Congratulations to The New Saints’ on a fourth-straight league championship and an unprecedented ninth title…
The manner of The New Saints’ title-sealing performance over Bala Town on the weekend mirrored that of their latest successful Welsh Premier League campaign.
Cool, controlled and clinical – there was little doubt as to where the points were heading on Saturday afternoon and the same could’ve been said in August when there was equally as little doubt as to who the league champions would be this season.
Scour the European leagues and you will struggle to find a more one-sided title race than what the WPL has witnessed this season. Even Celtic have had to withstand some form of challenge from Aberdeen, who even with the remotest of chances of winning the Scottish Premiership, have admirably gone almost the distance in keeping a hold of Celtic’s coattails.
Back in Wales, with the WPL title comfortably sewn up, the Saints will now aim to finish the season unbeaten and capture the Welsh Cup, a feat that would see them achieve a clean-sweep of trophies in 2014/15. Yet it feels they have done so without breaking sweat.
TNS’s current grip on Welsh domestic football is one of sheer dominance but do they get the credit they deserve?
It’s undeniable that TNS have a sizeable advantage over their competitors – their status as the league’s only fully professional club gives them a sizeable head-start against opposition players who typically play alongside their full-time occupations.
The club’s professional status affords them far more time for training and preparation than any other WPL side, and you would expect that they also possess the largest playing budget but that in itself doesn’t guarantee success and certainly not to the extent that TNS have enjoyed in recent years.
Before their demise, Neath briefly joined TNS in the professional ranks assembling a squad with a well-documented high wage bill and reputable names to match. That in itself wasn’t enough to guarantee success and even in their heyday, Neath were seen off by a Saints squad which was somewhat weaker than compared to their current side.
For the neutral and their rival clubs, TNS’s dominance can cast a depressing shadow. There’s no sign on the horizon to even suggest of a challenge to their Welsh Premier dynasty and given the strength of the foundations that TNS have build themselves on, it’ll take a considerable challenge indeed.
And that’s where TNS and Craig Harrison deserve credit and recognition.
Under Harrison they have improved themselves without fail season-upon-season. The core of the squad has remains but it is continually upgraded gradually without disruption and without losing any of their oppressive momentum. Some may question the club’s European record but I believe the TNS squad is stronger year on year and Champions League progression – the Holy Grail for the club and Welsh football – cannot be too far away now.
Not once, in the most comfortable of seasons, have TNS lacked motivation or desire – even in matches in which they predictably ease to victory. Throughout any level of football, how many times does a supposedly superior side lack the mental balance to give them a true advantage? Craig Harrison and his coaching staff should be applauded for installing the focus and professional application that TNS deliver week in, week out as they avoid complacency, and the standards expected from Harrison’s squad are now becoming as predictable as the results they deliver.
You can guarantee Craig Harrison will be demanding the same from his side for their (now-meaningless) last five WPL games as he did from their first five games of the season. The term ‘integrity’ has become something of a buzz word throughout the Welsh Premier League this season, but how TNS conduct themselves under Harrison is commendable.
TNS don’t have the constraints that others clubs face but that in turn presents them with their own unique challenges. However you look at it, their high standards begin from home.