Phase one of the Dafabet Welsh Premier League season was completed on Saturday, marking the end of an action packed five months between all 12 premier league clubs. From record breaking runs, shock departures and eight goal games, we’ve picked seven reasons on why it’s been a memorable phase one campaign.
The New Saints set new record
The Phase One of 2016/17 will go down in history as it saw TNS’ record breaking run of 27 games won consecutively.
In the summer there was growing consensus that they would be seriously challenged for the title this season, but they brushed aside the likes of Bala Town and gap Connah’s Quay to go onto break Ajax’s record of 26 consecutive games won in 1972.
It was perhaps fitting that on the final day of Phase One their run came to an end, when a last gasp equaliser from Newtown’s Jamie Price meant The New Saints had dropped points for the first time this season.
Their winning run is over, but the incentive of an even longer unbeaten record will see them continue to chase an ultra-early title win in Phase Two.
The Students stay
No one tipped Cardiff Met FC for a top six finish – after all, they were entering the top flight for the very first time and housed a squad of young students.
These students, however, had different ideas and after a shaky start stunned the league by launching a real challenge for the top six with five and four nil thrashings of Cefn Druids and Bangor City respectively.
Their top six campaign nearly went down to the very last day, with a 3-1 defeat at the hands of Carmarthen casting doubt over their chances, but thanks to Cefn Druids’ defeat of Aberystwyth and inferior goal difference, their spot was secured.
Cardiff will experience an unprecedented level of intensity in phase two, but with their main objective of survival achieved, they are already being tipped as dark horses for Europa League qualification.
Shocks at the bottom
The fight against relegation is ever-fierce in the WPL, but few expected to see the likes of Newtown and Airbus UK FC battling it out in the basement.
After being knocked out of the play-off semi finals in May, Newtown struggled to find consistency in the first half of this season. They’ve recorded just four wins so far this season, but ended phase one in sensational fashion by becoming the first team to take points off TNS this season. This result will bode well for the Robins as they look to avoid a relegation battle.
Airbus UK have suffered a drastic change in fortunes in Phase One. From qualifying for Europe for three consecutive seasons, they’re now rock bottom of the league with 15 points from 22 games.
Airbus’ demise began in May, when a play off final defeat against local rivals Connah’s Quay forced them to operate on a stricter budget. Then, just two days before the start of the season, manager Andy Preece left the club with long time Airbus coach Andrew Thomas taking his place.
The effects of this turbulent summer carried on throughout Phase One, but their final game before the split offered hope as they emphatically defeated Bangor 4-2 at home. They must build on this result, or face the very real prospect of relegation to the Huws Gray Alliance.
The season is far from over, but one of its best stories can already be found at Rhyl FC. After being saved from relegation via a licensing technicality, they were one of the first teams tipped for relegation before a ball was even kicked.
This prediction looked ever-more likely after their 10-0 thrashing from TNS, but Niall McGuinness’ side bounced back to go on a run of five games unbeaten. At this point the top six was within their reach, but Jekyll and Hyde form saw the Lilywhites slip back into the bottom half of the league.
Despite this spirits will be high at the ninth-placed club, with a recent contract renewal for manager McGuinness proving the club’s commitment to fighting the drop with him at the helm.
Goals, goals, goals
For a league that is often lambasted for being boredom, the Welsh Premier saw an impressive amount of goals and games to boot during phase one. A total of 392 goals have hit the back of WPL nets across the country, with 12 more weekends to go yet.
The New Saints are unsurprisingly the biggest supplier of goals, looking well on their way to scoring over 100 this season with 77 scored so far. The lowest scoring team is Llandudno, a contributing factor to their phase two in the bottom six.
With a flurry of goals has came great games, including Cefn Druids’ dramatic 4-3 win over Rhyl, Bala Town’s eight goal thriller draw at The Rock, and Newtown’s halting of TNS’ record breaking run with a 3-3 draw of the final day.
Drama at Nantporth
Bangor City FC have divided opinion in the league so far, but one thing can’t be denied: they’re back.
After two seasons in the bottom six, the appointment of Andy Legg transformed the club back into serious competitors for a European qualification. However, the shock departure of Legg in November rocked Citizens fans and the whole of the Welsh football scene in an unexpected mutual agreement between Legg and the club.
Ian Dawes took charge and successfully secured top six qualification – but after a 4-2 defeat at Airbus on the final day of Phase One, a furious Dawes promised changes will be made if necessary.
Whatever phase two brings for Bangor, they look certain to keep making headlines all around the Welsh Premier.
The fight for Europe
The top six is this season comprised of The New Saints, gap Connah’s Quay, Bala Town, Bangor City, Cardiff Met and Carmarthen Town – and five of those teams will be gunning for Europa League qualification.
Although gap and Bala are currently battling it out for the automatic qualification spot of second, Bangor, Cardiff and Carmarthen will all push for Europe in the summer. Furthermore, the likes of Llandudno, Aberystwyth and Newtown will fancy the play offs as their ticket to the continent.
After their final day clash, both Colin Caton and Andy Morrison spoke of their high expectations for phase two, with all twelve teams set to bring their own unique mix of tactical strategy, strength, composure and above all passion.
On the back of a successful phase one, Welsh Premier fans can look to the next four months of phase two football with a confident feeling of excitement.