Survival Saturday: Holywell Town vs Holyhead Hotspur

Survival Saturday Banner v2

Date: 27th April 2019
Competition: Cymru Alliance

 

CLUB INFORMATION

Holywell Town Badge

  • Founded: 1880
  • Ground: Halkyn Road, Holywell, Flintshire CH8 7TZ
  • Colours: Red & white striped shirts, red shorts, red socks
  • Website: http://www.holywelltownfc.co.uk/
  • Twitter: @HolywellTownFC
  • Highest League Position: 5th – League of Wales [1993-94]

 

INTRODUCTION

The final Cymru Alliance season had almost reached its conclusion, with twelve of its sixteen teams having completed their league campaigns. Airbus UK Broughton had been crowned as the deserved league champions, and earned themselves promotion back to the Welsh Premier League. Whilst Llandudno would be replacing them in the second tier, and becoming members of the new FAW Championship North next season. Not to mention, Colwyn Bay FC was moving from the English lower leagues and rejoining the Welsh football pyramid at Tier 2 for the 2019-20 season.

Despite the league season having been nearly concluded, two of the three provisional relegation places had yet to be decided. Holyhead Hotspur had confirmed their relegation earlier in the month, but both Holywell Town and Penrhyncoch had produced superb fighting form throughout late March and April to give themselves a chance of survival in the second tier. With Denbigh Town situated just above the relegation “trap door”, but having played all 30 games, it was still to be decided who would be the one team to guarantee their place in the FAW Championship North next season.

Postponements earlier in the season had meant that these two fixtures had to be played the week after the rest of the league had finished their schedules. Although curiously and weirdly coincidentally, it resulted in both relegation-threatened teams playing in the final two games of the league campaign, and with each side having an opportunity to save themselves from relegation. Penrhyncoch would be playing at home against Conwy Borough, whilst my beloved Holywell Town would be playing at Halkyn Road against Holyhead Hotspur.

It has been an awful season for Holywell, where I have seen some awful performances and horrendous luck for the Wellmen throughout the campaign. However this month the side has improve drastically and has provided myself, and the other Holywell supporters, a glimmer of hope that this season could somehow be salvaged! With one eye on the Penrhyncoch game, I was determined to walk to Halkyn Road and support the Wellmen for the final time in the 2018-19 season. I was nervous, I was apprehensive but I was hopeful the team could finally escape and earn their place in the Championship next season. With everything crossed for good luck, it was time to discover Holywell’s fate for the following season!

To see further information about the situation in the league prior to this game, read my previous blog entitled “Survival Saturday: The Fight to Stay in the Huws Gray Alliance”.

 

TREFFYNNON / HOLYWELL

  • Population: 8,900
  • County: Flintshire
  • Historic County: Flintshire
  • Nearest Train Station: Flint [5,0 miles south-east]

 

For information and the history of the town, please visit the Holywell page on the blogsite HERE.

 

HOLYWELL TOWN’S 2018-19 SEASON

Holywell Town’s 2018-19 season has been one of the toughest seasons since their relegation from the Cymru Alliance back in the 2005-06 season.

The Wellmen had started the season under new player-manager, Gareth Sudlow, who had replaced the long-term manager, Johnny Haseldin, in the summer and was starting in his first management role. Alas for the centre-back-boss, it was a baptism of fire as the season started badly for him. Holywell went through the entire period of August without a win, and only accumulated 1 point from their first four league games, not to mention a disappointing FAW League Cup exit to rivals Flint Town United.

Former manager, Haseldin, was brought back into the club in a purely coaching role at the start of September, and it seemed to have brought an instant response as Holywell got their first win of the season against the promoted side of Llanrhaeadr-ym-Mochnant at Halkyn Road. The Wellmen managed an upturn of form throughout September, by drawing against Conwy Borough and also getting a win against Gresford Athletic towards the end of the month. However on the eve of the derby game against Buckley Town, Sudlow announced his departure from the club, resulting in Haseldin being reappointed as Wellmen manager. Sadly the appointment couldn’t stop a 0-4 loss at a chilly Globe Way, in arguably the worst performance of the season!

Throughout October, November and early December, Holywell’s form failed to improve as they could only achieve one win during this period, a 2-0 win at struggling Holyhead Hotspur. They would also suffer a cupset heartache in the Welsh Cup, losing 2-3 to Mid Wales League side, Caersws at the Recreation Ground after extra time. Considering the past decade and their famous cup exploits, it was a huge surprise to see Holywell knocked out of all the cup competitions by late October!

The Boxing Day derby game against Flint Town United produced some well-needed festive cheer for all of the Wellmen supporters, as Holywell managed to produce a superb 2-1 victory over their fierce rivals, and end 2018 on a high. Alas the festive cheer would not transfer over into the New Year and 2019 did not start well for Holywell. Their luck had seemed to disappear as they failed to get the results their efforts should have deserved, and relegation was looking an increasingly distinct possibility. Between January and March, they would only earn four points from nine league games, leaving the Wellmen in a really desperate situation and staring relegation in the face.

However April produced the miracle that all Wellmen supporters have looked for all year. A fiery and scrappy 2-1 victory over Bangor City (their first win since late January) gave the club a huge morale boost, and this was followed by a 3-1 away victory against troubled Denbigh Town to provide Holywell with a lifeline of league survival. They almost achieved a third consecutive win away at fellow relegation strugglers, Penrhyncoch, but a last minute equaliser from Steff Davies, meant the points were shared. Despite disappointment at not getting all three points, it still meant Holywell could potentially escape relegation!

In their previous match, they traveled down to Powys to take on an impressive Guilsfield. The Wellmen would come away from the Guilsfield Community Ground with a hard earned goalless draw, with goalkeeper Mike Platt, being the man of the match for the visitors. Despite not winning, it was still an impressive result and ensured Holywell remained unbeaten throughout April, having earned eight points from four league fixtures.

2018-19 CA Relegation - 23rd April 19
The bottom six spots in the Cymru Alliance, with Denbigh Town, Penrhyncoch and Holywell Town all fighting for survival. [IMAGE: Huws Gray Alliance Website]
Despite looking dead and buried a couple of months back, Holywell Town had grafted hard to work themselves back into a position where they could still avoid relegation to the third tier. Although they would need Conwy to get something at Penrhyncoch, Holywell knew that if they achieved a home win against the already relegated Holyhead Hotspur (a side they had already beaten this season), it would provide them with a great chance of survival and potentially pulling off “the great escape”.

 

HALKYN ROAD GROUNDHOP

  • Distance Travelled: 0,5 miles
  • Travel Time: 5 minutes
  • Entrance: FREE (season ticket)
  • Programme: £1.50
  • Can of Cola: £1.00
  • Chocolate Bar: £1.00

 

The weather in Holywell was absolutely atrocious for the morning of this game. “Storm Hannah” had made her noisy appearance in Northern Flintshire earlier in the night, resulting in myself not getting much sleep (although excitement for the match also had its role to play in my insomnia). Therefore by the time the morning sun finally popped up over the horizon, Holywell was being inflicted to relentless heavy rain and horrendously strong winds. It’s fair to say that conditions could have been described as “rough”, and even then, that’s perhaps underplaying it!

Halkyn Road
Halkyn Road in much less stormy conditions!

As it was the final game of the season, I was planning to make a grand day out of it by perhaps walking down into Holywell, put an accumulator on at the bookmakers (a £1 stake – the last of the big spenders!) and then have a couple of drinks in one of the pubs on the high street, before walking up to the ground for the match. However with the rain thundering down and rebounding against the windows of 94th Minute Towers, I sensibly decided to just get into the car and drive to the ground. Yes, it might seem lazy, but considering I was soaked just walking from the door to the car, it was certainly the sane choice!!

I arrived at Halkyn Road at around 1:45pm, a good 45 minutes before kick-off, mainly because I was eager to get to the ground and also to get a parking space near the turnstiles ha. Despite my early arrival, the clubhouse was already pretty packed with supporters enjoying either a pint or a warming drink whilst sheltering from the conditions outside. I bought myself a can of cola, as well as a programme which I had forgotten to get from the turnstiles. Entrance was a reduced price of £3 for adults today, which was a great gesture from the club. However I never paid this and just used my HTFC season ticket, especially considering this would be the final game where my season ticket would be valid anyway.

In the clubhouse were all the regular supporters, including Iwan Waters, who helps out at the club and is probably the most committed Holywell fan I know, as well as being a really top lad (please give him a follow on Twitter: @iwan12waters909). I had a catch up with a lot of them, especially considering I had missed the previous two Holywell away games, and we had a chat about the upcoming game as well as Penrhyncoch’s chances against Conwy this afternoon.

rhdr
The clubhouse at Halkyn Road.

I also met up with Shaun Best, a groundhopper, writer and author of “Journey to the 72”, who had arrived at Halkyn Road for a groundhop. Earlier in the week, he had asked me for directions to the ground from Holywell Bus Station, something I had tried to provide to him, but I was worried that my directions had sent him in the wrong direction. Therefore I was pleased to see him at the ground and find out the directions were spot on. We had a good conversation about Holywell, Welsh football and groundhopping in general. It’s always great to meet up with fellow groundhoppers, especially when they arrive at Halkyn Road, and Shaun was a really decent bloke to talk with!

With the kick-off time now rapidly approaching, we decided to head outside in preparation for the start of the match. As the rain was not relenting, everyone had either congregated in the main stand or the new Town End stand. I decided to stand in the main stand for a change, mainly because standing in my usual place of standing behind the uncovered goal for the first half, was certainly not an option (well not a dry one anyway ha). Even though the rain was coming down quite heavily, the pitch held up really well throughout the game, although a few puddles started to appear in the second half. However the wind was certainly a factor, and would cause problems for the teams this afternoon.

Holywell Town would be playing in their traditional strip of red and white striped shirts, red shorts and red socks, whilst Holyhead Hotspur were in their home kit of blue and white striped shirts, blue shorts with blue socks.

 

MATCH REPORT

It would be the perfect start for the hosts as they took the lead after just three minutes of the game played. A corner from Sam Jones, perfectly found Jamie McCall free in the box, to head the ball past a stranded Dan Williams. The pre-match tension had been lifted already!

Holywell Town 1 – 0 Holyhead Hotspur

Holyhead Town vs Holyhead Hotspur - 27th April 19
Holywell takes an early lead!

We had discovered that the Penrhyncoch-Conwy game had kicked off ten minutes later, so it was looking likely we would have to wait on their result at the end of this game. However it did not hinder the Wellmen on the pitch, as they continued to push for a second goal. Aaron Pomieye had a brilliant chance around the quarter of an hour mark, but Dan Williams was equal to the effort by blocking his low drive. However a few minutes later and Pomieye would make amends for his earlier blocked effort. The impressive winger picked up the loose ball on the edge of the penalty box and delivered a looping, curling shot into the far corner of the net. A superb goal which got Halkyn Road bouncing! The ‘Great Escape’ was certainly on!!

Holywell Town 2 – 0 Holyhead Hotspur

Holyhead Town vs Holyhead Hotspur - 27th April 19
Holyhead kick-off, after finding themselves two goals down in the half.

Holywell were in the ascendancy despite the increasingly soggy pitch, and were taking full advantage of the favourable winds to continue to pressurise the Holyhead goal. Zebb Edwards fired a powerful shot across the box, and it just slipped past the wrong side of the post. Whilst Mark Winslade continued to cause the visiting defence problems through his movement and passing. It was all Holywell Town in this first half, and they went into the half time break with a deserved two goal cushion!

Holyhead Town vs Holyhead Hotspur - 27th April 19
Holyhead with ball possession.

 

HALF TIME: HOLYWELL TOWN 2 – 0 HOLYHEAD HOTSPUR

 

There was no goals at Cae Baker currently, which meant Holywell would claim the survival spot if results stayed as they were. However everyone knew there were plenty of football still yet to be played, and thus there was still some trepidation in the air!

Holyhead were keen to find a way back into the match, but after two minutes of the half and their hopes of creating some jeopardy in the match were dashed. Their captain and centre-back, Alex Jones, was given a straight red card after a very late challenge on Zebb Edwards. It looked a rough tackle and thus the right decision from my position, but considering the slipperiness of the pitch, perhaps he was a little unlucky in his timing. Anyway, the odds were increasingly going in Holywell’s favour!

Holyhead Town vs Holyhead Hotspur - 27th April 19
Things get worse for Holyhead as their captain gets sent off for a late tackle.

Holywell would use their man advantage effectively as they would extend their lead two minutes after the dismissal of Jones. Pomieye again causing problems with his pace by cutting inside from the wing, and firing a low shot past the diving Williams, and into the bottom left corner of the net. Surely the win was finally secured for the Wellmen now!

Holywell Town 3 – 0 Holyhead Hotspur

Holyhead Town vs Holyhead Hotspur - 27th April 19
The tension is eased momentarily when Holywell grab their third goal of the afternoon!

The Wellmen decided to sit back on their lead a touch, which gave 10-man Holyhead an increased share of ball possession, but they were still vulnerable to the Holywell counter-attack. Alas the situation in the relegation race changed, as Penrhyncoch had taken the lead against Conwy, and were now in the ‘driving seat’ for survival. This resulted in the crowd becoming a little restless despite the positive performance in front of them.

Holyhead Town vs Holyhead Hotspur - 27th April 19
Holywell on the counter-attack.

With 15 minutes remaining of the game, the atmosphere suddenly lifted and became franetic. We had found out that Conwy had conjured up an equaliser, and that Holywell were now back in front in the league! On the pitch at Holywell, Mike Platt was finally called into action when he pulled off a superb reaction save to tip a fierce effort, from point blank range, over the crossbar. Whilst at the other end, Holywell missed a golden opportunity to claim their fourth goal of the afternoon when Sam Jones’ shot from outside of the penalty area flew just inches past the left post.

Holyhead Town vs Holyhead Hotspur - 27th April 19
Time ticks down at Halkyn Road but all attention is now darting to Mid-Wales…

As Storm Hannah continued to batter down on Halkyn Road, the game naturally fizzled out as Holywell hung on to their lead to claim their third win in their last five games. Holywell had done all they could, it was now down to Conwy Borough to provide them with a lifeline!

Holyhead Town vs Holyhead Hotspur - 27th April 19
Full time, and it’s home side who takes the important three points, however the wait for confirmation begins…

FULL TIME: HOLYWELL TOWN 3 – 0 HOLYHEAD HOTSPUR

 

With Holywell having achieved all that they could to maintain their Tier 2 status, it was all eyes towards Cae Baker and what was happening at Penrhyncoch. Everyone had congregated in the main stand to applaud the players as they filtered towards the dressing rooms for some respite from the rain. However with the Holywell players and management now converging back onto the pitch, everyone was awaiting the result from Ceredigion, which was still 10 minutes behind in their game.

Holyhead Town vs Holyhead Hotspur - 27th April 19
The players and management applauding the supporters after the game.

Suddenly a huge cheer arose among the crowd! Conwy had grabbed the lead through a Cory Williams lobbed effort. It was 2-1 to the Tangerines! If results stayed as they were, Holywell would stay up! Smiles appeared on fans, players, everyone! However just as quickly as joyfulness had encapsulated the supporters, then a nervous tension suddenly chilled the cold air once again. Penrhyncoch had grabbed an instant equaliser through a Jonathan Evans volley, and there was still eight minutes (plus injury time) to play. Could Conwy hold on???

Holyhead Town vs Holyhead Hotspur - 27th April 19
Nerves around the ground as Penrhyncoch equalise…

Holywell manager, Johnny Haseldin, just nervously paced around the pitch in the relentless rain, hoping for a positive result to appear. I was bouncing around on foot to foot, hoping to ward off an increasing combination of coldness and nervous energy. Surely Conwy could hold on!?!

Holyhead Town vs Holyhead Hotspur - 27th April 19
Johnny nervously awaiting the news from Cae Baker.

A few minutes later, and a deathly silence descended throughout the ground. Conwy didn’t hold on! News had filtered through that Penrhyncoch had scored their third goal through Josh Shaw on the 86th minute, and were thus escaping from the threat of relegation. Only the sound of the rain either hitting the corrugated roof or cascading onto the pitch from the blocked guttering could be heard throughout Halkyn Road. Everyone, transfixed on their phone; hoping, praying for some good news to appear. Just one late goal from Conwy to revitalise our hopes…to break the intense tension…to erupt Halkyn Road into joyful pandemonium…

…it never came…

The dreaded tweet finally appeared on Penrhyncoch’s Twitter feed “IT’S OVER, WE’VE DONE IT!!!!!!!!!” They had beat Conwy Borough by three goals to two, and would be staying in the league…Holywell would be relegated!

I would like to say that I can remember what happened next, but I cannot. People may have spoken to me, and I may have nodded and said things in a mumbled response, and perhaps applauded the players for their efforts – I don’t know. My memory is just a blur at this moment of time. All I remember is the raw emotion of heartbreak and the intensity of disappointment…to be within touching distance of safety and for it to be snatched away at the last possible moment.

Waking up from my blur momentarily, I could see the emotions etched on people’s faces. Gloomy expressions, heavy sighs, dejected heads peering skywards. Some people were crying also, or had tears in their eyes. I saw poor Iwan, red faced, eyes water-filled, and I felt so sorry for him as he has been a colossal supporter this year! So many people have put monumental efforts in this season, it wasn’t fair on them. I thought I was going to cry also but the Fluoxetine tablets ensured that I just resulted in a series of heavy but lengthy sighs.

The crowd which had congregated slowly dissipated, either to head home and get out of this sodden weather, to the clubhouse or even to the nearest pubs in town to drown their sorrows. I had a chat with Shaun, who had hung around to find out the final result in Penrhyncoch. We agreed that we would have to meet up again at another Welsh league ground in the near future, and I invited him to return back to Halkyn Road when the weather was more favourable. He then left the ground, hoping to catch the bus back home from Holywell bus station. Hopefully he had a good journey back on the bus!

2018-19 CA Table
The final Huws Gray Cymru Alliance table… [IMAGE: Huws Gray Alliance Website]
With the main stand now nearly deserted, I sat there for about 5-10 minutes on my own, just soaking in my surroundings whilst staring out across the sodden pitch, and trying to comprehend the season as a whole. Even though I was naturally gutted Holywell had fell at the final hurdle, I was immensely proud of the performances they had produced these past couple of months. To be still in the relegation dogfight at the final game of the season, considering the glum position the club were in a few months ago, was exceptional. Plus we had beaten a determined Holyhead side this afternoon, and were now undefeated in five games! Nothing to be sniffed at, and some momentum we could take into the next season. It would have been nice competing in the FAW Championship, but Holywell will have to tear-up the Welsh National League Premier Division next year instead!

Holyhead Town vs Holyhead Hotspur - 27th April 19
A period of quiet contemplation, only listening to the sound of the rain drumming on the roof…

Plus you never know, the Tier 2 licence applications had yet to be formalised, so there was still a very slim possibility Holywell could be reprieved from relegation. Considering the club finished in 14th position, and ultimately above Denbigh Town in the end, the Wellmen would surely be the first side to profit should any team failed to obtain a Tier 2 license (providing they got a license themselves). We will have to see on that situation!

Holyhead Town vs Holyhead Hotspur - 27th April 19
Although the season ends in huge disappointment, I am still optimistic about next season!

So there we have it, another season completed and sadly not the finish I had predicted at the start of the 2018-19 season. Naturally I am very gutted, but I am proud of the Holywell lads and management. They fought to the final minute of the season, and as a supporter, could not ask any more than that! Hopefully this step backwards will be the catalyst for another push forwards in the club’s fortunes! I am hugely optimistic for the future!

C’MON YOU WELLMEN!!!

Diolch!

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s