2nd January 2012
Penydarren Park, Merthyr
The next month is hugely significant for Merthyr Town as they seek to gain back to back promotions and secure a place in Division 1 of the Southern League for the first time since the original Merthyr Tydfil club were liquidated two years ago. The home game against Bristol Manor Farm on Monday is the first in a succession of five consecutive league games which the club hope will leave them challenging Larkhall Athletic and Willand Rovers at the top of the Toolstation Premier Division.
After a hugely successful first season in which Merthyr Town were promoted to the Premier Division after running away with the Toolstation Western League 1st Division title, the Martyrs are dreaming of another title. A quick glance at the average attendances in the division provides an indication of the relative stature of the club compared to others in the division, with the Martyrs currently averaging over 400 people per home game, more than double many of the other clubs. The return to Penydarren Park at the start of the season also means that, unlike most in the division, the club have a ground that is suitably equipped for the Southern League. However, on the field itself, the challenge is much greater than it was last season. Current champions Larkhall Athletic also harbour ambitions of promotion after having failed to achieve the required Grade E status for their ground in sufficient time to be promoted last season and so far this season their form has been more consistent than Merthyr’s.
The Martyrs were in imperious form since their return to Penydarren Park, notching up five consecutive wins which included the seven goal thrashings of Odd Down and Barnstaple Town. However, in their last two outings the club were held to disappointing draws by Bridport and Longwell Green Sports, meaning the loss of 4 very valuable points. Merthyr need to try and pick up a minimum of four wins from these next five games if they are to be serious title contenders. The return of former Neath player Matthew Harris, who has missed most of the season with a broken leg, and defender Steve Williams who has just served a three match ban, will provide manager Gary Shephard with options over the coming few weeks. Harris in particular is a useful asset as he is able to play in both midfield and at right back, though the Bristol Manor Farm game has come too soon for him. Merthyr have been trying to organise friendlies to help Harris regain full fitness over the Christmas period, but have been thwarted on two of the three occasions, one of which was last Thursday against Welsh Cup giant killers Merthyr Saints.
Merthyr' Town’s opponents on Monday are Bristol Manor Farm, who are enjoying another decent season after having finished 7th in the Premier League in 2010-11. Bristol Manor Farm are currently 6th in the table, just one place beneath Merthyr, though they have played 5 more games than the Welsh side.
Having won 3 of the last 4 games in all competitions, the Bristol side are experiencing their own decent run of form and they will therefore believe that they can get a result at Penydarren Park. Much will depend upon striker Luke Clarke, who has returned to The Creek this season after a spell with Bitton. His ability to lead the line has created numerous problems for defenders this season, as Ilfracombe and Sherborne found out to their cost in suffering heavy defeats to Bristol Manor Farm.
Given that Willand Rovers and Larkhall Athletic will expect to win their respective fixtures against Bridport and Corsham Town respectively, Merthyr desperately need to win this match. That desire, coupled with the extra quality in their squad, should see the home in what will be a tightly fought game.