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.

Old name new faces: Cefn Druids are looking to make mark on WPL return

There is nothing stale about Wales’ oldest club, Cefn Druids, as the 2014/15 season rolls in. After comfortably winning the Cymru Alliance last season, the club appointed John Keegan to mastermind their return to the top-flight following a four-year absence. And the Druids boss has wasted no time in quickly assembling a new-look squad at The Rock…

As Cefn Druids wound up their successful league campaign with a home victory over Buckley Town at the end of last season, the planning for their promotion back into the Welsh Premier League had already tentatively begun.

In the away dugout that afternoon was John Keegan, a coach who had helped steer Buckley away from relegation. Keegan, a well-known ex-player and coach throughout the Cymru Alliance would soon go on to take his first management role with the Druids.

“On the last game of the season, we were actually at Cefn Druids and I was talking to the chairman after the game. At the time I didn’t know [former manager] Huw Griffiths was going to leave because he had never mentioned it to me,” Keegan explained.

“When he left, myself and Chris Herbet applied for the job. We went to an interview on the Friday and we were told on the Saturday morning that we’d had it. It was a very quick process.

“We spoke a lot about the youth at the Club and they were very interested in getting the youth set-up built-up but the priority was the first-team. They asked my opinion on the quality of the first-team, not just to survive in the Welsh Premier but do something a little bit more. I just gave my opinion and the board must’ve liked what they heard.”

In early May, John Keegan replaced Huw Griffiths as Cefn Druids’ new manager and quickly set about rebuilding the entire championship winning squad – a move which he feels with prove beneficial.

“Huw left because he was of the opinion that, given the budget available, what went up wasn’t strong enough.”

“If he felt that the team were strong enough, he wouldn’t have given up the opportunity to manage in the Welsh Premier.

“Don’t get me wrong, Druids did really well last year and were outstanding in the Cymru Alliance. They were a very strong Alliance team but I saw them play Bala Town last year and Bala were on another level, so it was a case of what people we could get in, and you look at the players that have become available and in my opinion, what we’ve brought in is a lot better than what we had,” he said.

A busy off-season followed as the Druids’ recruitment drive saw them become the most active club of the summer in the Welsh Premier League. But with last season’s WPL being at its most competitive since adopting the 12-team format, does Keegan feel he’s taken a gamble in assembling virtually a new squad for the step up?

“It is always a challenge but it would be a challenge if we didn’t get those players in. I think you can look at it from a negative point of view and ask ‘is it going to take time for them to gel?’, but if you’re a good footballer, you’re a good footballer and the game is not rocket science. You need do the simple things well and we know the players we brought in can do these things well. It’s not like their oblivious and they are all coming from the English system and don’t have a clue what they’re coming into.”

Cefn Druids new-look squad features familiar faces from the Welsh Premier League as well as those plucked from the English system.

Well-travelled goalkeeper Dave Roberts, who most recently featured for Prestatyn and Bangor City, has been signed up along with sturdy Aberystwyth defender Peter Hoy and Chris Rimmer, who impressed in central defence for Rhyl last term.

Another Lilywhite favourite, Steve Lewis has already signed and departed the Druids squad after being unable to commit to the club and just this week, the Ancients added two more to their squad in rugged Connah’s Quay forward Lee Healey and central midfielder Lee Fowler, who had a brief spell at TNS last season.

“We’ve been looking at Lee Healey for some time, Bala came in for him but for whatever reason things didn’t work out. Lee Fowler is going to make a difference as he has a lot of experience,” added Keegan.

However, Cefn Druids have arguably made the most intriguing signing of all Welsh Premier League clubs with the arrival of Guinea-Bissau international defender Bruno Fernandes.

The 35-year-old arrives at The Rock after playing several seasons in Portugal, where he featured for reputable side Belenenses. And Keegan was quick to snap up the towering centre-back.

“Someone we know works with a lot of African players getting them clubs and he asked me if I’d be interested in having a look at one of his lads, and from the second he walked in the door, he had a presence about him.”

“He’s a big lad but he’s got a great attitude towards training and it rubs off on the rest of the lads.

“We were made up when we got him. I think we were lucky as if anybody else had seen him before us, we wouldn’t have got him so we had to get him to us as soon as possible. I think he will probably walk into any team at this level and would probably do a job in the Conference, I rate him that highly.”

If Bruno Fernandes is to make an impact in the heart of the Druids defence, Keegan believes he may be able to spring another surprise in the league, with the signings of young striker Dan Griffiths and Northern Irish midfielder Jonathan Breeze.

“We’ve got a couple of good attacking options. We brought Dan Griffiths in who has spend a couple of years at Walsall. He’s an out and out goalscorer, who can score all sorts of different types of goals, and Jonathan Breeze is another good lad who was at Wigan and a Northern Irish youth international, a holding midfielder who dictates a lot of play and doesn’t give the ball away.”

Still despite their signings, Cefn Druids remain at large an unknown and unproven quantity and will face a stiff test in stepping up to the Welsh Premier League, starting off as favourites for the drop.

Starting with opening fixtures against Aberystwyth and Rhyl, Cefn Druids will have to settle quickly into their new surroundings but Keegan is hoping a strong start will quickly ease fears of relegation and see his side fighting further up the table.

“If we stay-up, people outside will say it’s been a successful season but from my point of view if we’re just going into it looking to survive then we are doing an injustice to ourselves. I think with the squad we’ve got, if we click well and get a good start I think we can be a top-six.”

“The bookies don’t lie and have got us odds-on favourites to be relegated but we’re going to be going for top-six.

“The first six or seven games are going to be a massive indicator.”

I’m looking forward to watching to see how Cefn Druids’ fare this season and their campaign will be one of the storylines to follow during the new season.

TNS and Airbus aside, the rest of the WPL looks fiercely competitive once again this year and Cefn Druids return to the league could already be starting to unnerve some current Welsh Premier clubs.

Did Dagenham dodge Doidge deal?

Highly-rated Carmarthen Town striker Christian Doidge appears destined for a summer move into the Football League but following a peculiar turn of events, it is now unlikely he will join Dagenham & Redbridge.

A string of impressive performances for the Old Gold and 17 Welsh Premier League goals last season from 21-year-old, former Barry Town player, Christian Doidge was enough to attract the attention of Football League clubs.

And though the last Carmarthen player to go into the Football League was ex-Cardiff, Aston Villa and Wales defender Mark Delany, Doidge has the potential to become the Welsh Premier League’s most successful Football League export.

A trial to Newport County ensued at the back-end of last season for both he and attacking full-back Luke Cummings, another member of the Carmarthen squad to shine. And Newport rekindled their interest again in Doidge pre-season, with the Cwmbran-born striker being invited back to train with the League Two club but he was unable to earn a contract by County boss Justin Edinburgh.

“We had a look at Doidge and he’s obviously a talent,” Edinburgh told County’s local paper, the South Wales Argus.

“If things had been different this summer then maybe we would have moved for the boy. But we’ve got eight strikers already and we had no room for anyone else. We had different priorities – we needed to sign a centre-half and strengthen midfield.

“It wasn’t a flippant decision and it wasn’t a snub to Carmarthen at all,” he added.

Edinburgh’s financial restrictions left Newport all but out of the equation much to the astonishment of Doidge’s current manager and former Newport player Mark Aizlewood.

“It will be the biggest mistake they’ve made since they failed to secure a sell-on fee when John Aldridge left,” explained the Carmarthen Town manager.

“I’ve played in the top division and international football but this lad is the best I’ve seen in the air at any level.

“I can’t believe it. I’ve spoken to Justin about Christian and he says he hasn’t got any money,” he added.

Doidge, despite Newport’s rejection, would be still a wanted man however and another League Two side stepped in to take a closer look, with the offer of a trial at Dagenham & Redbridge.

Three pre-season appearances and two goals later – including a headed strike in the Daggers’ 2-1 defeat to a young Tottenham side – led to Dagenham offering Doidge professional terms, but they were then forced to retract their interest after being unable to make contact with senior officials at Richmond Park.

Dagenham boss Wayne Burnett took to the Dagenham Post to explain the unique situation: “I have tried to get in contact with the club to discuss the issue but the chairman isn’t answering his phone or responding to text messages so we are not pursuing him any further.”

“We offered Christian a deal and was told he would be able to leave on a free to a higher league club, but that’s not the case.

“I asked before his trial whether he would be available on a free otherwise we wouldn’t be able to afford him and I was told he was available. We wouldn’t have pursued the deal otherwise.

“I spoke to the player last Thursday and asked him whether he would be keen to make the move to London.

“He said that’d be okay and he would love the chance to play in the Football League, he even said he was available on a free.”

With Dagenham’s interest in Doidge cold, Burnett’s public criticism was not well received by Carmarthen Town, whose own version of events only added to the confusion that surround the proposed transfer.

Old Gold chairman Jeff Thomas wrote on the club’s website: “A formal written request was made by Dagenham, a Division 2 Club to allow Chris to go on trial with them, permission was granted on the basis that, should they wish to sign him, that I be informed in the first instance.”

“Two days after the end of his week-long trial period I received a telephone call from an agent (not Dagenham) informing me that Dagenham would like to sign Chris, that no fee would be offered but that a sell on clause in favour of Carmarthen Town would be offered and the possibility of a fee being paid after the playing of an agreed number of matches.

“I asked that Carmarthen Town be informed by Dagenham as to the exact position, given that there was a need to “firm up” on the conversation with the agent. I fully expected a written communication on a business matter such as this. On the following Wednesday 6th August, four days after the trial period I noted a missed call and a text message asking me to contact the Dagenham manager – due to other commitments I was unable to do so for some hours. I returned the call and replied to the text message giving a time that I would be sure to be available to answer. No call was received and to date no formal written contact has been made by Dagenham.”

Whichever side is to blame for the collapse of the move, there has clearly been a breakdown in communication somewhere along the line and it is Christian Doidge who suffers most, with his chance of a achieving a professional contract at a Football League club in balance.

Indeed, this has been recognised by Carmarthen, who hope to open up other avenues for Doidge by arranging trials at a Championship and League One club.

I’d like to think even if Doidge does remain a Carmarthen Town player going into the new season, a strong start to the campaign will again alert the attentions of clubs in the Football League and he will become the next striker to migrate from the WPL and into the professional game.

In the meanwhile, check out one of the league’s best assets whilst there is still time!

Looking ahead to TNS’ second-leg tie against Slovan Bratislava

A narrow first-leg deficit leaves The New Saints within touching distance of an extended European run. Tuesday night’s second-leg in Rhyl has an ‘all or nothing’ feel about it, as Welsh football holds its breath.

Last week’s UEFA draw added to the anticipation of Tuesday’s return leg at Belle Vue, Rhyl, with the winners of the TNS-Slovan Bratislava tie drawn against Moldovans Sheriff or Sutjeska of Montenegro (which Sheriff currently lead 2-0) in the Champions League third qualifying round.

Should TNS advance, they will again feel that they are on a competitive level with either of those sides and will also have the added bonus of dropping into the Europa League play-off round, should they be eliminated at that stage.

Better still and admittedly still a long way off, should TNS advance past Slovan Bratislava and the next round, they will be go into the Champions League play-off round where they will be a tie away from reaching the Champions League group stage, or at worst, a place in the Europa League group stage.

There is however, much to be done before we can even begin to consider the implications that would have on not just the club but the Welsh Premier League as a whole.

Although beaten, The New Saints will have left Slovakia having achieved their main objective to have kept the tie competitive for the home leg.

True, TNS rarely threatened the Slovan Bratislava goal last week but the Saints were able to keep themselves in the game, looking well-prepared, comfortable in possession and able to ride out spells of pressure from the hosts.

Bar the sporadic lapse in concentration, TNS looked well-drilled, fit and didn’t look out of place competing against the Slovakian champions.

Even the goal that settled the first-leg wasn’t anything out of the ordinary. Paul Harrison will have been disappointed to have been beaten at his near post by the low finish of advancing full-back Erik Cikos, who had broken free to find space too easily.

Tuesday’s return leg calls for a different approach to last week’s defeat and in need of a goal, the Saints must show more attacking impetus as opposed to nullifying Slovan Bratislava. It is also vital that they can shut out the Slovaks, as an away goal at any stage for the visitors would virtually give them an unassailable lead.

The presence of injured Phil Baker was sorely missed in central defence in the first-leg and Craig Harrison and Carl Darlington must be hoping to be able to draft him back into the side. They must also mull over the decision whether to recall veteran Steve Evans into the back four after a lengthy injury lay-off has meant that the former Welsh international has not played a competitive game since last February.

I would like to see another of the returning TNS players to be given a start at Belle-Vue and if fit, Alex Darlington should be given more than his 46th-minute substitute appearance. The underrated Darlington is capable of linking-up midfield and attack, and is neat in possession with an eye for goal. His presence could give the Saints the spark that is needed to make the breakthrough.

I really hope that TNS can count on a packed Belle Vue to spur them on to victory. It is unfortunate that the club are having to play their home leg over an hour away from their Park Hall base and the Saints are, quite rightly, offering sensible reductions to season ticket holders and club members for tickets and travel but I fear that the club’s decision to price tickets at £20 could deter non-season ticket holders and local supporters in North Wales from showing their support. I sincerely hope I’m wrong on that one.

For full ticket information via the club you can click here.

Good luck once again to The New Saints. You can post your comments ahead of the game below or on Twitter @1matthewburgess

Live blog: Slovan Bratislava v The New Saints

Good afternoon. I’ve been contemplating trying this for a while so this evening I’m going to try and run a live blog right here for TNS’ Champions League second qualifying round, first-leg tie against Slovakian champions Slovan Bratislava.

I’ll be posting updates before and during the game (kick-off 5:45 GMT), which you can watch live on S4C/Sgorio and I believe there will be live updates live commentary(!) on BBC Radio Shropshire.

You can get involved by sharing your views through the comments section below or on Twitter, by contacting me directly @1matthewburgess or by using the hashtag #tnsliveblog. I will share your comments as I update the blog.

My blog from yesterday previewing the game is available here. This page will be continually updated throughout and if it works, then I may be come back to it again during the Welsh Premier League season.

*Refresh your browser for updates*

Well that’s me done and my evening is certainly better knowing that the tie is very much alive for the second-leg. Thanks to those who have followed the blog tonight. Maybe I’ll do it again sometime, in the meanwhile keep your comments coming here or via Twitter. Catch up with you soon!

Reaction:

Full-time: Slovan Bratislava 1-0 TNS It’s all over and Slovan Bratislava take a slender 1-0 lead to North Wales for next week’s second-leg. TNS will be disappointed with the goal they conceded but the hosts deserve their lead. The tie is very much still alive however, which would have been Craig Harrison and Carl Darlington’s main objective going into this game. The big question is, can they squeeze anymore out of this TNS side to cancel out the first-leg deficit?

91 minutes TNS almost gifted a goal. The Slovan keeper finds himself cut short in possession and narrowly pulls off a drag back to just get past Wilde before scrambling the ball away to safety. TNS look to have done enough to have kept this tie alive for next week’s second-leg at Belle Vue.

89 minutes Sam Finley comes of for veteran Scott Ruscoe, who makes his 300th TNS appearance. Slovan also make a change as Grendel replaces the disappointing Halenár.

88 minutes “Keep the door firmly slammed,” says Sgorio pundit Tomi Morgan. Quite.

84 minutes Draper stripped on the touchline and ready to come on, replacing Aeron Edwards, who appears to have picked up a strain. TNS seemingly going with two forwards meaning they will have lost some of their defensive shape with Edwards leaving the field. So important for TNS not to concede a second goal, they’re just starting to look a little heavy-legged.

81 minutes Alex Darlington becomes the second TNS player to be cautioned. It was a niggly foul and a sign of frustration but I don’t think he’s done too bad since coming on for the second-half. Good player and I’d like to see him start the second-leg. Brief moment of pinball deep inside the TNS goalmouth, the ball fizzes behind for a late corner.

75 minutes Wilde and Darlington attempt to combine as TNS attempt to become more of an attacking threat in the closing stages. An away goal would transform this tie. I’d like to see Greg Draper get on the field.

72 minutes First change for the Slovaks, captain Zoftak is replaced by Trinidad winger Peltier. Meanwhile, Seargeant concedes a dangerous looking free-kick, centrally from around 25-yards out, which Halenár drives against the wall.

68 minutes Best effort of the game for TNS! Darlington feeds the ball to Michael Wilde, who sends a powerful effort wide. Encouraging! Greg Draper warming up for the Saints, could he be about to come on?

65 minutes Milinkovic with a drive from distance but straight at Harrison. Under half-hour remaining and TNS yet to threaten the Slovan Bratislava goal. The hosts are looking comfortable.

59 minutes Harrison saves at the feet of Jablonsky, TNS under considerable pressure since Slovan took the lead. They really need to get Aeron Edwards and Sam Finley on the ball and dictate a bit. The Saints starting to get back into it but their possession is all in their own half and unchallenged with Slovan happy to sit back.

52 minutes GOAL! Erik Cikos puts Slovan Bratislava ahead. The right-back drifts past Matty Williams and beats Paul Harrison with a low near-post finish from outside the area. Harrison should’ve done better and it was all a bit too easy.

50 minutes Halenar finds just enough space fires a neat cut-back, while Soumar again threatens to carve TNS open at Rawlinson’s expense. Dicey start for the Saints.

48 minutes

Second-half Refreshed and ready to go – TNS are back out too. Surprised to see such a small crowd at this match but apparently Slovan Bratislava’s supporters are in dispute over a ground move. Anyway, one change for the Saints. Alex Darlington replaces Ryan Fraughan. Not naturally a wide-player but very neat and comfortable on the ball.

Slovan out-shot TNS 9-1 in the first-half, the hosts managing 3 attempts on target. No cautions for either side.

Half-time: Slovan 0-0 TNS Craig Harrison and Carl Darlington will be encouraged with this first-half which at times got a little nervy. Got a feeling the words ‘caution’ and ‘concentration’ will be used in the Saints’ dressing room at half-time.

40 minutes Jablonsky bombs forward into space from the left-back position and delivers an inviting low cross. There’s a foul in the process however and TNS win a timely free-kick. Slovan working the flanks, TNS dropping off and keeping a narrow shape when not in possession.

34 minutes Suicidal defending by Rawlinson but TNS are let off the hook. The defender cheaply loses possession and Slovan quickly work the ball into the box before Ford fires wide. That was close!

28 minutes A moment’s hesitancy inside the area almost proves costly for TNS. Harrison also does his bit to raise the blood pressure of the TNS dug-out dribbling around a Slovan forward to play the ball out of his box. Early indications are good here but concentration is absolutely vital.

19 minutes TNS are well accustomed to retaining possession but they need to be wary of doing so when playing so deep. Meanwhile Mark Jones apologises to ‘female football fans, who don’t like football throughout the whole year’. Not your finest comment in hindsight Jonah! That noise you can hear is the Sgorio production team cringing…

17 minutes Dangerous spell for the hosts, TNS need possession to take some of the sting out of the game. Harrison did well to save low down. Slovan definitely look like they’re capable of scoring. TNS need to build on their start and maintain focus.

14 minutes Possession seems to be split 50/50. Irrelevant, but does anyone else find Slovan’s ‘Nike’ sponsor on their Adidas shirts mildly amusing?

8 minutes Both teams playing a passing game. Sgorio commentator Mark Jones estimating that there’s just a 1,000 in attendance. TNS look to have settled well and are looking to supply Wilde down the flanks.

4 mins Slovan, as expected, seeing more of the ball. TNS looking to play out from the back. Both sides 4-2-3-1. The pitch looks ok, though Craig Harrison mentioned earlier this week that he felt the grass was fairly long.

17:41 The Pasienky Stadium certainly appears far from sold out. TNS sporting their usual colours, Slovan play in light blue ala Coventry City. Milinkovic starts wide right, will be interesting to see how TNS deal with him early on.

17:39 Don’t forget, commentary available in Welsh and English on Sgorio’s live TV coverage.

17:37 Much of TNS’ hopes in this away leg could rest on the performance of Sam Finley. He enjoyed an excellent season last year, where for me, he established himself as the best player in the WPL. A number of Championship clubs have been closely monitoring his progress and these European matches could possibly be his last games for The New Saints.

17:28 Just over 15-minutes to go until kick-off and the Edwards/Rawlinson partnership in central defence is going to be crucial this evening. TNS would’ve been contemplating going with the more experienced pairing of Baker and Evans. Edwards featured heavily last season but Rawlinson only made 11 WPL starts last season. A big test for the 22-year-old awaits.

17:17 If you’re wondering where TNS winger Chris Jones is, the former Swan is currently on trial at Newport County, according to the South Wales Argus.

17:14 Serbian number 11 Marko Milinkovic, very much the man to watch in the Slovan Bratislava side based on current form. He scored twice on the weekend and also scored the week before, in the Super Cup final. I expect Chris Seargeant to be given the responsibility of keeping him quiet. Interestingly, no Vittek in the line-up or on the bench.

17:11

17:09

17:07 No place in the TNS XI for Steve Evans or Phil Baker. Connell Rawlinson and Kye Edwards form a central-defensive partnership. Greg Draper will have to be content with a place on the bench as Michael Wilde gets the nod up-front. Matty Williams and Ryan Fraughan will provide the width, with the regular midfield trio of Christian Seargeant, Aeron Edwards and Sam Finley looking to control things.

17:03

17:01 First-team coach Carl Darlington has identified Slovakian international Robert Vittek as Slovan’s dangerman for this tie but believes the Saints can go into the game with confidence. “Over the past week the players have taken the opportunity to watch DVDs of their opponents in action and we are looking to the game with confidence,” he told the Border Counties Advertizer. Heopfully we’ll have some teamnews pretty soon. Steve Evans could make his return after missing most of last season through injury but there are doubt’s over fellow central defender Phil Baker. Jamie Mullan has already been ruled out through injury.

16:45 Well, if anyone is bold to make any predictions on tonight’s game, please get in touch and I’ll mention them here. Conditions in the Bratislava are warm and cloudy with the temperature currently at 27 degrees.