Guide to what happens to WPL format if Welsh Cup winner has already qualified for Europe

A change of ruling to the Welsh Cup means that the runners-up will  no longer qualify for Europe should the cup winner’s already have secured a European spot via their league position.

Coupled with a league format that isn’t completely straightforward, this new change in ruling well may create additional confusion. I’ll try and explain the possible outcomes and hopefully they’ll make sense before the end of April!

So in the simplest of circumstances, Welsh domestic football’s four European spots are allocated to TNS the Welsh Premier League champions, the WPL runner’s-up, the play-off winner and the Welsh Cup winners.

In previous year’s, if the Welsh Cup winner had already qualified for Europe, the losing finalist would then qualify instead, as in the cases of Aberystwyth Town last season and Cefn Druids back in 2012. Now however, that European place is transferred to the WPL creating an extra qualification spot via the league.

Does this mean that the third-placed club will automatically qualify for Europe and not enter the play-off? What if the third-placed club wins the Welsh Cup, does the play-off round then include the side that finishes in 8th? There are many variables here which have an impact on the league’s format and its clubs.

It’s worth noting that the play-off round takes place after the Welsh Cup final. Let’s take a look at the possible scenarios.

If the Welsh Cup winner comes from outside the top seven:
The league format remains unchanged meaning the top-two sides automatically qualify for Europe with places 3rd to 7th entering the play-off round.

What if the Welsh Cup winner is a play-off team:
That team would no longer go into play-off and would be replaced by the side finishing 8th, with the play-off draw still seeded by league positions, i.e. highest place in play-off versus 8th.

If either the WPL champions or second-place win the Welsh Cup:
This is the tricky one… The European place would drop down to the team finishing third in the league. This team would not enter the play-off BUT no additional play-off place would be awarded to the team finishing 8th. This would leave a straightforward, four-way play-off draw: 4th vs 7th, 5 vs 6th).

The reason why the team finishing 8th in the WPL does not qualify for the play-off in this instance but does if a play-off team is wins the Welsh Cup, is purely because the Welsh Premier League official rulebook does not make any reference to this scenario. I suspect that a rule regarding this matter will be inserted to address this inconsistency before next season.

Hopefully it makes sense, get in touch with any comments or questions via the usual ways.

Bangor must kick on as mini-revival continues

There isn’t a bigger game in the Welsh Premier League this weekend than Bangor City’s clash against Cefn Druids on Friday night.

Two of the four sides in this year’s relegation battle go into this game with contrasting fortunes.

I’ve written about Bangor City’s plight plenty of times this season but in credit to them, there are now clear signs of fight coming from City at the so-called business end of the season.

Last weekend Bangor avoided what I thought was the biggest potential banana skin in the Welsh Cup fourth round, as chances went begging at both ends before Bangor ran out comfortable 3-0 winners against Cymru Alliance mid-tablers Conwy Borough.

That solid home win and clean sheet sealed Bangor’s place in the quarter-final, setting up a home draw against Newtown in the process, which will have added to the growing confidence within the squad.

Indeed, Bangor have suffered just one defeat in their last five outings and it seems that the losing habit which undermined much of their season is finally beginning to wane.

City impressively fought back twice, scoring in the last minute, en-route to claiming a credible 3-3 draw against Carmarthen at Richmond Park. And prior to that, another last minute goal forced a 2-2 draw against Cefn Druids.

Having reinforced his side in the transfer window, under-fire manager Nev Powell will have been delighted to have seen new signings Callum Morris and Liam Caddick both make their mark of late as they’ve weighed in with some key goals. Their impact has alleviated some of the goal scoring responsibility that somewhat burdened Les Davies earlier on in the season and the welcome addition of Lee Healey has also helped the Citizen’s front-line gain a new lease of life.

With City in the ascendancy, Cefn Druids meanwhile appear to have ran out of stream completely. A rotten run of form has yielded just two points from their last seven WPL games but a win for the visitors at Nantporth would force Bangor sink deeper into the relegation battle.

Cefn Druids have a considerable advantage over Bangor in the league, sitting immediately above them with an eight-point advantage – a defeat would leave Bangor needing to cut an 11-point deficit on Druids with eight games remaining.

Time however, is beginning to run out for all involved including Connah’s Quay – another of Bangor’s relegation rivals. They sit level on points with Druids and will too have a significant say in how the conference pans out. But the sight of Cefn Druids recording a win at Nantporth and pulling away towards safety will dent Bangor’s armour at a time when they are showing signs of recovering from their abysmal start to the season.

A look at January’s Sgorio/WPL Goal of the Month contenders…

If you’ve not yet seen them, January’s serving of the best goals from the Welsh Premier once again makes for impressive viewing…

#1 Matty McGinn (AIR): McGinn, playing as a makeshift left-back for Andy Preece remains a goal threat as his outrageous dipping half-volley against Connah’s Quay shows.

#2 Luke Bowen (PTT): After being named Player of the Month for January, Bowen carried his form into the New Year as he worked his way into space past Bangor City’s Chris Roberts before applying a neat finish into the top-hand corner.

#3 Neil Mitchell (NEW): A strong contender for Goal of the Season, let alone Goal of the Month. The Robins forward kept alive his side’s top-six hopes with a fierce 20-yard screamer. One of those, where the ball was destined for the back of the net the moment it left his boot. Real quality.

#4 Rob Hughes (RHL): Ignore the haircut, Hughes makes no mistake with a curling left-back free-kick. He may have found himself in and out of the Rhyl side this season but there’s no doubting his talent.

#5 Jason Oswell (NEW): Oswell neatly swivels and fires past the hapless Terry McCormick from the edge of area as the former Rhyl and Airbus man enjoys a breakout season in the WPL.

#6 Ross Stephens (ABR): Not a bad way to introduce to his new Aberystwyth teammates as he marks his debut with a thumping left-footed strike from outside of the box in the mid-Wales derby.

You can see them for yourself below, but my picks in reverse order are:
Third: Goal #2 Luke Bowen
Second: Goal #1 Matty McGinn
Winner: Goal #3 Neil Mitchell
EDIT: The January’s winner was indeed Goal #3. I’m sure we’ll see Neil Mitchell’s strike as a contender for Goal of the Season.

Can 3G free up the Welsh Premier League?

The unveiling of the latest batch of Welsh Premier League clubs to benefit from the UEFA ‘Hat-trick’ funding via the FAW means that the majority of clubs in the league next season could be competing on artificial turf. Like it or not, 3G is here and it’s here to stay…

Aberystwyth’s Park Avenue and Carmarthen’s Richmond Park will both be equipped with 3G next season after it was announced on Tuesday that four more WPL clubs will benefit from funding.

Joining them will be Cefn Druids, who are yet to determine whether a 3G surface will be installed at The Rock or at a local school, and Connah’s Quay, who have already confirmed that their new pitch will be a school-based facility.

Airbus UK and Newtown are in their first season of having 3G while TNS first set the trend seven years ago.

And should all the above steer clear of relegation and Cymru Alliance runaway leaders Llandudno achieve promotion, the Welsh Premier League could have seven clubs playing on 3G. That list doesn’t even include Port Talbot who have a clear interest in adopting an artificial surface while you suspect other WPL clubs also harbour similar ambitions.

Much like anything related to the Welsh Premier League – i.e. format, seasonal calendar, promotion criteria – the general opinion on 3G pitches is divided.

In an ideal world, yes, every club in the league would be playing on a pristine surface akin to Bangor City’s pitch at Nantporth. But reality paints a very different and often muddy(!) picture.

The clear selling point of 3G surfaces is that it drives two things which underpin the clubs ability to improve their sustainability – community engagement and revenue.

Admittedly, it will take a certain length of time for the clubs to reap the rewards of utilising the benefits of 3G and in my view, the true success of 3G can only be measured in the improvement of standard in the WPL and results in European competition.

The ideal scenario would be that 3G empowers teams to raise standards closer to that of The New Saints’ and create a more competitive league and better product.

The dominance of The New Saints should be considered as one of the biggest threats to the Welsh Premier League and how I wish for the league to have 12-clubs of the Saints’ standard.

Following Bayern Munich’s Bundesliga defeat on the weekend, TNS are now the only top-flight club in Europe to remain unbeaten. The culture of acceptance of their superiority amongst the rest of the league is not a healthy one but where is a challenge, albeit a sustainable challenge, going to come from?

You do wonder whether TNS have hit a ceiling as to how far they can progress within the WPL and the situation that the league finds itself in is not dissimilar to that of the SPL, which is suffering from Celtic’s complete domination. At least in Scotland, there is the potential for Rangers to rebuild and regroup. As things stand right now in Welsh domestic football, any such challenge would be reliant on a benefactor being prepared to back a club at a loss, and that hasn’t worked out well in the past, has it?!

SAM FINLEY
Sticking with The New Saints, Sam Finley has been provided with the opportunity to showcase his talents in the English pyramid.

One of the best talents in the WPL in recent seasons, Finley links up again with Carl Darlington at Wrexham. Finley’s had some bad luck with injuries this season but you suspect he should be able to hold his own at Wrexham in the knowledge that he could  attract attention from clubs within the Football League.

My understanding is that there isn’t a long-term arrangement in place between TNS and Wrexham, and that he moved to the Racecourse only after the Saints were unable to agree on a deal with a number of interested clubs on deadline day.

I don’t believe joining Wrexham, who’re 12-points off the Conference play-off spots, is necessarily a step up for Finley but rather a stepping stone to put himself in the marketplace.

It seems that Finley has played his last game in the WPL but given their superiority over the rest of the league, it’s unlikely his absence will cause Craig Harrison too many headaches domestically at least.

WELSH CUP
The fourth round of the Welsh Cup comes around this weekend. Caersws host Newtown in the TV game on Sunday (12.45) in what should be a feisty mid-Wales derby. Caersws, like Newtown, have been struggled for consistency for much of the season but you get the feeling that this tie has the makings of tasty cup tie.

Meanwhile the banana skins have been laid out for a trio of WPL clubs. Bangor City will be attempting to avoid a slip-up at home to Conwy Borough, Airbus UK will also be carrying similar fears when they make the trip to Cardiff to face Welsh League pacesetters Cardiff Met and Aberystwyth travel to Holywell Town, who remain undefeated in the Welsh Alliance (Level Three).

Another tie worth keeping an eye on is the all-WPL clash between Connah’s Quay and Bala Town.

Thanks for reading, enjoy the football! Comments welcome as per usual via site/Twitter.

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.