Swifts soar to league crown as Wizards wilt

Monkton Swifts were crowned First Division champions after beating Merlins Bridge 5-3

2019 First Division Champions Monkton Swifts


Manderwood Pembrokeshire League Division 1:


Monkton Swifts 5 - Merlins Bridge 3

Back in August, this was an outcome few people in Pembrokeshire football saw coming.

But for the first time since the 2006/07 season, Monkton Swifts are the Division One champions after beating Merlins Bridge 5-3 at Monkton Lane last night, ending the treble hopes of the visitors in the process.

And The Swifts deserve the silverware. After being thumped 4-0 by Carew on the opening night of the season, Joe Lewis’ side got on a roll of results and while many expected their title challenge to fade, they maintained momentum.

Indeed, a league of record of 20 wins, one draw and two defeats from 23 games says it all.

Last night they took control in the first half with goals from James Russell and Ben Nicholas, and although Adam Hawkins pulled one back for Bridge before the break, substitutes Paul Miller (2) and Ryan Griffiths made the game, and effectively the title, safe.

“I’m buzzing,” Lewis told PembrokeshireSport afterwards.

“We lost that first game at Carew but then beat Neyland and that got the wheels in motion. We managed to keep going after that but I said all season it was just one game at a time and week in week out, the boys have been brilliant.”

Assistant Aaron Butland said the key was never letting the players get carried away.

“We were never favourites for the league and even when we were on top half-way through the season we weren’t talking about winning it.

“And tonight we took nothing for granted. We knew it still might come down to Saturday.

“But now we’ve won it and can celebrate it’s so nice for everyone.”

A swift start:

Any other result but a Monkton win last night would have seen the title race go into the weekend, and the tension was apparent in a niggly first few minutes with little in the way of chances.

Ben Steele did test Bridge keeper Gary Thomas with a low free kick and at the other end, home keeper Michael Murray survived a scare when he fumbled Luke Hayward’s deep ball into the box.

One the 16 minute mark however, the title swung towards Monkton.

Thomas Powell, whose work rate was superb throughout, intercepted a loose ball and dribbled forward before slotting in James Russell – and the striker managed to hold off Matthew D’Ivry before slotting home left footed from close range.

That lit the spark for Lewis’ team and moments later they nearly struck again as Jake Seaton volleyed over from a Chris Richards’ corner.

After 23 minutes it was 2-0 though as veteran defender Ben Nicholas dispossessed Laurie Haworth as Bridge tried to counter attack, and then duly cracked a 25 yard shot that flew into the bottom corner.

Sensing blood, Monkton pushed for a third and Powell and Russell combined to tee up Dylan Davies, but his angled shot was brilliantly kept out by Thomas with his legs.

Bridge bounce back:

After such a packed recent schedule, including that draining Senior Cup win over Carew on Saturday, one wondered if the Wizards had run out of steam but D’Ivry’s side have proved themselves time and time again when it has mattered this season, and sure enough they rallied before the break.

Ashley Beck forced Murray into a diving stop from 20 yards and Will Haworth also flashed a long range shot wide, while Joe Leahy’s powerful effort was bravely blocked by Seaton.

And then after 36 minutes they hit back in style. Hayward set Hawkins free down the right side of the box, and he played a slick one-two with Laurie Haworth before finishing clinically past Murray.

The keeper then had to get down low to keep out Leahy’s half volley from the edge of the area and at half time, the title race was still very much in balance.

Monkton subs seal precious points:

Lewis was forced into a change nine minutes into the second half when Richards limped off, but just 60 seconds after coming on Paul Miller made a pivotal contribution.

It was Blake James who skipped past two tackles on the right wing before seeing his whipped cross touched home by the substitute and suddenly, Monkton were back on the brink of the title race.

Moments later Russell and Davies combined but the latter shot wide under pressure from Bridge skipper Chris Ormond, but at the other end there were still warning signals as Richard Hughes had a header saved by Murray. The centre back went close again to pulling one back when his driven free kick deflected inches past the top corner.

But then with 19 minutes left it was Miller who left things in little doubt. From half way, he surged down the left wing before cutting inside both Hughes and Ormond and hitting an 18 yard shot then went in off the post.

And just six minutes later the job was done as another Lewis’s substitution turned to gold. Ryan Griffiths replaced Russell and his first involvement was to control Davies’ square ball and bury a shot home from eight yards out.

It sparked big celebrations and the final stages were end to end from tired legs as both teams missed further chances, and to the credit of the Wizards they refused to peter out in the dying moments.

Hawkins grabbed his second by tapping into an empty net from Laurie Haworth’s cross, and then deep into injury time Haworth himself got the game’s final goal after his tame shot was fumbled at his near post by Murray.

But Monkton barely noticed. By then, a superb season that saw them defy the odds to claim the Division One title had already been secured.

Man of the match: Thomas Powell

Monkton could not afford to freeze tonight, and the work rate Powell epitomized what was needed. The midfielder was everywhere in the first half in particular and it was his driving run and pass to James Russell that got the ball rolling. Russell, Blake James and Dylan Davies also shone in attack, skipper Shaun Jones led by example at the back and the contribution of Paul Miller when he came on was telling. But Powell was an unsung hero.

Monkton Swifts: Michael Murray, Martyn Carroll, Ben Nicholas, Shaun Jones, Jake Seaton, Blake James, Thomas Powell (Rhodri Davies 80), Ben Steele, Chris Richards (Paul Miller 55), James Russell (Ryan Griffiths 76), Dylan Davies.

Merlins Bridge: Gary Thomas, Matthew D’Ivry (Joe Haworth 79), Chris Ormond (Peter Thomas 74), Richard Hughes, Andrew John, Ashley Beck, Luke Hayward, Will Haworth, Laurie Haworth, Joe Leahy, Adam Hawkins. Sub: Gethin Roberts.

Referee: Alan Boswell – had a good game with his quiet control and talking to the players ensuring only one yellow card on a pulsating evening.

Assistants: Roy Boswell and Angus Scourfield.