Greatest chapter in Bala Town's history

By Adam Hughes in Football

BALA Town added another chapter to their remarkable success story under manager Colin Caton as they came from behind to shock holders The New Saints and lift the Welsh Cup for the first time.

The Welsh Premier League champions looked to be well on course for a third successive domestic treble after Greg Draper’s close-range goal in the second half at the Bangor University Stadium.

Bala, who finished the season in third place, refused to surrender and when substitute Jordan Evans brought them level on 77 minutes they sensed something special was on the cards.

Then, four minutes from time, skipper Chris Venables provided a stunning inch-perfect cross for Kieran Smith to head home a late winner, to secure a historic victory that will live long in memory of all involved at the Maes Tegid club.

Bala, playing their first Welsh Cup final, had not beaten six-times winners TNS in 29 previous games, but had showed signs of their potential to end that run in a 6-4 defeat to the Saints the previous weekend.

Jamie Mullen forced a good low save from Ashley Morris as the Saints soon found rhythm, and it was Mullen again who drove a great low ball across the six yard box, without anyone making contact.

A good defensive line then caught Mullen just offside on the left, but the Saints pressed forward again, with Bala keeper Morris doing well to deny Jon Routledge from the edge of the box with his feet.

Bala kept composure, however, and had appeals for a penalty ignored when Chris Venables went down inside the box following a deep ball in from Stuart J Jones, but referee Huw Jones was unimpressed.

The Lakesiders then went close when defender Stuart Jones whipped the ball in to namesake Stuart S Jones, and the flick on was met by marksman Lee Hunt, who saw his excellent effort on the turn forced out for a corner from four yards out.

At the other end, Stuart Jones did well to get in front of Draper to deflect Simon Spender’s cross out for a corner, and Morris saved well a deflected strike from Connell Rawlinson from the edge of the box.

Morris made another fine save to keep out a superb header from Draper, who was also denied when his strike was well saved by the very impressive custodian.

Bala had clearly not come to park the bus, and there were half chances at both ends, with Hunt working hard to lead the line, along with the influential Venables.

The hard-working David Thompson almost found skipper Venables with a great through ball, but the Saints’ keeper Paul Harrison was quick off his line to clear.

Harrison then conceded a corner, which Jones headed over, but both defences were working hard to maintain parity, despite the ball making it to the edge of both penalty boxes before the interval.

Adrian Cieslewicz won a fortunate free kick under a challenge from Venables, but Chris Marriott saw his free kick sail high over the bar on the stroke of half-time.

The second half began with Saints’ keeper Harrison having to punch clear under pressure from striker Hunt, but the league champions quickly found their feet.

Winning a free kick on the edge of the box in a central position, Marriots curling free kick crashed back out off the bar, but the reprieve was short-lived as the holders took the lead just moments later.

With the danger not fully cleared, Connell Rawlinson’s looping shot was parried by Morris, and Steve Saunders got to the loose ball first before teeing up Draper to slot into an empty net from six yards.

Bala dug deep with Anthony Stephens playing a key midfield role and, battling for every ball, John Irving forced a save, before half chances fell to Hunt and Smith.

With the game becoming stretched, Adrian Cieslewicz almost doubled the lead on 62 minutes as he launched a fine run down the left before forcing a smart save from Morris with a rising drive.

Hunt and Ian Sheridan made way for subs Jordan Evans and Ryan Wade, as the Lakesiders showed clear intent to get back into the game in the final 20 minutes.

Aeron Edwards forced a save from Ryan Brobbel’s free kick, and Mullan’s goal bound volley was foiled by the foot of Morris after the winger found space, but the Lakesiders still kept their focus.

Suddenly on 77 minutes they were on level terms as Irving, Jones and Anthony Stephens linked up well, and Nathan Burke teed up substitute Evans, whose edge of the box strike went through a crowded goalmouth into Harrison’s net.

It needed a great save by Morris to keep out a deflected shot from Cieslewicz, but at the other end, Stephens’ cross was cleared, before Bala snatched victory.

Just four minutes from time, Venables chased down the ball on the right and whipped in a terrific cross for Smith to head firmly past Harrison for a dramatic winner, sending Bala’s fans into raptures.

There was no way back for the Saints as Bala kept their focus to the end, and the celebrations began as Venables was presented with the prestigious cup at the end.

BALA TOWN: A Morris, A Stephens, S Jones, S J Jones, I Sheridan (R Wade 71 minutes), K Smith, L Hunt (J Evans 65), C Venables, J Irving, D Thompson, N Burke. Substitutes not used: R Valentine, M Connolly, R Goldston (gk).

THE NEW SAINTS: P Harrison, S Spender, C Marriott, J Routledge, R Brobbel (A Darlington 87), G Draper (S Quigley 74), J Mullan (C Seargeant 87), S Saunders, C Rawlinson, A Cieslewicz, A Edwards. Subs not used: R Pryce, A Wycherley (gk). Attendance: 1,110.

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