension to their play, have performed so creditably as to have risen to third place in the Cymru Alliance, behind only the much larger fish of Prestatyn (who recently confirmed their championship with a narrow victory over Gresford) and Caernarfon Towns, despite the mid-season upheaval of their promotion-inspiring manager defecting to divisional rivals and ‘bigger club’ Denbigh Town.
Facing mid-table Holyhead, then, brought with it the anticipation that Gresford could surely find the net and produce a result that would help cement that third place ahead of the chasing Flint Town United and Porthmadog, the latter of whom Athletic had beaten and established more distance between only last Saturday in their previous home match.
Perhaps it was the sudden arrival of surprisingly clement weather (the preceding midweek had brought such rainfall across the North and Mid-Wales region that provides the Cymru Alliance’s member clubs that led to the postponement of a round of league fixtures) but Gresford began the match in something of a casual manner, with misplaced passes and a general, palpable lack of focus, frustrating to themselves, that brought to mind nothing so much as the drowsiness of just-awakened bumble bees. Soon, Holyhead capitalised on the slackness in their opponents’ ranks and, from a free-kick pumped into the Gresford penalty area, scored the game’s opening goal to take the lead, one they held without much alarm until the point midway through the first half when, following a foul tackle more mistimed than malicious, although it led to the hobbling Gresford victim also leaving the field of play for the duration, the perpetrator was dismissed with a straight red card and the Hotspur were reduced to ten men. Even with this numerical advantage, Gresford struggled to find any rhythm or penetration to the extent that, as half time approached, the more cohesive, direct and threatening Holyhead were quite correctly awarded a penalty after a clear trip in the Gresford box and Dewi Thomas, scorer of the opener, duly dispatched the spot-kick to establish a 2 – 0 interval lead for the visitors. News came over the tannoy that Flint, five points behind Gresford at start of play and with the teams due to showdown at Flint next Saturday, were leading Prestatyn 2 – 1.
Upon the resumption, the second half proceeded to become virtually a game of attack versus defence, with Holyhead holding firm as again Gresford struggled to find any fluency despite their efforts although, due to sheer weight of pressure, the latter did create chances, some clear cut. However, through a combination mostly of hapless profligacy (hitting the crossbar from a yard out, headers from the centre of the six yard box glanced wide) and fine saves from the Hotspurs’ keeper, one of Banksian miraculousness, still, to mounting incredulity and wry, resigned amusement, the hosts could do nothing positive to reduce their arrears and this spectator considered himself doomed not to see his local village team score another goal, certainly on this occasion or this season. This state of affairs continued, alleviated by one opportunity to Holyhead, on the counter-attack, to score what would surely have been a decisive third goal, thankfully saved, all the way until the 89th minute when Gresford did manage to pull a goal back – at last! And then, just a minute later, like the buses making their way between Wrexham and Chester and vice versa along the main road beyond the stand side of the ground (at one point they could be observed queuing up), another arrived courtesy of Jack Chaloner’s quick penalty box reactions once again, an equaliser on the day and cup-overflowing riches indeed, a bit harsh perhaps on the valiant visitors after their sustained rearguard action but reward for Gresford’s perseverance at least, a characteristic that has been a significant factor in the successful season they’ve enjoyed even though this had clearly not been one of the afternoons when they’d managed to attain the highest standards they’ve set for themselves. Honours remained even at the conclusion shortly afterwards, the draw a fair result on a fine football-watching afternoon that ended all the better for Gresford as Prestatyn also staged a two-goal comeback to triumph 3 – 2 at Flint and thus enable The Colliers to edge a further point ahead in the battle for third place.
Here’s a little photo-record:
Clappers Lane looking across the pitch to the stand and dugouts from behind the ‘garage end’ goal.
Holyhead Hotspur take to the pitch…
Closely followed by Gresford Athletic
About to kick off
Second-half pressure from Gresford, trailing 0 – 2, on the Hotspur goal
Full-time: honours eventually even, Gresford Athletic 2 Holyhead Hotspur 2
The Gresford team troop off, Holyhead huddle.