Carmarthen Town hold nerve to keep dream of two cups alive
CARMARTHEN Town secured their place in the quarter-finals of the Welsh Cup with an exciting victory over a stubborn Bala side.
The visitors withstood a first-half battering and twice came back from being a goal down before finally succumbing in extra time.
Town took the initiative from the start with a series of incisive raids which stretched the visiting defence.
After only four minutes, Craig Hughes's dazzling run took him deep into the penalty area before he played an inviting cross into the goalmouth where Casey Thomas somehow managed to scoop the ball over the bar from just a yard out.
Shortly afterwards Thomas turned provider when he set up Craig Hanford on the edge of the area, but his drive flew narrowly too high.
Moments later Hanford again had the goal in his sights but dragged his shot wide from 15 yards. Although Liam Thomas was able to divert the ball towards the goal, Bala keeper Ashley Morris dealt with it comfortably.
So dominant were the Old Gold during this early spell that it was not until the 21st minute that the visitors managed to create a scoring opportunity when Lewis Codling found space just inside the area, but his strike was well saved by Steve Cann.
The hosts resumed their siege on the Bala goal and on 23 minutes the ball reached Luke Cummings, who from 20 yards powered a fine cross-shot which slid just beyond the far post.
Town were finally rewarded after 41 minutes after a spectacular Casey Thomas run from inside his own half led to a corner.
The ball was headed back and forth in the crowded goalmouth before Liam Thomas got the final touch to give Town a deserved lead.
After the interval the visitors began to show far more urgency and adventure and the game became more evenly balanced, with the ball moving rapidly from end to end.
But increasingly it was Bala who were creating the better opportunities. Lee Hunt fired a 20-yard shot marginally over the bar and moments later Codling was allowed too much space inside the area but put his shot just wide.
Town struck back when second-half substitute Jonathan Hood made ground down the right and crossed into the goalmouth, where Liam Thomas pounced on a weak clearance but saw his shot well saved by Morris.
Just as it seemed Town would navigate their way safely through the final few minutes, Bala's Mark Jones surged forward and drove a superb 25-yard shot into the corner of Cann's goal.
Incredibly, the Old Gold struck back immediately when the ball was played forward to Hughes whose sublime pass released Liam Thomas.
From the edge of the area he calmly lifted the ball over the advancing Morris and into the net — his 21st goal of the season.
But Town's delight was abruptly cut short as moments later, in added time, Stephen Brown got beyond the home defence and slotted the ball past Cann to equalise for the second time in three minutes.
Having twice had victory snatched from them so late, Town managed to galvanise themselves for another 30 minutes.
On 102 minutes Town regained the lead once more when Liam Thomas broke free from halfway before playing a fabulous ball through to substitute Liam McCreesh. He cut inside and slid a fine pass across the edge of the area to Hughes who sweetly curled the ball around Morris and into the far corner of the net.
This time Bala were unable to come back as the Old Gold protected their lead successfully, although there was just time before the final whistle for Hood to get himself sent off for receiving a second yellow card.
Carmarthen must now carry that form into their final Welsh Premier League match before the mid-season split and hope that a victory against Newtown, coupled with favourable results elsewhere, will secure a place in the top six for the second phase of the season.
Team: Steve Cann; Tim Hicks; Matthew Rees; Ian Hillier; Craig Hanford; Luke Cummings; Nicky Palmer; Corey Thomas (Liam McCreesh sub 69); Casey Thomas (Jonathan Hood sub 46); Craig Hughes; Liam Thomas. Unused subs: Kerry Nicholas; Paul Fowler; Neil Smothers; Iestyn Evans; Sam Wilson.