Aaron Bowen interview!

I caught up with the Welsh Premier League’s man of the moment on ‘that’ hat-trick during Rhyl’s stunning derby victory.

Forty-five minutes second-half minutes was all it took for Rhyl’s new number nine to earn a place in Lilywhites’ folklore.

His previous Belle Vue appearance – a home debut back on the opening weekend of the season – was tinged in disappointment when the bustling, 23-year-old Liverpudlian striker received his marching orders after accumulating two yellow cards against Cefn Druids. Yet the name of Aaron Bowen is now the talk of the sunny seaside town after a true Roy of the Rovers-esque display in Sunday’s derby against Bangor City.

Under pressure to earn their first league win of the season, Rhyl found themselves trailing Bangor by two-goals at half-time, staring at yet another defeat.

With Jack Laird and Les Davies giving City the advantage and a legitimate goal from Bowen being disallowed, the odds were stacked in the favour of Bangor ending their very own winless run at the expense of Greg Strong’s Rhyl.

But soon after the restart Bowen was able to open his goal account for the Lillywhites, as he took full advantage of a soft cleared header to send a return header beyond Jack Cudworth in the Bangor goal.

With five minutes remaining, Bowen again demonstrated his strength to force Rhyl back on level terms and with the momentum fixed firmly in the hosts favour, Bowen saved the best for last thumping Ashley Stott’s neat cut-back firmly into the net as Belle-Vue erupted. Not a bad way to win a derby.

“I already knew from playing lower-league that Rhyl versus Bangor was a big game, so I was really up for it and when we got the winner I was delighted. All the lads have really worked hard and it was just great,” Bowen explained.

“[At half-time Greg Strong] said the goals we had given away were really poor but he said there are goals in it for ourselves. We need to tighten up and get tight on them. I felt in the second-half they never really got out of their own half, we got right at them and that’s the way we need to carry on.

“As soon as I scored the first, the whole of the team got a big boost. I thought another two goals would be a bit much but definitely thought we would get the equaliser. Then, when we eventually got the equaliser I thought ‘the winner’s here’ and Strongy said to me to go and get the winner.

“It just fell to me in the box and I just though I’ve got to get it on target and when I watched it back I didn’t realise I’d hit it so hard so I was made up.”

Having featured for Barrow and Warrington Town last season, I watched Aaron Bowen make his WPL debut away to Carmarthen. Though his physicality was obvious, his ability to make an impact on the game was curbed after two early red-cards forced Rhyl forced to abandon their attacking game-plan.

“The manager got sacked at Barrow and the new manager came in and brought all his own players with him, the travelling was also quite far for me as it was two and a half hours from where I live in Liverpool. Warrington then put an offer in for me and I finished the season there,” said Bowen.

“Strongy rung me pre-season and I signed for Rhyl, I spoke to Andy Preece and Airbus as well but Strong rang me a good few times and just the way he came across on the phone with the club’s ambitions swayed me towards coming here and I’m made up I did now.

“For the squad we’ve got we’re massively underachieving at the moment. The lads are all good lads and all quality players – in the first game we went down to nine-men, in the second game we were winning at home and got sent down to nine-men again, then we played TNS away so I think those three games were a bit of a false start for us, but after this we win we should be right up there and hopefully it’ll turn the tables a bit for us.

“After the end of the game we were all buzzing and all the lads have a bit of a group text on What’s App so we’re all quite close and looking forward to Friday now [against Connah’s Quay] and can’t wait.

“I’m enjoying the WPL so far. It’s a very well-run league and it’s quite a good standard – it’s a better standard than I thought it would be.

“I scored, I think it was 15 last season but this season I want to get to the 20 mark, if not more to be honest with you and I think as club we should be right up there in third, fourth and we want to try and get into that European spot.”

You can view highlights of Rhyl’s dramatic win over Bangor City here via Sgorio.

Pressure mounting on winless North-Wales rivals ahead of Sunday’s TV game

A look ahead to this afternoon’s lunchtime kick-off between Rhyl and Bangor City (1.00, S4C).

As I wrote on my last blog, few would’ve expected two of the biggest clubs in the league to be still searching for their first WPL victory when the initial list of Clwb/Sgorio live fixtures was confirmed at the start of the season.

Although we’re only four games into the new season, it’s been a dire start for both sides and you suspect that neither team will want a derby fixture of this magnitude at a time when the form book makes such poor reading.

Both sides have posted a return of just a single point from a possible twelve and following Connah’s Quay’s impressive draw at Aberystwyth on Friday, Rhyl and Bangor now prop up the rest of the table.

It’s been a miserable week for both clubs in the built-up to the derby.

On Wednesday, Rhyl were dumped out of theWord Cup to lower league opposition after Cymru Alliance pacesetters Llandudno edged through 4-2 on penalties after holding the Lilywhites to a 1-1 draw. A day later, it was confirmed at an appeal hearing that Bangor City’s summer signing Sam Hart faces an extended ban for this incident against TNS (see 1 minute, 20 seconds). Hart, one of the few new faces to arrive at Nantporth over the summer, was handed an additional four-game ban after already missing four matches.

This afternoon’s match has more than three points at stake.

A derby victory will serve as a big psychological boost and possibly kick-start the winning side’s season.

A defeat however would well and truly compound a miserable start to the season and add to what must be a growing sense of concern at either club.

PRE-GAME NOTES
– Rhyl have two players returning from suspension as ex-City midfielder Levi Mackin and powerful centre-forward Aaron Bowen return.
– Bangor will definitely be without central defender Leon Clowes who saw red last weekend against Airbus, while Sam Hart also remains unavailable. Could City abandon their 3-5-2 shape without Clowe?
– Bangor forward Jamie Petrie is close to returning to fitness following a lengthy absence.

Are Bangor City this season’s Port Talbot?

This season is shaping up to be the most competitive since the 12-club play-off format was adopted. Every club, whether in public or private, will have ambitions of making the top-six cut but realistically, there are only three spots open to nine teams.

Even after just four rounds of fixtures, I don’t think it’s outrageous to suggest that last season’s top-two The New Saints and Airbus UK look poised to repeat their dominance and that Aberystwyth Town also look like grabbing a top-six spot. I also don’t think it’s too bold to suggest that these will be the top-three come the end of the season – taking a guess at the remaining three sides to finish in the top-half however, is just a complete stab in the dark.

The bottom-three of the table currently features three of the sides who many will have tipped pre-season to be in that final figure. Rhyl, Connah’s Quay and Bangor City are all still searching for that elusive first win. You feel that the Nomads are just needing that first win to help things fall into place but a visit to Park Avenue tomorrow night is probably the last thing they’d have wanted after suffering a heavy defeat to TNS. And few would’ve been expecting the need for a first win to be the backdrop of the game ahead of Sunday’s live TV fixture when Bangor City travel across the North Wales coast to face Rhyl (1.00).

Arguably the two best-supported teams in the WPL, it is something of a shock to see both sides with just a single point alongside their names in the league table. Rhyl, I feel, have never quite got going after a strange opening day defeat at Carmarthen, where down to nine-men for most of the game, they were narrowly beaten in what was an otherwise encouraging team performance. Early suspensions, four red cards in two games, will have made it hard for Greg Strong to extract some early season momentum and form from his side but losing games in a league as competitive as this can become an unwanted habit all-too-easily.

And what of Bangor? In truth, I’m yet to see them properly this season and look forward to doing so on Clwb (can we at least still call it Sgorio?) on Sunday but whether rightly or wrongly, I’m being told that they really are struggling to impress and not looking convincing.

The WPL is a healthier place with a club as big as Bangor City doing well in it but despite a late run of form last season, I can’t say I was overly impressed with the side. Nev Powell will certainly believe he has the players to have them competing at the higher end of the table but I’m not sure whether the squad has been strengthened enough over the summer and worry that the Citizens could be set for campaign similar to that of Port Talbot’s uninspiring season last year.

On paper at least, Port Talbot had a squad to be feared but performances and results were barren and after missing out on the top-six and losing ground in the race for seventh, the season couldn’t end soon enough for the underachieving Steelmen.

Change beckoned at the GenQuip Stadium and the early indications are that they are at least due a better season but it was their South Wales neighbours Carmarthen, who were at the centre of the biggest shock last weekend, being sunk 8 (EIGHT as the vidiprinter would say) -1 by impressive Bala Town.

Carmarthen, for me, have not been as good as their early results had suggested but they are without a question a better side than the one that turned up at Maes Tegid last Sunday. After watching the highlights you can only give credit to Bala – who I really think have the makings of a good side this year –and put the manner of the defeat down as one of those random results that seem to spring up from time to time.

I’m going to be at Richmond Park this Saturday and I’m looking forward to seeing how they respond for the visit of Newtown. Mark Aizlewood possesses a relatively small squad there and I think he will act wisely in his approach and resist from overhauling his side, and instead give the majority of his players the chance to get the performance out of their system and put a right to a few wrongs in front of a home crowd.

The Robins have blown, hot and cold at the start of their season and will need to be wary of the wounded animal!

Enjoy the weekend’s games.

Deadline day in Wales; TNS look to farm out squad players; Prestatyn can count on Gibson

In comparison to over the border, it was a quiet end to the transfer window for Welsh Premier League clubs but The New Saints are expected to utilise the loan market to afford some of their squad players regular first-team experience.

Transfer deadline day in Wales lacks the excitement and drama of that in England. No rolling news coverage, no agents being filmed zooming into club headquarters and thankfully, no reporters being sent to loiter around training grounds for 14+ hours, awkwardly racing through live broadcasts amidst a backdrop of rowdy behaviour from excitable local teens.

Only Prestatyn Town made more than one deadline day signing as young brothers Noah and Zyaac Edwards arrived from the fringes of Airbus UK’s squad, while Carmarthen Town recruited striker Luke Prosser from Welsh League Goytre AFC and former Swansea City forward Chad Bond signed up for yet another spell with Port Talbot Town, swapping Sacramento, California for South Wales.

I spoke with several of the league’s managers on the morning of deadline day and most had already assembled squads to within the limits of their budgets.

For clarification, Welsh Premier League clubs are still able to sign free agents but any players signed must be ‘on contract’ and loans between WPL clubs are allowed from September 8th.

TNS are one such club who I expect will look to use the loan market to farm out players to gain first-team experience and the name of goalkeeper Chris Mullock immediately springs to mind.

Understudy to the ever-reliable Paul Harrison, Mullock spent last season out on loan at Newtown, where he figured heavily in what was the Robins’ best season in recent memory. Though 25, the former Cefn Druids stopper is still relatively a newcomer on the WPL goalkeeping scene but an impressive spell at Newtown would, I expect, have more than one club interested in securing his services – if a deal has not already been privately agreed.

Gibson prepared to aid Seasiders on the pitch
Following his side’s defeat to Port Talbot on the opening weekend of the season, Prestatyn Town boss Neil Gibson revealed he could soon return to playing. Gibson, speaking after seeing his Prestatyn team crash to their first defeat of the new season, confirmed that he remains registered as a player and would have no qualms about taking to the field – should he feel he can make positive contribution.

Gibson’s ability as a player should not be underestimated and it came as a surprise to me that he used himself so sparingly during last season’s disappointing league campaign in which wins for the Seasiders were far and few between.

Prestatyn’s squad features a familiar-looking core of experienced senior players but they have added to their ranks over the summer with young players who’re lacking WPL experience, but Gibson’s leadership and infectious drive in the heart of team will somewhat ease the transition of blooding younger players and a return on-the-pitch would be as good as any new signing at Bastion Gardens.

Opening WPL Weekend Notes

And they’re off!! The start of the 2014/15 Welsh Premier League season is officially underway, after the Bank Holiday double-header leaves Aberystwyth Town the very early pace-setters after two games played.

Just how long Aberystwyth can maintain their grip at the top-of-the-table remains to be seen of course, but Ian Hughes will have few complaints having taken four points from his side’s opening two fixtures.

It took a late strike from TNS substitute Sam Finley to deny the Park Avenue club a second win on the bounce. Aber hot-shot Chris Venables had wasted no time at all picking up where he left off from last season’s golden boot winning campaign, bagging four in Aber’s opening night 5-0 whitewash of Cefn Druids.

The Druids’ return party to the top-flight was well and truly pooped at The Rock but Derek Taylor’s late equaliser at Rhyl will have gone a long way to ease initial fears about adapting to life in the WPL.

And what about Rhyl, where it seems indiscipline is hindering what has the makings of good side?

The Lilywhites had two dismissed early on against 1-0 winners Carmarthen at the weekend before turning in an admirable gutsy defensive display and they then had two more sent-off in their draw with Cefn Druids. Plenty for boss Greg Strong to ponder at this early stage.

Two more managers with plenty to consider are Mark Aizlewood and Nev Powell.

Carmarthen looked decidedly toothless during their unimpressive win over Rhyl and a draw at Connah’s Quay doesn’t disguise the fact that the Old Gold have been left to rue the departures of a host of attacking players, notably striker Christian Doidge. I think we could see a little movement at Richmond Park in the forward department before the transfer window closes and a few interesting names spring to mind.

Up at Bangor City, Nev Powell will know there is plenty of work to do after his side were forced to swallow successive defeats at the start of their campaign. The 2-0 reverse against rivals The New Saints didn’t paint a true picture of a game in which the Saints dominated from start to finish. City were then handed a Bank Holiday setback as Newtown rallied to a 3-1 win on a miserable afternoon at Nantporth.

Bala Town – a side who I think can cause a stir this year in the upper reaches of the table – will be satisfied with their start. A victory at Newtown was followed up by a resilient goalless draw with Airbus, who were late kicking off their title-chasing campaign. Having been forced to postpone their fixture against the Wingmakers on Saturday, Port Talbot Town made light work of a youthful Prestatyn side which on the account of today’s game, are in for a difficult season despite starting their season with a dramatic 3-2 over Connah’s Quay.

Fri: CEFN 0-5 ABER; PRES 3-2 CONN; TNS 2-0 BAN. Sat: AIR P-P PTT; CARM 1-0 RHYL; NEW 1-2 BALA. Mon: ABER 1-1
TNS; BALA 0-0 AIR; BAN 1-3 NEW; CONN 1-1 CARM; PTT 3-0 PRES; RHYL 1-1 CEFN.

Next Fri: ABER v BAN; AIR v NEW; CARM v PTT; CEFN v CONN; TNS v RHYL. Next Sat: PRES v BALA.

S4C rescheduling is a blow to the league; Port Talbot pre-season hints of resurgence

It’s hard to find positives in the rescheduling of S4C’s Welsh Premier League coverage, is the national broadcaster losing interest in the national league?

The controversial television rescheduling of the new Welsh Premier League season was officially confirmed last Friday, announced via the Sgorio website.

The 12-Welsh Premier League clubs have been aware of the revised scheduling for some time but S4C’s changes to Sgorio’s coverage prior to start of the 2014/15 season should be considered a significant blow to the league.

The long-running Monday night highlights show, which in recent years has provided coverage of every WPL game from the previous weekend and La Liga, has been completely scrapped. And as part of S4C’s repackaged sports coverage the weekly televised fixture has also been moved.

It is also believed, though unconfirmed, that there will no longer be televised WPL fixtures on Welsh rugby international weekends. These fixtures had been typically been switched to an earlier kick-off time or shown on a Sunday, but now live coverage on these weekends will be no more.

S4C’s decision comes as part of a brand new Sunday afternoon sports show ‘Clwb’, where the weekend’s live WPL game will now take place on a Sunday at a 1pm or 1:30pm kick-off. This will then be followed by live rugby following S4C’s recent announcement of a joint four-year deal to cover the Guinness Pro12 competition with BBC Wales.

In losing its Saturday afternoon slot, Sgorio will be well aware that their coverage will have lost considerable appeal. The 3:45pm kick-off gave Sgorio a unique slot where Welsh Premier League football was the only live televised match to appear anywhere on UK television on a Saturday afternoon. Coupled with its live in-screen rolling scores service, Sgorio was the ideal place to watch live football and keep abreast of all the goals and news from elsewhere whether from the comfort of your sofa or a bar.

The decision by S4C to change the live game to a Sunday will mean that this is now lost. The early Sunday afternoon rescheduling puts the WPL’s weekly TV game in direct competition with live Premier League football and as sure as day follows night, viewing figures will deteriorate because of this clash. No neutral sports fan is going to choose Welsh Premier football over the Premier League and no bars, pubs or clubs are going to show Sgorio, as they previously did on a Saturday afternoon, when they have live Premier League football to provide customers with.

More worryingly is how will S4C react, long-term, to an anticipated decline in Sgorio’s viewing figures? Would the channel renege on its decision to move its coverage to a Sunday or would they use the drop in viewers as grounds to scale back coverage of the WPL even further?

Sgorio and the Welsh Premier League must privately be incredibly disappointed and concerned.

PORT TALBOT SHOWING PROMISE
They say you should never read too much into pre-season results but on recent evidence Port Talbot Town’s new management duo Jarred Harvey and Craig Hughes can be quietly encouraged with what they have seen.

I’ve been present at their two most recent pre-season friendlies, in which they’ve chalked up wins against a youthful Newport County (2-0) and Briton Ferry Llansawel (6-3).

After a season to forget, a return to form for the Steelmen would give Welsh Premier League football in the south a much-needed boost and the early signs are promising.

Even though Harvey’s tenure at the GenQuip Stadium is still very much in its infancy, the side have fared well in their last two outings. Port Talbot look to have good shape and are being encouraged to play and get bodies forward.

The additions of Carl Evans and Liam McCreesh add, no pun intended, steel and grit to the team whilst the early indications are that tireless winger Keyon Reffell and classy youngster Kieran Lewis will add real quality to a midfield which lost Lewis Harling and David Brooks (both to Carmarthen) over the summer. Martin Rose is another who has impressed, showing real hunger up-front and seems to have already put last season’s lacklustre campaign behind him.

Harvey and Hughes will know that there is still work to be done – three soft goals against Welsh League Briton Ferry in a match which they all but dominated confirmed this, but the side appear to be well on-track as they prepare for their opening weekend double-header against Airbus UK and Prestatyn Town.