After the first round of games TNS have already forged a two point lead over their two main title rivals as Bala Town and Connah’s Quay were both held to goalless draws.
Twenty-four hours prior to the Saints’s 2-1 win over a spirited Aberystwyth Town at Park Hall, Bala got off to a somewhat lacklustre start to their keenly anticipated opener with dominant hosts Newtown coming away disappointed to have only claimed a point. In the first televised game of the season, Connah’s Quay boss Andy Morrison said he was satisfied with his team’s point in Carmarthen. It was a strange game considering, the Nomads definitely would have been expected to take three points but when Old Gold defender Lee Surman had more than a slice of good fortune in avoiding a likely red card for his late challenge, and the Nomads themselves had a man reduction when Ian Kearney saw red, you can see why Morrison was pleased to return home without a major setback.
Although both managers will steer well clear from any talk hyping them as title contenders, both clubs will be expecting to push on from last season after a busy summer of transfer activity. A look through the list of players who have arrived in recent months confirms Bala and Connah’s Quay have two very strong squads at their disposal and to suggest they are now well enough equipped to seriously threaten TNS’s five-year reign as Welsh Premier champions is not premature talk.
The striking difference for me this season is the sheer strength in depth that the two sides now possess. They have added quality upon quality and Andy Morrison and Colin Caton have a wealth of options available to them – it could even be argued too many. Even if they part ways with a couple of fringe players towards the end of the transfer window both managers are left with an array of players and options in which they can tweak and deploy in whatever playing system they feel necessary.
Take Connah’s Quay for example, even after the departure of Paul Linwood, they still possess four proven WPL central defenders in Ian Kearney , George Horan, Mike Pearson and Chris Rimmer – this from a team which played a back-four with two centre backs against Carmarthen Town at the weekend. In midfield, the Nomads again have a plethora of options and depth, and in attack they can select any of Michael Wilde, Les Davies, Matty Williams, Ashley Ruane and Nick Rushton and be left with a more than able combination.
Whilst a squad like the Nomads’ will be of envy to many of the other WPL managers it brings with it a new challenge. The sense of potential and exception at Connah’s Quay and Bala Town will be greater than ever this season and it’ll be a challenge for Morrison and Caton to consistently find the right approach and the right personnel when naming their teams, as well as keeping players out of the team happy. The margins are thinner than ever and should TNS hit upon a relentless unbeaten streak, the pressure will be on Bala and Connah’s Quay to maintain the pace. The two clubs have already conceded ground in giving the defending champions a head-start – the title race is already underway.
KEY TIME FOR AIRBUS
From an outside perspective, it appears that Airbus (excuse the pun) are stalling. Formerly leading the chasing pack behind TNS, Airbus look to have lost ground this summer as Bala Town and Connah’s Quay were able to strengthen their already strong squads, while the Wingmakers were setback with the departures of a considerable number of first-team players. The club should not be criticised for cutting their cloth accordingly with a perceived cut in budget after missing out on European football thanks to defeats in the Welsh Cup and Play-Off finals but the departure of manager Andy Preece signals a crucial period of time for the club.
Airbus must take stock and formalise realistic short, medium and long-term objectives as they plan to appoint their next permanent manager. I’ve read some criticism of Airbus recently but it should not be forgotten they still have some quality players at the club – Tony Gray and left-back Matty McGinn are among the best players in the league, while WPL Young Player of the Year James Murphy and Kevin Monteiro possess bags of potential.
They may well not be the force they were three or four seasons back, but coming off a good home win on the opening weekend against an expectedly well-organised Cardiff Met side, Airbus shouldn’t be written off just yet as they look to readjust.
UPDATE: Airbus have since pointed out that Andrew Thomas has been appointed as full-time manager despite no previous announcement confirming this.
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Front page image courtesy of NCM Media.