Having used a rare free Saturday to travel to watch us lose to a team that hadn’t won in 11 games, for some bizarre reason I decided a midweek trip to Merthyr Tydfil seemed like a good idea.
A 90 minute drive each way from the Midlands was probably favourable to the trip those who braved it from Dorchester on the coach had to endure but I still questioned my decision at regular intervals on the journey down.
A town/ground I had never been to, and being completely honest, my sole gem of knowledge on the town existed of watching a Ralf Little documentary on Britain’s Toughest Pubs many years ago, but one that had strangely stuck in my memory maybe due to the Southern League link.
Fancying a bit of company for the trip down, I asked my friend Sam if he fancied a random midweek away trip. Fresh from his gift of a signed Dorch shirt from our FA Cup game against Luton for being his best man in the summer, it felt only right to offer him the chance to join me this Southern League Premier South encounter. Having seen many Dorch games since his first, a 3-1 defeat to Forest Green midweek back in 2006, it took 10 years for him to see his first win away at Stratford on a midweek game in 2016, he is yet to see another win since, not sure he was the good luck omen we needed to see Glenn pick up his first victory since taking over.
A quick stop at the services half way down saw us learn that the COVID-19 regulations are different in Wales, something that hadn’t even crossed our minds to think about, but saw the few people that worked in the services giving us a bit of a dirty look, before we carried on the remainder of the journey down to the game.
As we neared Merthyr, the weather took a turn for the worse, with the rain starting to come down, I saw messages from the WhatsApp group flying through on CarPlay so decided to take a listen. The team news filtered through, with guesses to the formation and shape which were quickly followed by a long list of replies to “When do Merthyr get the first and winning goal then lads?”, so long I nearly missed the turn off the main road to the ground.
After pulling into the ground car park, and realising that 90% of the spaces they had are reserved, I found a space in front of the turnstiles. The Steward quickly came over in true meme style “You can’t park there mate” followed by “there will be people queuing from the turnstiles”, not realising they were expecting a bumper crowd and the 10 metres or so gap I had left wasn’t enough, I replied “They all coming to see the Dorch?”, which after a few seconds was greeted with a much longer laugh than necessary, before he got me to move the car about 1m forward, which clearly solved the issue for the imminent arrival of the swathes of people coming for this huge non league encounter.
After going past a sign advising of “Choir Rehearsal in grandstand” I wasn’t sure if this was an attempt at some humour for the classics we were about to hear from the Merthyr youth, or if they genuinely were making a bit of money on the side by renting out the stand during games to a choir, we headed into the ground.
With the rain coming down before kick off, we decided to take a place down the side under cover in-front of the much talked about food kiosk, of social media fame for its Chips and Curry Sauce in a bread roll, the queue stretching half way along the side of the ground before kick off.
We started positively, playing nice football and with Roberts seeming more comfortable in his natural forward role, the lack of Flavio Tavares was the only downside, someone who had impressed me during the first half against Swindon on Saturday.
Merthyr looked a young side, with Kerry Morgan, the one of the few familiar names in the squad. As we pushed forward early on, Merthyr’s defence appeared to part like the red sea, allowing/inviting our players to run and get shots away, however, in true Dorch fashion things just didn’t quite seem to fall our way with Purrington, Roberts and Stanley all seeing opportunities but without managing to find the net early on.
Whilst we looked comfortable on the ball across the pitch and dominated in possession Merthyr did look dangerous on the break with Curtis Hemmett-Hutson and Ian Taylor particularly looking threatening along with Frazer Thomas, however, it did feel as if, if anyone was likely to break the deadlock it would be us, as we imposed ourselves on their back line a lot better than on Saturday.
Contrary to my pre conceived ideas of Merthyr from the tv programme twenty years ago that they were going to be a team of hard barstewards, it was surprising to see how easy some of their players went down, to coin a phrase used on the terraces in the Midlands that I have become accustomed to since my time in management started a few years ago, “He went down easier than a bird from [insert local estate/town of choice here]”. It became quite painful how often they went down, whilst the home crowd begged for cards at every opportunity.
Whilst the half did endure some quiet periods, attention quickly turned to seeing how the queue for the food kiosk had progressed, with Luke, who according to an unnamed member of the travelling Dorch contingent, looked like he had just left court, providing regular updates including his disbelief that the queue didn’t seem to be shortening. That and talk of an infamous trip to Merthyr on the “Cardiff Weekender” which included a story about leeks and a “dry train” who knew they existed?
With the scores level at half time, the inevitable did begin to cross our mind, was this going to be another game as predicted by the WhatsApp group, that saw us lose by a solitary goal, despite being more than in the game?
The second half started brightly, and we went ahead, as Purrington saw his initial effort saved before firing the rebound home to the delight of the travelling fans behind the goal, along with a group of lads unknown to said travelling fans, who may of been there to support Dorch (are there really Dorch fans out there we don’t know?) or maybe they were just there to see Merthyr lose, who knows?
Unfortunately, this goal whether a deliberate decision by the management, or by a change of plan by Merthyr, saw us camped in our half for the next twenty minutes. Despite regular checks of my watch time seemed to stand still as we withstood large amounts of possession from the home side.
They hit the post from distance before chances were blocked by bodies flying across the box as we tried to keep the lead, however, the goal that felt like it was coming did eventually arrive, as Benfield made a great save before seconds later being beaten to a high ball by ex Hereford player Toby Raison.
Merthyr then missed what will go down as one of the worst misses I have seen, and I’ve seen my fair share, as their player managed to put the ball over the bar from what looked like a metre away from an open goal, a big let off, but one that seemed to see us regain some of the control we had seen during earlier parts of the game.
The introduction of Christos on the wing seemed to give us a bit of a spark that we had missed from Tavares not playing, and with minutes to go the ball fell to Purrington inside the box, although stretching for the ball, the keeper was committed and an empty goal was effectively left, but the ball agonisingly dropped wide of the post. “That was THE chance” quipped Sam, yeah thanks mate, just in case I needed it reinforcing we’d just missed an open goal to seal the 3 points. But it turns out, that wasn’t the only chance, as with virtually the final kick of the game Roberts was played through in behind the defence, as the home keeper narrowed the angle, his shot curled past him and just past the outside of the far post.
Sat in the bar afterwards it was a fairly quiet affair, wondering what had just happened at the end of the game and how we hadn’t got over the line, but when things aren’t going your way, they just don’t seem to go in. It feels like we need a last minute winner to go in off someones knee to just give us that bit of luck to push on, but we’re also not helped by a very thin squad missing a couple of key players, hopefully Glenn is able to add a bit of depth to help us have options available in the coming weeks.
Two games into our run of “winnable” games and with one point to show, it’s hard to know how to take it. A couple of wins at home from the next two games would give a return of 7 points and probably put us in a reasonable position to push forward, anything less and we would look at this game as two points lost given the chances we had.
It wouldn’t be a midweek away trip if the journey home wasn’t prolonged by some random roadworks, given the journey up was relatively smooth, we weren’t expecting the random road closure and decided to take the “for residents only” option, which saw us driving down some narrow lane, littered with potholes, and with traffic cones protecting the corner of every parked car we went past, not sure that’s really going to help if someone decides to rear end your car but who am I to judge?
Eventually fifteen minutes later we managed to, more by luck than judgement, end up back on the main road to Monmouth and head back to the Midlands. Listening to Sam’s thoughts on the way home, he thinks we’re a much different side from that of recent years, and like many opposition fans this season said “you shouldn’t be down the bottom playing like that” but whilst also reiterating his long term view that “you’re the non league Villa” aligning us with his side who are currently enduring their own difficulties struggling to return to their heights in the 80s, not too dissimilar to us on reflection. Dorch game number 16 for him, with still only 1 win, maybe next time…. DW