Afan Lido central defenders Liam Hancock and skipper Carl Evans provided a late fight back, for the Seasider’s to claim a hard earned point, in their local derby at the Marston’s Stadium. (reports Robert Clement).
Meanwhile, for Port Talbot it was a stunning setback, being left to reflect to the situation of surrendering a two goal lead, along with two precious points.
There was an early opportunity for the Steelmen to move ahead during the 4th minute with Daniel Thomas conceding the first corner of the game, Craig Jones then flighted the flag kick into the six yard area, only for the a determined headed clearance by Evans to clear the pressure on the Lido goal.
A second corner was forthcoming six minutes later, as Port Talbot attempted to establish an early advantage with Andy Hill deflecting behind a Sacha Walters attempted cross. Craig Jones once again sent the corner into the goalmouth and Cortez Belle flexed his neck muscles to rise up and head home from five yards.
Following that remarkable opener, Port Talbot continued to push forward in an effort to establish an additional foothold, and there was another chance on 24 minutes with Lewis Harlin releasing Nicky Holland on an attacking route forward, but the former Swansea City youth product sent a well timed shot straight into the hands of Craig Morris.
Just before the half hour, Lido were unfortunate not to draw level, when a right sided left foot cross from Chelmsford born Alex Rickett cannoned back off the top of the upright only for Danny Thomas to then be unlucky, being off balance to instantly fire over the top from seven yards.
Afan Lido were reduced to ten men after thirty eight minutes when referee Brian James had good vision of an incident where Kristian James’s left arm struck visiting defender Paul Keddle, and the match official then acted accordingly, dismissing the Swansea Valley born defender.
Just before the interval, the Lido keeper was again in the thick of the action, denying their local rivals a second goal, when a Keddle header was directed straight at him, following another quality corner from Craig Jones.
Port Talbot finally took an additional decisive grip of the game after Hill had obstructed Dylan Blain, and Walters, a former Lido player, sent a piercing twenty five yard free kick over the four man wall, and just inside the upright for only his second goal of the season.
Despite having established the comfortable two goal lead, there was soon a stinging response from Lido, as they responded, opening their account with eleven minutes remaining.
A throw from full back Daniel Sheehan into the goalmouth failed to be dealt with by Belle and Holland; in the frantic scramble that followed it was Hancock who applied crucial close range finishing, after Kristian Rogers had prevented Liam Thomas from scoring.
There was just six minutes remaining on the clock, when Lido pounced for a second time, with Mark Jones linking with substitute Anthony Finselbach; the ex Swan then produced a glimpse of skill to chip the ball into the path of the advancing captain, and he in no uncertain terms superbly lifted the ball over the top of the onrushing Rogers.
Following a fantastic grandstand finish and a great fight back by his players, Afan Lido manager Andy Dyer provided his thoughts on the lively ninety minutes, with Robert Clement in their Media Centre.
“Yes, if I’m honest I thought that there was only one team going to pinch that at the end, and that was us with the ten men, so the boy’s have been fantastic”.
“To be honest, with three games in seven days; a good draw at Aberystwyth along with a fantastic win at Neath, and that was probably our downfall tonight, the Neath game took so much out of us on Tuesday, and then we’ve started a little bit sloppy tonight, and it’s taken us really until the second half to get things going again”.
Dyer responded to the situation of it being so frustrating to go down to ten men and not for the first time.
“I can’t see it from where I am to be honest with you, if he’s led with his elbow and caught the lad then you are always liable to see red unfortunately, but I don’t think it was done intentionally, but I’ve no complaints if he’s caught him, we just have to knuckle down as a team”.
“Everybody knows what the Lido is all about this year playing at home, we are not going to lay over for anybody, and everybody that comes here knows that they’re going to be in for a tough game, and as I’ve said I’m disappointed to a degree that we haven’t gone on and pinched that, because there was only one team looking to win that game of football”.
The Lido boss was asked with three of the last four play-off matches here at the Marston’s Stadium, there was every chance of finishing seventh.
“Yes”, he said, “Well that’s our goal, I know that Airbus have won against Newtown, but all we can do is just have to keep trying and do well for ourselves”.
Port Talbot manager Mark Jones replied having thought that he had won it, 2-0 up and the opposition down to ten men.
“Yes, definitely, but with just over ten minutes to go you want to see it through; they’ve pinched one from a set play and then they’ve bombed it and finally nicked it, we’re disappointed”.
“We haven’t kept clean sheets all season and most probably that’s been our Achilles heel. If you come to the Lido and score two you expect to win, they’ve got a great home record, that scrap for each other, they got a point, the last two games we got Airbus and Afan Lido and we’ve got four points out of six, really we should be happy, it’s a good return, but it’s disappointing obviously”.
Jones continued, “Any team in the bottom half, and to get four points from those two matches, I would have snapped your hand off. There’s twelve points to play for we’ve got Aberystwyth and Carmarthen at home and Airbus along with Newtown away, you have to fancy nine out of twelve, but who knows”.
The Port Talbot boss then replied to the fact of Cortez Belle scoring the first goal, and also being a mainstay in a defensive role.
“Yes fantastic, he’s been a tower of strength for us all season apart from when we didn’t have a real centre back pairing, he could have played up top for us a lot more, but at the back he’s outstanding, the boy deserves everything he gets”.