Toolstation Premier League
7th January 2012
Penydarren Park, Merthyr
Merthyr Town made the perfect start to what will be a critical month as the club bid to muscle their way into the Toolstation Premier Division title race and secure promotion back to the Southern League 1st Division. Facing a sequence of five consecutive home games, the first two of which are against teams from the upper echelons of the table, Merthyr came out with such intent and purpose that victory over Bristol Manor Farm was all but secure within 10 minutes.
Lee Hartshorn, a central defender who has recently been converted into a midfielder with great success, netted his fourth in just eight games this season after only three minutes to give the Martyrs a significant breakthrough. Just two minutes later Ryan Newman, one of two players in the Merthyr team that have been loaned from Newport County, added a second with a shot that went in off the post and Ian Traylor added a third with still only 10 minutes on the clock. Ryan Prosser made it four shortly after the half time interval, which was enough to secure a comprehensive win, despite a Fitzpatrick consolation for Bristol Manor Farm.
Pre season action against Newport County (courtesy of Sam Shingler), from whom Merthyr brought in Ryan Newman and Troy Greening on loan.
There were two further pieces of good news for the Martyrs to complete what was a very happy New Year. The first was the return of Matthew Harris to competitive action for the first time since August when he replaced the other Newport loanee Troy Greening in the 75th minute, and the second was the shock news that Larkhall Athletic had fallen to a 2-1 defeat at relegation threatened Corsham Town.
Given the positive news from November concerning the stadium , when it was confirmed that a £130,000 grant had been awarded to the club, it is clear that the Martyrs are beginning to prepare for life at a higher level. The £130,000 grant was divided into two portions, with £50,000 being directed towards ground improvements and £80,000 towards securing the futures of current staff and employing a new Business Development Manager, whose purpose is to expand and develop the business of the club. At a special meeting of the supporters on 1 December, it was decided that the £50,000 being invested in ground improvements should be directed, amongst other things, towards the installation of new showers, new fencing, improved lighting in the family stand, renovation of the turnstiles and roof improvements in the grandstand. Put simply, the grant enables the club to upgrade the grade in a significant way and is due in no small way to the commitment and efforts of trust secretary John Strand.
With such good news coming from off the field, which has been further supplemented by excellent attendances at Penydarren Park, and with form once again picking up on the pitch after some poor results which saw the club fail to win in November, Merthyr Town are in the perfect frame of mind for the arrival of fellow title rivals Bishop Sutton.
The Somerset based club were reformed in 1977 after just under £200 of funds were raised at a disco (the original club having been disbanded during the war), and gained promotion to the Western Premier Division in 1997/8 after winning the 1st Division Championship, a level that they have been playing at ever since. However, a measure of the club’s progress can be gained by the fact that their highest ever finish of 4th was accomplished as recently as the 2009-10 season.
Bishop Sutton currently sit in 4th place in the table, having one more point than the Martyrs having played a game more and are one of the form teams in the division, having picked up an impressive 21 points away from home this season. The most recent contributions to this haul of points were a 4-0 victory at Longwell Green Sports, who Merthyr failed to beat in either encounter this season, and a 5-0 drubbing of Barnstaple Town. Given that Bishop Sutton also managed to pick up a draw in their home encounter with the Martyrs after a late equaliser, Gary Sheppard knows just how tough it will be to gain the victory that Merthyr Town so desperately need on Saturday afternoon. However, with home advantage and a record of six wins and two draws from eight home games and the returning Matthew Harris, along with the added incentive that leaders Willand Rovers have to travel to Larkhall Athletic this afternoon, the Martyrs will hope that they have enough to gain a crucial victory. However, with three home games coming up against teams from the lower end of the table, a draw may not be a bad result.
Prediction: Merthyr Town 1 Bishop Sutton 1
Whilst Merthyr Town are playing in the Toolstation Premier Division on Saturday, three Welsh teams will be involved in the FA Cup. Why not predict which teams will get through in the poll on the left of this page.