Battle at the bottom!

Things are certainly hotting up in the Gwent County League. At the helm of Division One sit Albion Rovers, who can boast an impressive unbeaten record. The division hasn’t needed any further fuel to feed its fire, as the division features six Newport-based clubs.

Whilst Division One has been spicing up, my eyes this Tuesday were immediately drawn to the bottom of the league, with a game taking place at Marshfield Village Hall. “Who will slip down that trap door?”, being the commonly asked question. We are seemingly a long way off discovering that, with plenty of games to play, however three clubs have the fear of relegation fresh in their minds. Blaenavon Blues, Newport Civil Service, and Marshfield have all experienced poor league starts. These three have felt the poor taste of defeat far too often, even at the premature stage of the season.

So this Tuesday evening, Marshfield and Newport Civil Service, both seemingly lacking in confidence, met in what could be classed as a “six-pointer”. Both clubs went into this contest having lost every league match this season. Recently relegated from the Welsh Football League, Newport Civil Service, started this game aggressively, and nearly took the lead from the off as Matthew Palmer showed great feet to leave the Marshfield full-back in his wake, but his shot was blocked.

Marshfield found the net early into the game, however it was ruled out due to offside. But within the first 15 minutes, both sides had chances to go ahead, but both squandered said chances. After some fantastic play, Newport Civil Service deservedly took the lead, after their number 10, Daniel Moss, latched onto a great ball into the box, rounded the ‘keeper, and slotted home, to make it 0-1 to the visitors from Bettws.

Marshfield were denied a trio of efforts by great blocking from the Civil defence, but were nearly caught out several times on the counter-attack thanks to some brilliant play from the left back, who kept making bombing runs, stretching the Marshfield defence. The star of the first half, Matthew Palmer, cut inside of the Marshfield right back, delivered a great ball, which was met by a Civil player who dinked the ball back inside the six-yard, but before his teammate could get to it, he was hauled down. Civil were awarded a penalty, but failed to score after a great save from the Marshfield shot-stopper.

Marshfield dominated the first half from that moment on, having four great chances to level up the match, particularly a free shot from eight yards out, which was squandered. Marshfield then very fortunately drew level, as a cross from the right side sailed over the Civil Service ‘keeper, Josh Griffiths, and into the net, 1-1. 

Conceding seemed to wake Civil up, and they went on to hit the post three times, and create five good chances, but they failed to find the net. Marshfield defenders were feeling the pressure as they argued amongst themselves.

Civil banged on the door at the start of the second half, with several shots and headers flashing across the Marshfield goal. Marshfield had two great opportunities to score, one from a a cross from the byline, and one from a free-kick. Marshfield should have scored when the whipped ball from the free-kick was headed at the ‘keeper. The ball ricocheted and bounced about the Marshfield box, and with the Civil Service goalkeeper stranded, a fantastic goal bound half volley was bravely blocked on the line by ex-Cwmbran Celtic man, Stephen Peel.

After withstanding heavy pressure, Newport Civil Service were awarded their second penalty of the game, to the anger of the Marshfield side who claimed that the Civil man had dived and conned the referee. Gareth Cleverly stepped up, and converted from the spot to put the away side 1-2 up.

Marshfield assaulted the Newport Civil Service goal with shots reigning in from all angles. Tempers flared with player clashes on the pitch, and two handball appeals by Marshfield both being turned down – the second being a clear handball, and should have been a penalty. The game quickly became stretched, with both sides trying to claim the decisive next goal. Both sides missed easy opportunities to score, and they both looked very vulnerable in defence – something the league table would reflect.

Newport Civil Service took the game by the scruff of the neck and dragged it in their favour after some brilliant football, which their current league position doesn’t quite do justice. Civil Service wrapped up a very competitive game after Stephen Peel broke down a Marshfield attack, and was hacked down as he pulled away from his marker. The resulting free-kick was lofted out wide to Matthew Palmer, who continued to trouble the Marshfield right back, he turned inside of the defender, steadied himself and beautifully cushioned the ball into the Marshfield net to make it 1-3, great execution, and a well deserved goal for Palmer.

Every Marshfield attack was foiled by stern defending, great commanding of the area by ‘keeper Josh Griffiths. Matthew Palmer’s fantastic wing play offered the Newport men more options which continued to open the Marshfield backline up, and Stephen Peel’s dominant performance from midfield, proved to be the biggest difference between the two relegation candidates. Newport Civil Service could go far if they were to bolster their defence, and keep the ball in possession more often – as they are known to surrender it. The fullbacks are encouraged to bomb forward, and as the season progresses, they could be the solution to consistency in this tough division, as they gain much needed experience.

Marshfield have been in awful form, but this game did not truly reflect that. They created an abundance of chances, but always fell short at the final hurdle, succumbing to a physical Newport Civil Service midfield, that had time on the ball, more energy, and more ideas. Some fantastic play from the fullbacks going forward was not complimented by a shaky defensive line which seemed extremely vunerable and was exposed far too many times. The obvious need for a midfield maestro, who can be the architect in all of their attacks, is clear to see. Marshfield’s confidence levels seem low, but patient possession football could be their ideal solution to staying in this division. Marshfield have in recent years been a strong side, but even after the loss of some of their strongest players, such as Plummer to Malpas, I fully expect them to come together, unite, and bounce back.

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