Sunday, 19 May 2013

Irving's late strike sends Lakesiders into Europe

John Irving’s 89th minute strike fired Bala into Europe for the first time in their short eleven year history, as the Lakesiders squeezed past Port Talbot 1-0 at the GenQuip stadium.

Bala Manager Colin Caton described the moment as a ‘fairytale’ as the North Walians claimed their 13th win on the bounce to gain a place in the UEFA Europa League.

 “It means so much to the club, we really have come from nothing. It's phenomenal to think where we’ve come from and now to get into Europe is just a fairytale that I never thought would happen. I’m just so proud of anyone involved in the club,” beamed Caton.

“I didn’t think it was going to be our day when Mark (Jones) and Lee (Hunt) had great chances but couldn’t convert. I thought Port Talbot were going to nick it but all credit to the lads, they dug in and we came up trumps.”

The game was a tense affair from the outset with the Steelmen getting the better of the opening exchanges, and caused Bala all sorts of problems at the set piece with Cortez Belle seeing his header cleared off the line.

As the first half wore on, the Lakesiders' influential captain Mark Jones began to pull the strings and the best chance of the half fell to the midfield maestro. Stephen Brown’s precise pull back found Jones free on the edge of the area, but his effort failed to trouble Steven Hall, as the deadlock remained intact at the interval.

After the break, chances came thick and fast at both ends, with a shot from the Steelmen's Martin Rose well-saved by Ashley Morris, while Jones failed to hit the target from just six yards out for the visitors.

Then came an incredible triple save from Hall, denying Lewis Codling from 20 yards before producing a double stop on the follow-up from striker Lee Hunt.

Referee Mark Petch waved away two penalty appeals, one at either end, and with both sets of teams thinking about the possibility of extra time, Petch was once again under the spotlight.

Bala’s Connall Murtagh bundled Belle over in the box but Petch was unmoved, and as the Port Talbot players remonstrated, the Lakesiders attacked, with Lee Hunt turning well and firing a powerful shot at goal only to be denied by stopper  Hall.

The ball then broke to Irving, who drilled his shot low to evade the maze of players and nestle in the bottom corner and send Bala into dreamland.

Striker Hunt who has tasted European action with former clubs Rhyl and Bangor believes this was a bigger achievement, “This really tops it off, Bala have come such a long way, when I have got to Europe with Rhyl and Bangor it was always expected, so to do it with Bala it is very special for me.”

“When Hall made the double save, I thought it might not be our day but we kept going and John sealed it for us,” added Hunt.

The victory rounds off an incredible second half of the season for Bala and the Lakesiders will now look forward to the Europa draw, that could see them pitted against Wales’ premier outfit, Swansea City, in the preliminary rounds.


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