So after 126 matches, the top-six will finally be decided this coming Saturday afternoon with five clubs in contention for those remaining two places.
Connah’s Quay and Newtown are in pole position to join TNS, Bala Town, Llandudno and Airbus UK in the top-six for the second phase of the season, but Carmarthen, Aberystwyth and Bangor City will all be hoping to capitalise should either club slip-up.
The official Welsh Premier site explains in their weekend preview:
Aberystwyth Town, Bangor City and Carmarthen Town all must win to have any chance making the Top Six in Phase Two of this season’s competition. A point should be enough for gap Connah’s Quay and Newtown to cement their place in the Championship Conference (permitting heavy scorelines with gap v TNS and Carmarthen v Rhyl).
If any of the clubs are level on points to determine the final two places for the Championship Conference it will come down to goal difference, then goals for and if need be matches won.
The outcome of the top-six will be decided across four matches but all eyes will be on the live Sgorio clash between mid-Wales rivals Aberystwyth and Newtown.
With a point more than likely to be enough for Newtown to make the cut, Aberystwyth, a favourite for many to make the top-six, look destined to miss out and their hopes of European qualification seem dependant on them finishing seventh and winning the play-offs, a considerable task indeed.
The Seasiders however only have themselves to blame. With games in-hand, it can be argued that they had an advantage going into the final run-in of first phase games and they should be home and dry now having securing that top-half finish – instead, three straight home defeats to sides below them in the table has seen their campaign collapse.
While the top-six (aka the Championship Conference) will see an interesting mix of clubs wrestling for automatic European qualification and an advantageous play-off place for those who miss out, you can expect an epic scrap in the bottom-six (aka the Play-Off Conference) as clubs look to claim a back door entry into the play-off’s via seventh-place while also fighting off relegation.
It’s already incredibly tight at either end of the table but what if it was even closer?
One of the major objections to the league’s confusing format is that the second-half of the season can be unspectacular at the top end of the table.
To an extent, I agree with this however I’m yet to see a better solution which offers a more practical format, and after the race for those coverted top-six places, there can be a lull in drama and excitement until the play-offs arrive.
This isn’t helped by TNS’ dominance at the top of the table and the general feeling is ‘So what if you finish third or sixth, does it really make that much difference?’.
So what if we ramped the excitement up a notch or two? What if the points reset themselves at the end of Phase One?
It would undoubtedly guarantee excitement at both ends of the table but for the top clubs it would undermine the first half of the season, leaving it as a race to secure a top-six spot then the rest of the games would become meaningless until the split.
TNS’ nine-point lead would be immediately scratched at the top of the table, while Haverfordwest, six points adrift from safety, would be given an instant reprieve as the top-six 22-game marathon turns into a 10-game sprint in Phase 2.
Would resetting point totals improve the standard and quality of the league? I personally the feel that the standard this year has dropped with clubs and players throughout the league unable to perform consistently, even unbeaten TNS who dropped a spate of points last month, aren’t as strong as we’ve seen them previously in my view.
It’s an idea that I’m not completely against however controversial it would be. Certain clubs are likely to strongly object – but it could go some way to readdressing the balance within the WPL which would lead to healthier, more sustainable competition.
As always, let me know your thoughts in the comments section below or send them to me on Twitter @1matthewburgess.
Enjoy the final round of Phase 1 games this weekend, as we’ve already seen, nothing can be ruled in, or out, this season!