League split beckons for the WPL

On Sunday afternoon we will know the make-up of the top-six as the first phase of the Welsh Premier League season draws to a conclusion with Carmarthen, Port Talbot and Newtown all in the chase for a top-half finish.

All three have had chances to secure their spot in the Championship Conference but now face a nervy final day with five of the weekend’s games kicking-off simultaneously at 1pm, Sunday.

Fifth and sixth-placed Carmarthen and Port Talbot (31 and 30 points) both need wins to make certain of their places but face difficult matches against The New Saints and Bala Town respectively.

That leaves Newtown, seventh on 29 points, looking to take advantage of any slip-ups from their south Walian rivals but they too, are by no means guaranteed an easy ride with a testing visit to Connah’s Quay.

It makes for an exciting final day and the fact that BBC Wales Radio have just week given an hour’s worth of coverage and BBC Wales News visited the GenQuip Stadium earlier today, shows that the profile and reputation is growing – albeit perhaps as not quickly as those associated with the league would want, it’s still progress nonetheless.

The problem with the current league format is however that it’s not ideal and the second-phase of format does have its issues.

At the top-of-the-table, there is a lack of excitement in the second-phase due to there not being a genuine title race, whilst undetermined relegation places at the food of the table can make the second-half of the season a monotonous affair.

Fortunately, the season does spring into life as it draws to a close with the Europa League play-offs – which has to be another plus-point of the current WPL format – but while those already following the league are understanding of the wildcard process, the structure becomes convoluted to anyone unfamiliar with the competition’s format, particularly when the Welsh Cup is thrown into the mix as well!

The second phase, along with the contentious issue of the number of teams competing and league’s space in the calendar year, fiercely divides opinion. However the current WPL format is, in the league’s current guise, is the best fit. It’s not perfect, it’s not ideal but it is the best fit.

FRAUGHAN NOMADS SWITCH SUITS ALL
It was announced earlier today that Ryan Fraughan has left The New Saints on loan to join Connah’s Quay and it’s a deal which I believe suits all parties.

Fraughan has shown over the years that he has real directness and quality playing on either flank but he has lost his way at TNS of late while niggly injuries have also hampered his progress and game time.

The chance to go the Nomads and a change of scenery where he is more likely to get a run of games, will do him no harm in rediscovering his form and Fraughan’s arrival at the Deeside Stadium is a boost to Connah’s Quay new managerial team, following the reshuffle which saw Mark McGregor depart the club.

AIZLEWOOD DISAPPOINTS AGAIN
Finally, it was disappointing to read Mark Aizlewood’s latest disparaging views this week.

I don’t like to criticise individuals and it’s not the first time I’ve criticised Mark here but it’s just poor form to denounce his own side’s chances of reaching the top-six because they visit TNS on Sunday and publicly ‘congratulating’ Newtown and Port Talbot before the final round of fixtures have even been played just seems cheap and unsporting. Again, Aizlewood is taking it upon himself to show a clear disrespect to the league as well as its clubs – including his very own Carmarthen Town.

Knowing many of the individuals who run Carmarthen, I can only imagine their embarrassment when they read his airings – even his criticism of TNS’s pitch, which is in need of being replaced, is uncalled for – just how many games have had to have been rearranged at Richmond Park in recent seasons?

Aizlewood is of a professional, international pedigree as a player, which should be an asset to both his club and the WPL. I believe he’d be a lot better for it and more respected should he keep the same approach as a manager.

Thanks for reading, see you next week!

New Year, new post – January is a window of opportunity for the WPL

The opening of the transfer window is a window of opportunity for both clubs and players competing in the Welsh Premier League…

Happy New Year everyone and apologies for making this the first post for quite some time. The general idea at the beginning of the season was to update insidethewpl at least once a week, but over the last month or so, my family, full-time occupation, football work and a house move have made it difficult to find time. With Christmas out of the way and things settling down again, I’m hoping I can re-commit once again to posting each week.

Anyway cutting to the chase, those associated with the Welsh Premier League will have been anticipating the opening of the transfer window for some time and the opportunity for clubs to reinforce their squad’s will have been met with greater urgency at certain teams than others as the season begins to shape up.

For me, the two biggest stories which will impact upon the league this January focus on two clubs Bangor City and Aberystwyth – albeit for very different reasons.

What happens this month will have a drastic effect on the fortunes of arguably the league’s biggest club Bangor City who, after seeing their top-six hopes dashed following a poor start, have since found themselves lodged deep into a rut with poor off-field management and a complete lack of form leaving the club clutching at straws to avoid relegation to the Cymru Alliance – an unthinkable scenario twelve months ago.

Change is most definitely needed at Bangor and realistically this window is all the club have left to give themselves a fighting chance of avoiding demotion.

The club have already moved to bring in two players from the English lower-leagues – Liam Caddick arrives and will presumably be given the responsibility of bringing goals to the WPL’s lowest-scoring side, while Callum Morris comes in as something of an unknown quantity to replace the departing Rob Jones, who you’d expect will turn up at another WPL club in the not too distant future.

For Bangor to be able return to winning ways however they need to strengthen at the back. It’s going to be interesting to see how many players they look to recruit and what impact the mid-season influx of new players will have on the side. Whatever happens, Bangor City’s dire circumstances leaves them with absolutely nothing to lose by gambling and it’s very much a case of twist or bust for the three-time Welsh Premier League winners.

Elsewhere, this transfer window could offer a whole new opportunity for the WPL’s star player Chris Venables.

The continued goalscoring feats (an incredible 23 goals in 19 games) of the Aberystwyth Town midfielder have attracted the attention of Football League scouts for some time but speculation that the 29-year-old could finally move into the professional game intensified when the Football League itself tweeted reported interest from two of its clubs.

Quite how a league body can speculate on a player who is under contract at club does seem disrespectful to both the WPL and Aberystwyth Town but I would strongly expect that Ian Hughes and the Aber directors would not stand in Venables’ way should the club’s valuation of the player be met.

This speculation comes just a month after Port Talbot winger Keyon Reffell accepted a professional deal at Kidderminster Harriers. Is this proof that the league’s reputation is slowly improving? I’d like to think so. To see Venables succeed in the Football League would be a feel-good story for all clubs competing in the WPL and certainly help boost the league’s perception.

DECEMBER PLAYER OF THE MONTH
Finally, at time of writing I’ve not yet heard any announcement on the Player of the Month award December, but for me, I have been most impressed with Port Talbot’s Luke Bowen.

Bowen rejoined the Steelmen last summer and has thrived under both Jarred Harvey and new boss Bernard McNally and has impressed with his work-rate, fitness and has been a real goal threat. Am I overlooking anyone for December’s award? Tweet me @1matthewburgess or post a reply here with your views!

Thanks for reading, I’ll be back next week.

Saturday’s Nathaniel Cars Welsh League results & tables

SATURDAY 22 NOVEMBER 2014

NATHANIEL CAR SALES LEAGUE CUP ROUND TWO
Caerau (Ely) P – P Briton Ferry Llansawel
Cwmbran Celtic P – P Llanelli Town
Goytre 4 – 3 Penrhiwceiber Rangers
Llanwern 3 – 1 Undy Athletic
Monmouth Town 5 – 1 Cardiff Corinthians
Treowen Stars P – P Garden Village

DIVISION ONE
Goytre United 5 – 1 Cambrian & Clydach
Pontardawe Town 1 – 1 AFC Porth
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An open letter from Jarred Harvey…

The main news from the Welsh Premier League this week was the sudden departure of Port Talbot Town head coach Jarred Harvey and his assistant Craig ‘Guppy’ Hughes. The former Cambrian & Clydach manager moves on from the GenQuip Stadium after being offered a full-time post at Cardiff City, working with their Under-18 squad after initially arriving at the club under now-Cardiff City assistant manager Scott Young. Harvey’s departure was sudden and after just a short time in charge – he was appointed permanent manager last May – he leaves a positive stamp on the club, having re-galvanised the Port Talbot squad and departs with them well-placed to secure a top-six place. Senior players Rhys Griffiths and Leigh De-Vulgt have currently been handed the reigns at Port Talbot, in what could be a new stage in their WPL careers, and I’d personally like to wish all three the very best with their new opportunities. Meanwhile, Jarred has issued the following open letter:

It’s was with a heavy heart that I made the decision to step down as Head Coach of Port Talbot Town. But the opportunity to become the Under-18s coach at Cardiff City isn’t something that can be turned down, as those opportunities don’t come around that often.

I’d like to think myself Guppy & Kends have made a difference at the club, as I do believe the condition of the squad we’ve developed in such a short period of time can rival any of the top three sides in the WPL.

Whoever gets the opportunity to manage that group will not have to do much, as all the hard work has been done, and what a fantastic opportunity it will be for someone to take on. Especially considering the cut backs made by the club in the summer and that the clubs ambition was consolidation, we still set a target of achieving the top-six to give ourselves the opportunity of European football and I believe they will achieve that.

I’d personally like to thank Andrew Edwards, Wayne Edwards & Colin Hancock for given me the opportunity to become the manager of Port Talbot Town. Having the opportunity to manage the club alongside Craig “Guppy” Hughes, who is a lifelong friend of mine was the proudest moment of my footballing career, he’s a special person, one of a kind, a true footballing man, and I sincerely thank him for supporting me during my time at the club.

He had to make big decisions in the summer to leave Carmarthen, but he knew as well as I did that together we could achieve something great, given the backing of the aforementioned people, and I’d like to think we’ve done that, or certainly put the club in the right direction. I’m sure we will work together again in the future and the experience I’ve had since arriving at the club 11 months ago has been fantastic and I leave with nothing but proud and fond memories.

The TNS game in the Word Cup was a testament for the work that has been done. Duane Saunders, Chris McDonald and the players who represent this football club are a magnificent bunch of men – a real credit to the club and the town, and I will miss them all dearly.

The supporters/fans of the football club are fantastic. And the way they took to us was incredible, and I’d like to thank them for that. Without a shadow of any doubt the best supporters in the WPL. Their commitment to this football club is admirable, and I do intend on spending the odd game sat in the stand with them cheering the lads on.

I wish everyone at the club the very best for the coming season, and whoever gets the job will have my 100% support. I’d also like to express my thanks to all the clubs who represent the WPL and their managers and officials, whom I’ve grown to know so well.

Thanks for the opportunity to manage Port Talbot Town.

Yours sincerely

Jarred Harvey
21 November 2014

TNS snap up Jamie Reed – the best just got better; latest on Bala and Bangor.

With Michael Wilde and Greg Draper already vying for a first-team place in attack, the signing of Jamie Reed further strengthens The New Saints’ grip on the Welsh Premier League.

Having departed the warmer climes of Melbourne, 27-year-old Jamie Reed added to his extensive list of clubs by making TNS his fourth-WPL side on Monday.

Although the announcement from Park Hall was sudden, it had been clear in recent weeks that that Reed was keen on returning to the WPL, with the allure of a full-time contract with TNS proving irresistible and he will become eligible to play from January.

Reed had a number of suitors in the WPL, with former club Bangor City amongst them. TNS confirmed to me last week that Reed had been continuing to train with them – he had also trained with Airbus prior to that – and that there would be an interest in signing him should a deal be suitable for both parties. I suspect at that stage a deal was already in the pipeline but for me, the most interesting aspect of Reed’s move to TNS is where will he fit in?

Domestically at least, TNS aren’t short of firepower and as I’ve written here previously, their superiority over the rest of the league seems to be stronger than ever.

Wilde and Draper already appear to have a healthy competitive rivalry for the centre-forward spot and should the pair of them remain at the club – and maybe this is at the base of the decision to recruit Reed (I believe either of them would get into every other side in the league), it is hard to see what role Reed would have playing up-top.

The alternative is either playing deeper – a role which Alex Darlington and Matty Williams already thrive in – or as a wide player, where the Saints already boost several options, namely Ryan Fraughan, Scott Quigley and summer arrival Adrian Cieslewicz, not forgetting Ryan Edwards who was farmed out on-loan to Cefn Druids for regular playing minutes.

The situation will certainly create a selection headache for management duo Harrison and Darlington but unless it bolsters the side in European competition, there seems little need for a player like Reed given the fact TNS already have one hand on a fourth-successive Welsh Premier League title.

BALA HUNT FOR SILVERWARE
Speaking of selection headaches, the move of another well-known WPL striker is likely to create a similar issue for Colin Caton at high-flying Bala Town.

The omission of Lee Hunt from Prestatyn’s side in recent games meant this his departure came as no real surprise but his destination definitely did come out of the blue.

While Hunt is not expected to be the only senior player to be leaving Prestatyn, the aging WPL marksman returns to a rejuvenated Bala squad where it appears the switch is a good move for both club and player.

Judging him on his recent form at Prestatyn, Hunt will need to raise his game to earn a place in this Bala side, but Caton has recruited an experienced player who has long-proven track record of finding the net in the WPL.

With the Lakesiders squad already possessing Kieran Smith, Mark Connolly, Ian Sheridan and Mike Hayes, the club are on course for their most successful season in their history. Good times indeed at Bala.

BANGOR TURN TO GOULDING
Bangor City have turned to ex-player and Burscough manager Derek Goulding to revive their fortunes. Goulding, appointed assistant manager to Nev Powell, is tasked with bringing fresh impetus to Nantporth and arrives at a particularly difficult time.

The grey clouds had seemed to have lifted a little over Bangor following a credible win at Carmarthen Town at the start of the month but a crushing 5-0 defeat, where the Citizens shipped four inside 34-minutes – defeat to TNS wasn’t a surprise but the manner of it cut short the idea that Bangor were about to turn the corner.

Just how they’ll go about ‘turning that corner’ remains to be seen and fears of missing out on the top-six have now morphed into genuine fears of relegation. I don’t buy the idea that Bangor are ‘too big’ to go down. City admit they are suffering from mismanagement and there must be chronic shortage of confidence in the dressing room and as it stands, I can’t name two worse teams.

If speculation is to be believed, the club missed out on both Jamie Reed and Lee Hunt, but the need for fresh ideas and faces to arrest their run is an absolute must.

It does seem quite likely now that Nev Powell will remain in charge but questions remain as to whether Goulding was brought by Powell to assist him or appointed by the board to handle some of Powell’s current responsibilities. Essentially, is Goulding building a case to succeed Powell, should Nev and the club be able to come to a settlement on the remainder of his contract?

The fact Goulding is a former player of the club will bode well but whatever the case, the new management team need to hit the ground running and just how the club manage this crisis is going to be intriguing.

I suggested on this blog a few months ago that Bangor City were this season’s Port Talbot – side who underachieved in a mediocre campaign last year. Given their current circumstances, I think they’d gladly take that now.