Play-off semi-finals prove step too far for Robins; Carmarthen left licking wounds

The fall-out from the play-off semi-final leaves us with a North Wales coast derby to look forward towards next weekend as Bangor City host Rhyl. Carmarthen and Newtown are left to reflect on successful seasons, but there is much to do over the summer months.

The entire season will go right to the wire for the North Wales rivals, with European qualification to be decided over 90-minutes following deserved victories from their respective semi-final ties last weekend.

Bangor had to wait until almost the hour-mark for Chris Jones to breach the Newtown defence and the 1-0 scoreline certainly did not reflect the hold that a dominant City’s had on the game.

In truth, Nev Powell’s side made hard-work of Newtown. The Robins – as good as they’ve been this season, landing a fifth-place finish in the league – were out of steam and ideas as the semi-final stage proved to be a step too far for their small squad.

The pace of their attacking trident of Luke Boundford, Matthew Hearsey and Neil Mitchell rarely failed to trouble the Bangor rearguard, and the hosts would’ve have only had themselves to blame if Newtown were able to dig out a route back into the game, after spurning a host of late chances.

It should also be noted that Bangor were considerably fortunate in the first-half when Declan Walker (who otherwise enjoyed an excellent game) somehow avoided a red-card from match official Huw Jones for recklessly sliding in with his foot raised in what was a very poor challenge on Craig Williams.

For me, the match highlighted the biggest concern I presently have about Newtown. Though hard-working and well-organised, their lack of strength in depth ultimately proved telling come the end of a gruelling season. Speaking post-match, manager Chris Hughes reiterated that club needed to build on the progress which had been made in an excellent campaign. It will be interesting to see how well the Robins compete again next season, operating on one of the league’s lower budgets, though early signs are encouraging with key defensive trio Craig Williams, Kieran Mills-EvansShane Sutton and winger Hearsey all wasting no time in committing themselves to another season at Latham Park, which is due to have a 3G surface fitted this summer.

Elsewhere, few expected the one-sided nature of the other semi-final in South Wales as Carmarthen were swept away by Rhyl. In my blog last week, I had tipped Carmarthen to advance to the final with Rhyl arriving into the game on the back of a shoddy run of results. At 1-1, Carl Evans’ dismissal for handball early in the second-half proved to the turning point and the floodgates opened as Rhyl made their man advantage count, rallying to a most unlikely 6-1 win, that would have been beyond the expectations of even the most ardent of Lilywhite supporters.

The manner of the defeat will have hurt Carmarthen – a side who can look back on the campaign with a large degree of success, having reclaimed theWord Cup and secured a third-place finish in the table – but recent events mean that it is shaping up to be a summer of intrigue at Richmond Park.

Monday’s announcement from the club confirming the departure of general manager Kevin Morris to Newport County and player/coach Craig Hughes, who assumes a director of football role working with Jarred Harvey at Port Talbot Town, creates a big void in recently-awarded manager of month Mark Aizlewood and the Carmarthen manager will also be forced to address the loss of two key players to their South Wales rivals, with midfielders Liam McCreesh and Keyon Reffel following Hughes down the M4 to the GenQuip Stadium.

It’s been fascinating to see so many clubs being proactive in firming up their squads for next season before the dust has even settled on the current season.

After coming off what has arguably been his best season in the Welsh Premier League with Aberystwyth, April player of the month Geoff Kellaway has pledged his future to the Seasiders despite rumoured interest from The New Saints, who themselves have offered a one-year full-time deal to rookie midfielder Ryan Kershaw.

I’ll try and keep up to speed with player movement but suggest checking the clubs official websites/social media and usual outlets for comprehensive detail.

I’ll post a blog later this week looking ahead to the weekend’s Europa League play-off final between Bangor and Rhyl – a game which I suspect will conclude the domestic season with a bang.

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