With the League Cup settled as TNS unsurprisingly retained the trophy after seeing off Denbigh Town (who certainly didn’t embarrass themselves), the Welsh Premier League returns this weekend with the start of Phase 2.
The other 11 WPL clubs have had a week to catch their breath before embarking on the final 10 games games of the season in their respective conference.
Connah’s Quay and Newtown both secured their top-six places on the final day of Phase 1 a fortnight ago and it’ll be fascinating to see how both the Championship (top-six) and Play-Off Conference (bottom-six) pan out.
Today, we look at three storylines worth following from the Play-Off Conference where just 12 points separates the six teams. Tomorrow we’ll look at the Championship Conference.
Can Haverfordwest rally in Phase 2?
The league’s basement side start Phase 2 two points adrift nearest side Rhyl and seven points from safety but are Haverfordwest about to kick-start their campaign? The form book doesn’t make for good reading but when you look beyond the results, there are indications that County are growing in belief and perhaps beginning to find their feet in their return season in the WPL.
In six of their last seven defeats, County were beaten by a one goal margin. A distinct lack of goals has been the obvious problem facing manager Wayne Jones but with Luke Borrelli single-handedly carrying the side’s goalscoring responsibilities and a relatively solid defensive platform, should one or two County players start to weigh in with a few goals that gap at the bottom of the table could quickly diminish.
Aberystwyth must perform U-turn to save season.
It’s not been a good season for Aberystwyth Town I’m afraid, and after coughing and spluttering their way over the Phase 1 finishing line, Phase 2 could represent a long hard slog for the Seasiders. The task here for manager Ian Hughes is relatively straightforward on paper it seems: tighten up a leaking defence and re-establish Park Avenue as a fortress once again for visiting clubs, but that in reality could prove far trickier to accomplish.
The manner in which Aberystwyth collapsed, when in a good position to challenge for a top-six place, will be a big concern to Hughes and his assistant Wyn Thomas; as will the clear lack of discipline which was so apparent in their closing Phase 1 game with Newtown which evidently showed frustrations are high. There’s a growing feeling that all is not well within the Aber camp at present and Hughes and Thomas are presented with the major task of steadying the ship and turning things around.
The emergence of young prospects Liam Jacques and Jack Rimmer (just 16 years old!) have been rare bright spots in Aberystwyth’s season so far but I don’t believe the club have added enough to their squad following on from last season. The January transfer window has so far remained relatively quiet for Aber with the exception of of returning forward Jonathan Evans from the Mid-Wales League. The club must also fill the void left by striker Jamie Reed now that he has been recalled by TNS from his loan spell. Is Ian Hughes getting enough backing?
Bangor City: Play-Off hotshots or relegation candidates?
It’s fair to say the Welsh Premier League has been erratic in terms of results this season but I don’t think there’s a club who’ve been quite as erratic as Bangor City.
Suffering City fans must be perplexed with their side’s form which even gave them an outside chance of reaching the top-six on the final round of Phase 1 games. I’ve always been of the opinion that a healthy WPL needs a Bangor City side competing at the top end of the table but as they go into Phase 2, I think they have just as good a chance of finishing top of the Play-Off Conference as they do as finishing in one of the relegation places, such is their own inconsistent form and nature of the league.
For me there are two determining factors which will decide Bangor’s season: injuries and recent signing Steve Lewis.
The Citizens have a squad limited in size and Nev Powell has openly admitted that they can become unhinged if missing three or four players. Powell has limited options beyond his starting XI but has he pulled a rabbit out of the hat in the signing of Steve Lewis?
I wasn’t enthused when it was announced Bangor had signed Lewis. He’s typically made an impact over a short period of time before leaving clubs under a cloud – but could that be about to change at Nantporth? He certainly fits the bill of the powerful, target-man type forward that City need – a void unfilled since the exit of you-know-who last summer – and it’s worked for Bangor so far. The fear with Lewis is should things turn sour, then Powell will be back at square one, outside of the transfer window, lacking goals with a paper-thin squad. Should injuries take their toll they may be spending more time looking over their shoulder than in front them.
Alternatively, Steve Lewis could thrive at a club of Bangor’s stature. Lewis will have the backing of a strong vocal fanbase, who’ll welcome match winning performances from a combative number 9 with open arms – and if City can get the rub of the green with injuries, they should be considered capable of holding their own in the Play-Off Conference and able to edge their way to seventh-spot.
I just think anything could happen with Bangor City in Phase 2, anything.
Tomorrow I’ll be looking ahead further up the table at the Championship Conference.
Image courtesy of Haverfordwest County.