The scene was set for an upset; Friday night football under the lights, a vociferous home support, a Merthyr side riding high in the Southern League Premier and the Peacocks’ historically dismal record at the old school Penydarren Park. Town sides of old may have faltered under the weight of those ingredients but not the class of 2023 who will have left South Wales with a feeling of disappointment after conceding an equaliser two minutes from the end of normal time to force a replay back at Wordsworth Drive on Tuesday evening. That’s not to say a draw wasn’t a fair result after the Martyrs had produced an impressive display to ask plenty of questions, but after a cracking goal from Nat Jarvis had given the visitors the lead midway through the second half their apparent progress was snatched away as the fat lady started her rehearsal.
Town brought in Lee Lucas to play against his former club, the only change from the win at Tonbridge a week earlier, to replace Callum Dolman who was carrying a knock. Once the tie got underway, the kick-off being delayed to allow the masses through the turnstiles, it was the hosts who began the brighter as they saw much of the early ball. A corner for them saw Liam Angel turn onto a loose ball but his effort proved a routine gather for keeper Dan Lavercombe and then a Noah Smerdon cross flashed across the face of goal with Ricardo Rees unable to apply a touch.
The Peacocks registered their first attempt when the ball broke loose for Ollie Chamberlain to deliver a 25 yard shot over the top before Austen Booth so nearly scored a sensational goal, Merthyr losing possession and the Town centre half launching a strike from well inside his own half towards the Martyrs’ net which Jaimie Cogman had left unguarded as he went for a stroll. He managed to save his blushes though by back-pedalling to scramble away at the expense of the Peacocks’ first corner.
After the fast-paced start was suddenly halted due to a laser pen light being aimed at players from behind the goal, the action resumed with the home side on the offensive, Olly Mehew dummying Booth on the left to see his cross dealt with by Lucas who found Cameron Evans and his long pass towards Dave Sims-Burgess was snuffed out by Cogman in the nick of time. Merthyr were chiselling out avenues in behind the Taunton defence and another such occasion saw Booth forced to clear from a Rees cross while at the other end Town were unable to pose the same threat, Zac Smith sending a centre straight to Cogman and then planting a shot over the stand roof after Booth had headed down a Lucas free kick.
Lucas escaped with a yellow card after a late challenge on Keiran Evans with ten minutes left of the half despite the home support baying for blood and this fired up the Martyrs for the final stages of the opening period. Alex John fired high over following a bout of pressure while a short free kick routine saw the same player strike the wall. The dangerous Rees then found space on the right to see his cross-shot deflect for a corner before their best chance came after Thomas Handley had seen his cross cleared, the ball finding its way back into John who turned to prod wide of the target. Five minutes of added time saw some patient play end with Smerdon drilling over for the hosts while Booth’s cross was claimed by Cogman in the final activity of the half, leaving the tie evenly poised at the break but with the Peacocks knowing an extra gear was required.
The visitors were initially unable to find the gear stick for the early stages of the second half as Merthyr were firmly on the front foot. Keiran Evans fired narrowly wide, skipper Matthew Harris advanced to send a shot over and Lavercombe claimed a forward ball at the second attempt under pressure from Mehew. Rees then lanced an angled effort wide of the far post and saw another shot blocked with Dylan Morgan’s deflected strike being Town’s only real response for the first quarter hour.
Things eventually started to happen though. Nick Grimes got his head on a Lloyd James free kick and Cogman had to be alert to punch away and Evans found Morgan inside whose drive was parried by Cogman, an offside flag rendering any follow-up futile. Ross Stearn and Joe Guest then took over from Sims-Burgess and Lucas just past the hour as the Peacocks began to assert their National league status. Guest was soon in the thick of it, winning possession to find Morgan who rifled over before the Peacocks broke the deadlock after 68 minutes, a phase of pressure ending with Stearn playing short to Jarvis who held off his man to swivel and drill a great strike into the top left-hand corner of Cogman’s net.
The work of Jarvis was done as he gave way to Nick McCootie who made his presence felt immediately, tangling with Cogman for a ball forward and winning the battle to deliver a cross which found a white rather than yellow shirt. An inswinging cross from James was then punched away by Cogman as McCootie challenged before Evans and Stearn both sent shots over the bar, with the Peacocks having taken control since gaining the advantage. A neat passage of play nearly saw Town double their lead, Guest’s ball being nicely flicked on by Chamberlain to Stearn on the right and his chip drifted off the face of the crossbar.
Into the final five minutes and Town were managing the game effectively, stifling anything Merthyr could offer. That all changed in minute 88 when possession outside the box suddenly evolved into a lapse of concentration, the ball squeezing through and Rees was on his own to steer beyond Lavercombe into the corner as the stadium erupted. Both sides had opportunities to win outright during five minutes of stoppage time. Cogman clutched Chamberlain’s curling cross as McCootie loomed ever nearer before the Peacocks survived a scare at the other end, Mehew dancing in from the left and seeing his effort deflect into the side netting. From John’s corner time stood still as the ball grounded feet from the line and a poke at goal was cleared. No further clarity available, where are my binoculars when I need them…. Then it was the Peacocks’ turn, a James free kick cleared as far as Morgan whose blistering strike had winner written all over it until Cogman produced an excellent save to turn over. Two corners followed which came to nothing, meaning the sides do it all again in four days’ time. Be there! ⚽
Taunton: Dan Lavercombe, Nick Grimes (captain), Austen Booth, Ollie Chamberlain, Lloyd James, Nat Jarvis (Nick McCootie 71 ), Zac Smith, Cameron Evans, Dave Sims-Burgess (Ross Stearn 63), Dylan Morgan, Lee Lucas (Joe Guest 63). Unused subs: Jay Foulston, Marcus Day, Lloyd Irish
Merthyr: Jaimie Cogman, Thomas Handley (Ismail Yakubu 90+5), Liam Angel, Jack Evans, Frazer Thomas (Tom Stokes 21), Alex John, Olly Mehew, Ricardo Rees, Noah Smerdon, Matthew Harris (captain), Keiran Evans (Aneurin Livermore 70). Unused subs: Joe Woodiwiss, Joe Keeping, Will Fuller, Nick Rhodes
Referee: Craig Scriven (Highbridge)
Referee’s Assistant 1: James Hall (Northwood)
Referee’s Assistant 2: Andrew Glanville (Plymouth)
” This was a very very difficult tie on paper and it’s proved to be that way……..” watch Rob Dray’s Match Reaction on Peacocks TV HERE
Match highlights can be seen on Peacocks TV HERE
Match photos from Club Photographer Debbie Gould can be viewed HERE
Dorset and Somerset Air Ambulance MOM
Nat Jarvis receives the Taunton Town Man Of The Match award from new coach Steve Phillips