All WPL clubs rated – the season so far.

With most of the clubs at the half-way point in the first-phase of the season, the story of the 2014/15 Welsh Premier League season is beginning to write itself. Events at the bottom of the table have proved more intriguing than life at the top, where Bangor City find themselves adrift at the foot of the table and The New Saints appear to be unchallenged in their defence of the title. I’ve rated each of the 12 WPL clubs in alphabetical order on their season so far, feel free to discuss here or via Twitter!

ABERYSTWYTH TOWN: 5th (5-3-3, 18 points)
It’s been a bit of mixed start for Aber, who after a solid unbeaten start hinted of being the main challengers to TNS’ crown, sharply lost momentum after being handed their first WPL defeat by Newtown. Aber have since lost two of their last three and their results against Bala Town seem to typify the Seasiders’ campaign where they won at home 4-0 before losing the return fixture last weekend by the same scoreline. Ian Hughes will be hoping the capture of ex-Premier League defender Stephen Wright will make the side harder to beat but while Chris Venables continues his quite outstanding form in front of goal, it’s worth noting he has scored all bar nine of Aberystywth’s WPL goals this season. Mark Jones has hit a respectable five goals in 11 appearances but if other players can weigh in a little more on the goalscoring front, Aber should easily push on past their current fifth-place standing. Rating C+

AIRBUS UK BROUGHTON: 3rd (6-2-3, 20 points)
Those who were hoping that Airbus would push TNS harder for the title this season can be disappointed with Wingmakers’ start this season as they already trail by nine points with three defeats giving TNS an early advantage. Although Andy Preece states that his team are nothing more than candidates to finish second in the table, it’s hard to see him being genuinely content in targeting a runner-up spot giving his fiercely competitive nature. With the introduction of young Elis Healing, Matty McGinn and the returning Jordan Barrow, the side does have a new look about it this year but whether it is as strong as last season’s side is open to debate and on the evidence so far, I would suggest not. Central to this is the side’s lack of goals, Chris Budrys has scored just once this term up-front while Andy Jones and Ryan Wade have both been used sparingly due to injuries. If Airbus are to muster a title-challenge then they have to avoid defeat to TNS in this Sunday’s televised fixture and if they can’t find rediscover their winning formula of last year, they might even face a fight for second spot. Rating D

BALA TOWN: 2nd (6-2-3, 20 points)
Despite being unfancied by some to take a top-six place, I always felt that the Lakesiders were due an improved season – I didn’t quite expect this though and Colin Caton and new addition Huw Griffiths must be delighted with their start. An unbeaten five-game start was abruptly ended when they were on the receiving end of a 4-0 defeat to TNS and a subsequent 4-0 loss at Aberystwyth and 2-1 reverse at home to Rhyl suggested that the wheels had come off. Bala responded superbly however by notching three-straight wins and with Caton rotating a front-three from Kieran Smith, Ian Sheridan, Mike Hayes and Mark Connolly the side look a real handful this season going forward. The summer arrival of midfielders James Kelly and Rob Pearson both look like excellent additions and key-man Mark Jones also seems to be rediscovering his form after strangely spending much of the early-part of the season on the bench. Aside from TNS, the top-six is very tight but Bala won’t be complaining with their start! Rating A

BANGOR CITY: 12th (0-2-8, 2 points)
Undoubtedly the story of the season, Bangor’s demise has caught everyone by surprise. Whether you gloat or mourn City’s inexplicably poor start (for the record, I’m neutral), their possible relegation would be a huge loss to the WPL. In contrast to the ruthless trend in football, the club have refreshingly made it clear that Nev Powell has their support and with the club’s public backing, Nev faces the biggest challenge of his managerial career. I found chairman Dilwyn Jones’ recent frank admission that oversight had allowed rival clubs to catch up, quite incredible for a club of Bangor’s size and the club’s faithful supporters should be seeking answers as to how that had been allowed to develop. Nonetheless, the side out on the field are still dramatically underachieving. City have switched from a back-three to a back-four but even the strongest of changing rooms will have found such a run of results testing and confidence must be rock-bottom for the Citizens. An assistant manager and new players are the order of the day – aging marksman Lee Hunt is heavily rumoured to be re-joining in January but such transition should’ve happened last summer, not midway through the season. I don’t believe Bangor will finish up in the bottom-two but they’ve already had more than quite a scare and picking two clubs worse than them at this moment in time is difficult. Rating F

CARMARTHEN TOWN: 4th (6-2-3, 20 points)
The Old Gold won’t win any prizes when it comes to playing attractive football but say what you like about manager Mark Aizlewood, he crucially knows how to assemble winning teams in the WPL and for that he must be applauded. Carmarthen are as uncompromising, resolute and tenacious as ever this season and they look a good bet for a top-six spot come January. Whilst the club were never going to get a like-for-like replacement for Christian Doidge, Aizlewood has down well to pluck Luke Prosser out of the Welsh League and he seems to be adapting well to the WPL, playing just ahead of the underrated Liam Thomas. Brooks, Bassett and Cummings can provide spark down the flanks, Paul Fowler is illustrious as ever as he closes in on the club’s WPL appearance record, while big Cortez Belle remains pivotal at both ends of the field. Few teams will enjoy playing Carmarthen and Aizlewood can take that as a compliment. Rating B+

CEFN DRUIDS: 8th (4-2-5, 14 points)
Cefn Druids cannot be accused of not taking a gamble. They axed all except two of last season’s promotion winning team and appointed John Keegan, a man with no WPL managerial experience, to lead them safety – and against the odds, they’re on track to achieving that. Many feared for the worse when an endless list of players were signed up by Druids in the summer but having now found a settled side, Keegan’s side look up for the challenge of fighting for their place in the top-flight. I’ve been most impressed with the character they’ve shown and Cefn Druids are not an easy team to beat – the fact they’ve won half of their away games so far this season says a lot about the changing room and that will serve them well later in the season. Lively forward Karl Noon, looks like a good acquisition, while TNS loanee Ryan Edwards and Craig Jones (what were Connah’s Quay thinking in releasing him?!) add quality to their five-man midfield. On the looks of it so far, Cefn Druids have been great addition to the WPL and they’ve given themselves an excellent platform to avoid the drop. Rating C+

CONNAH’S QUAY: 10th (2-3-5, 9 points)
The Nomads have not made the start that they’d have been hoping for but there are signs that the club are moving in the right direction, with an eight-game winless streak being ended with successive away wins. Whilst Connah’s Quay have failed to impress for much of their early campaign, their first victory arrived with an excellent 2-1 victory at Newtown and was immediately followed-up by an important 2-0 win against Bangor City to climb out of the bottom-two. Connah’s Quay are an ambitious club, make no bones about it, but based upon suggestions of a competitive budget this season the side have shown little quality so far this season. A good run of results would soon see them eat up the seven-point difference between themselves and the top-six but as things stand, I don’t see enough goals in a side which lacks attacking options. Young midfielder Sean Miller has been the highlight of their season so far but Connah’s Quay look over-reliant on the aging Ricky Evans and Gary O’Toole to cause the top-half of the table too much concern. Rating D

NEWTOWN: 7th (4-3-4, 15 points)
Unfancied Newtown have done well to maintain last season’s form but despite having a compact but talented squad, inconsistency threatens to undermine the Robins’ top-six aspirations. I really like the look of Chris Hughes’ Newtown side which are well-organised and try and play good football. They’ve also had to deal with injuries to experienced players but have kept on with mixed success. Newtown were desperately unfortunate not to come away with a point against TNS last weekend but are very much in touching distance of the top-half of the table. Jason Oswell has arrived from a brief but unsuccessful spell at Airbus and has slotted in up-front remarkably well with nine goals in 11 games, giving Newtown some of the firepower that was lacking at times last season. If they can tighten up their home form, they should be make the cut once again. Rating C+

PORT TALBOT: 6th (5-1-5, 16 points)
Like Newtown, Port Talbot need to overcome inconsistency if they are to claim a top-six place though new manager Jarred Harvey will be encouraged with the progress his side have made so far. Following last season’s disappointing campaign, Harvey along with a host of new signings have given Port Talbot a new lease of life, though can they settle enough to make the top-six cut? The Steelmen have been excellent at home this season but it is on the road where points have been dropped and they must find a way of ironing out their away form. Steve Cann, Corey Thomas and Carl Evans have solidified the side, while Luke Bowen and Keyon Reffell have brought some much-needed spark. Up front, Martin Rose appears sharper than he has done so for the last few seasons and with Rhys Griffiths’ experience and goalscoring instinct, this Port Talbot side are well-equipped to finish top-six. Rating C

PRESTATYN: 11th (2-2-7, 8 points)
Pre-season predictions that Prestatyn would find the going tough this year seem well-founded with the side recording just one victory since their opening day win over Connah’s Quay. Despite that, you sense the club are looking further afield than the immediate season and are blooding in a number of locally-based players. Indeed, the idea seems to be that even if the club are relegated at the end of the season they will have a core of young players which will be allowed to develop and attempt to regain promotion if a stronger, more experienced squad. It’s a modest approach by Prestatyn and without wishing to sound patronising, who can blame them for cutting their cloth accordingly and working towards a long-term objective? There are still plenty of familiar faces in Neil Gibson’s squad but the future seems to be set around the likes of Ryan Dean, Dale Lee, Zyaac Edwards, James Stead and Jordan Davies. Rating C

RHYL: 9th (3-2-6, 11 points)
Rhyl must be one of the more frustrating teams to support this season and I just can’t make my mind up on them. Just when they appear to be turning the corner they slump again and unless Greg Strong can arrest that trend, the Lilywhites aren’t going to be good enough to claim a spot in the top-six. After a poor start , their home victory over rivals Bangor City seemed to be the turning point before they falling to a heavy home defeat to Port Talbot. Powerful centre-forward Aaron Bowen has been a real find by Strong and he looks to be a quality addition to the WPL but other than him and Liam Dawson, Rhyl don’t have a single player who’s scored more than once. They’ve picked up just one win at home so far this term, making the compact Belle-Vue a fortress would be definite step in the right direction. There could be some work to be done in the January window. Rating D

THE NEW SAINTS: 1st (9-2-0, 29 points)
The league’s only unbeaten side appear to be unchallenged and are on-par to pick-up the WPL title for a fourth time in a row. Whether TNS have stepped up the quality again this year or whether the chasing pack have fallen away is debatable, but as far as the growth of the WPL is concerned, with respect, the Saints’ dominance of the league is bordering unhealthy. They have already forged a nine-point lead, which could turn to 12 this weekend, if they can see off Airbus, who are were widely expected to be TNS’ closest challengers. It is of credit to Craig Harrison and Craig Darlington that TNS avert complacency in a competition in which they are so clearly superior and the fact that the TNS players’ greatest competition comes for the fight for places within the squad itself is a worrying sign for the league. That said, TNS can only beat what’s put in front of them and they generally do that with conviction and a style that is a pleasure to watch. The side are pretty much the same as last year and bare no real surprises. I’d love to be able to write about a neck-and-neck title race but (and Craig Harrison won’t like me for saying this) the league is as good as won already and we’re not even into November.  Rating A

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