The League Cup received some TLC from the FAW earlier in the season with new sponsors TheWord coming on board to give the competition a new lick of paint along with a revised, and frankly overdue, change of format.
The renamed TheWord Cup brought with it an end to the tedious first-round group stage and brought with it the introduction of a limited number of teams from the second-tier, widening interests and creating the possibility of level two sides creating an upset against their top-flight counterparts.
Although the latter didn’t happen as the Corbett Sports Welsh Premier League clubs came through unscathed in each of the four clashes against lower-league opposition but it’s fair to say that interests were broadened by the involvement of the extra eight clubs. And an extended run by any of the second tier sides would’ve further caught the attention of the Welsh footballing fraternity.
So, rumbling on towards mid-January, and with a host of sides scrambling to make the final place in the first stage of the WPL, our attention is briefly diverted to Saturday’s League Cup final.
Given the live TV treatment by Sgorio/S4C, Newtown’s Latham Park hosts the first ever Word Cup Final between Carmarthen Town and The New Saints on Saturday afternoon (3pm).
TNS enter the match as favourites – a point that Carmarthen chief Mark Aizlewood is keen to point out.
“We have nothing to lose on the day. TNS are expected to beat us comfortably especially as their players are full-time footballers who can train every day and plan their tactics accordingly. The fact we beat them in Oswestry last time we met is now ancient history and it does not mean the game is going to be easier for us. In fact, it makes the clash easier for them.”
In truth the margin is nearer than Carmarthen will lead you to believe. Their shaky start to the season aside, Aizlewood has a well-drilled side at his disposal, inspired of course by the influential Liam Thomas, who is quickly emerging as one of the stories of the season and forcing his way into the reckoning as a contender for Player of the Season.
Carmarthen recorded one of the results of the season so far in handing TNS a 3-0 defeat at Park Hall in late November. But recently awarded Manger of the Month, Carl Darlington has since turned his side’s fortunes around, with the Saints immediately responding by stringing together a seven-game unbeaten run.
“We have won the Cup several times over the years and aim to bring the Cup back to Park Hall again. We were disappointed last season getting knocked to Newtown in the semi-final but have worked hard to go one step further this year.”
Transfer window latest
On the transfer front, Airbus UK have shown their intent with addition of two promising youngsters in Luke McCarthy (Bury) and the most notable signing of the window so far with highly rated goalkeeper Jamie Stephens joining on loan from Liverpool.
The exodus of players from Llanelli, that many have predicted is yet to materialise athough the floodgates could open with the today’s confirmation that defender Kris Thomas has completed a move to Bangor City. Speculation is rife linking a host of other Reds’ players to clubs in the Welsh Premier League and beyond, with Luke Bowen to become the next WPL player to ply his trade in Australia.
Chad Bond – a familiar face amongst the southern WPL clubs – is back amongst the scene and the goals after scoring on his return to Port Talbot following a spell in the United States but the former Swansea City man will have to go some way to bettering the start that Mark Jones has enjoyed at Aberystwyth Town, following his move from basement side Afan Lido.
The striker grabbed a cool hat-trick in a 4-1 victory against Prestatyn last weekend after marking his debut with a goal the week before.
Two well-travelled goalkeepers are also with new clubs. The equally loved and loathed Lee Kendall dons the gloves once more, this time with Prestatyn Town. Former Wrexham, Airbus and Port Talbot stopper Kristian Rogers is also back and is briefed with the challenge of stemming the flow of goals against fast-sinking Afan Lido.
Expect activity in the transfer window to go up a couple of gears by the time the window expires in three weeks’ time.
Weekend betting odds:
There are also three WPL fixtures in action over the weekend in the penultimate round of fixtures before the league split. I’ll be back before next weekend’s deciding round with all the top-six permatations and betting news.
Fri: Bala 5/2 Draw 5/2 Bangor City 5/6
Fri: Connah’s Quay 15/8 Draw 5/2 Prestatyn 11/10
Sat: Aberystwyth 12/5 Draw 5/2 Airbus UK 10/11