This season is shaping up to be the most competitive since the 12-club play-off format was adopted. Every club, whether in public or private, will have ambitions of making the top-six cut but realistically, there are only three spots open to nine teams.
Even after just four rounds of fixtures, I don’t think it’s outrageous to suggest that last season’s top-two The New Saints and Airbus UK look poised to repeat their dominance and that Aberystwyth Town also look like grabbing a top-six spot. I also don’t think it’s too bold to suggest that these will be the top-three come the end of the season – taking a guess at the remaining three sides to finish in the top-half however, is just a complete stab in the dark.
The bottom-three of the table currently features three of the sides who many will have tipped pre-season to be in that final figure. Rhyl, Connah’s Quay and Bangor City are all still searching for that elusive first win. You feel that the Nomads are just needing that first win to help things fall into place but a visit to Park Avenue tomorrow night is probably the last thing they’d have wanted after suffering a heavy defeat to TNS. And few would’ve been expecting the need for a first win to be the backdrop of the game ahead of Sunday’s live TV fixture when Bangor City travel across the North Wales coast to face Rhyl (1.00).
Arguably the two best-supported teams in the WPL, it is something of a shock to see both sides with just a single point alongside their names in the league table. Rhyl, I feel, have never quite got going after a strange opening day defeat at Carmarthen, where down to nine-men for most of the game, they were narrowly beaten in what was an otherwise encouraging team performance. Early suspensions, four red cards in two games, will have made it hard for Greg Strong to extract some early season momentum and form from his side but losing games in a league as competitive as this can become an unwanted habit all-too-easily.
And what of Bangor? In truth, I’m yet to see them properly this season and look forward to doing so on Clwb (can we at least still call it Sgorio?) on Sunday but whether rightly or wrongly, I’m being told that they really are struggling to impress and not looking convincing.
The WPL is a healthier place with a club as big as Bangor City doing well in it but despite a late run of form last season, I can’t say I was overly impressed with the side. Nev Powell will certainly believe he has the players to have them competing at the higher end of the table but I’m not sure whether the squad has been strengthened enough over the summer and worry that the Citizens could be set for campaign similar to that of Port Talbot’s uninspiring season last year.
On paper at least, Port Talbot had a squad to be feared but performances and results were barren and after missing out on the top-six and losing ground in the race for seventh, the season couldn’t end soon enough for the underachieving Steelmen.
Change beckoned at the GenQuip Stadium and the early indications are that they are at least due a better season but it was their South Wales neighbours Carmarthen, who were at the centre of the biggest shock last weekend, being sunk 8 (EIGHT as the vidiprinter would say) -1 by impressive Bala Town.
Carmarthen, for me, have not been as good as their early results had suggested but they are without a question a better side than the one that turned up at Maes Tegid last Sunday. After watching the highlights you can only give credit to Bala – who I really think have the makings of a good side this year –and put the manner of the defeat down as one of those random results that seem to spring up from time to time.
I’m going to be at Richmond Park this Saturday and I’m looking forward to seeing how they respond for the visit of Newtown. Mark Aizlewood possesses a relatively small squad there and I think he will act wisely in his approach and resist from overhauling his side, and instead give the majority of his players the chance to get the performance out of their system and put a right to a few wrongs in front of a home crowd.
The Robins have blown, hot and cold at the start of their season and will need to be wary of the wounded animal!
Enjoy the weekend’s games.