On the evidence of the two recent derbies, it seems that Afan Lido and Port Talbot Town are heading in opposite directions.
At one stage, the two Aberavon sides sat 11th and 12th in the Corbett Sports Welsh Premier League, propping up the rest of the Welsh top-flight but it now seems that contrasting fortunes await the two clubs as they head into the second-half of the season.
Afan Lido were tipped by many to struggle to Welsh Premier survival this year. After all, they finished nine-points adrift at the foot of the table last season and only spared the drop by the fortune of a Welsh League Division One club failing to meet the desired promotion criteria. Former captain Paul Evans returned to in the summer to take the managerial reigns with the brief of building a squad that could remain competitive within the league.
Never short on desire, Afan Lido have struggled for quality and languished at the foot of the table from the start. Having waited until November to record their first league win – a creditable 2-1 win at Prestatyn, the club then went on to record two further wins in the same month, giving hope that they had enough fight in their tank to stage a fight for survival.
Two local derbies in quick succession against neighbours Port Talbot could have been the ideal platform for Lido to re-invigorate their campaign. But two heavy defeats, which saw them ship eight goals between the two encounters, leave Afan Lido in dire straits heading into the New Year, leaving them firmly entrenched in yet another relegation battle.
Outclassed 5-1 in the traditional Boxing Day fixture between the two clubs, I expected a far more resilient showing from Afan Lido in Sunday’s rearranged return game at the Marston’s Stadium. But once Sacha Walters opened the scoring with a well-placed drive from the edge of the box, Afan Lido struggled to find any sort of foothold in the game, with the 3-0 result not a wholly accurate representation of Port Talbot’s superiority and the scoreline, in truth, could easily have been doubled.
Post-match Lido’s Paul Evans was brutally honest in his assessment of his side citing a lack of quality on the ball and a below-par work-rate within his side “barring one or two players”.
Evans added: “Following their performances today they need to take a look at themselves. I told them in the changing rooms that they need to assess their own individual performances as well as a team and hopefully we’ll get a good response.”
Having already lost lively midfielder Keyon Reffel to Carmarthen Town in the transfer window, it is clear that Afan Lido squad needs significant reinforcing in order to regroup for what is seems set to be a long, hard second-half of the season.
Evans affirmed he is confident this week of adding one or two players to boost his squad ahead of next weekend’s game against Bala Town, but unless any new arrivals can make a significant impact, Afan Lido are sadly looking prime candidates for one of the relegation spots.
A stones throw from the Marston’s Stadium, Port Talbot Town are now finally looking like the side who were predicted pre-season to force their way into the upper reaches of the league.
Port Talbot’s unexpected poor start to the season is one of mystery and one of the surprises of the Welsh Premier League so far. Though it has cost them a place in the top-six, Scott Young will not need to remind his side of the importance of securing seventh-place in the table and entering the play-offs on a run of victories, as Bala Town dramatically did at the expense of the Steelmen last season to secure European football.
A six-game unbeaten stretch in the league has left Port Talbot looking strong and confident. And although there were a number of contenders for man of the match – notably Sacha Walters and Rhys Griffiths – Ashley Evans was the stand-out performer, completely dominating all over the field. His splendid, defence-splitting pass from deep inside his own half to tee up Martin Rose for Port Talbot’s third goal perfectly rounded off an outstanding display from the enterprising midfielder. You feel that there is still more to come from Scott Young’s Port Talbot.