Three weeks after the end of the regular Corbett Sports Welsh Premier League season, four remaining clubs will continue to vye for the third and final Europa League spot on Saturday.
At Maes Tegid, Bala Town host Prestatyn Town whilst Llanelli – on paper the strongest side if the four – face Aberystwyth Town in the weekend’s televised fixture.
The play-off candidates are determined by the final league positions of the 12-club Welsh Premier League. The league winners and runners-up automatically receive a European spot with the next highest five clubs being entered in the play-off, with the two-lowest placed sides playing an extra game to reach the semi-final.
Neath FC were the highest placed side to achieve a play-off place, finishing third, but were then embarrassingly forced to withdraw from the league. This allowed an unlikely opportunity for Aberystwyth Town to qualify for European football just weeks after avoiding relegation on the final day of the regular season.
But whilst the FAW have shown initiative in remodelling the previous tired league format by introducing the play-off’s, which has certainly accomplished its aim of keeping the season alive for more clubs, further fine-tuning of the format looks necessary, as Llanelli manager Andy Legg explains.
“We have only been able to train over the past three weeks with no chance of arranging any friendly fixtures at this stage of the season – it is also unfair on the club owners as they to have to pay the players a further three weeks’ wages for just training, with no income coming in,” Legg told the Evening Post.
A 26-point advantage over Aberystwyth during the regular season makes Llanelli clear favourites, but they will be wary that momentum could see the Ceredigion side through, on the back of a narrow 1-0 win at Airbus UK on Bank Holiday Monday.
Bala meanwhile are sure-shot favourites to advance against a Prestatyn side who have the going tough after qualifying for the Championship conference.
Prestatyn edged into the top-six before the league split after developing a reputation as one of the league’s most resilient sides. The North Walians deservedly gained recognition throughout the league as successive wins over Bangor City and Port Talbot Town typified the desire and self-belief that player/manager Neil Gibson had installed. But since then Prestatyn have been unable to break an abysmal run of form. With their last win coming in November, Prestatyn finished the regular season by taking just one point from 14 games – any manager other than Gibbo would’ve surely not survived such a woeful return.
Bala, under the stewardship of Colin Canton, have been the league’s most improved side. In January, Ian Sheridan was introduced to an already fearsome front-line which included Lee Hunt, who has hit 14 in 21 league starts, whilst the Lakesiders also possess one of the league’s most gifted footballer’s in midfielder Mark Jones
The Welsh Premier League season may be over-stretched but nobody can claim it’s predictable.
Bala should have too much quality for Prestatyn, whose grit and determination shown earlier in the season is surely long-lost? Bala to start slow but win 2-0.
Andy Legg’s worst fears to be confirmed as Aberystwyth take advantage of Llanelli’s ring-rust to edge to a scrappy 2-1 victory at Stebonheath, with Sean Thornton giving the visitors the edge.