The date is May 2nd 2016. The venue is Wrexham FC’s Racecourse Ground. Airbus UK Broughton, a stalwart of the Welsh Premier League have gone down 2-0 to former boss Craig Harrison’s TNS in the Welsh Cup Final.
Despite their disappointment, there are plenty of positives after a largely competitive performance against the newly-crowned double winners, who are once again proving to be the dominant force in domestic Welsh football.
Nearly 12 months later, and that day out in North Wales arguably feels further away than ever.
A 2-1 defeat away to fellow relegation rivals Rhyl finally extinguished the Wingmakers’ admittedly slim survival hopes, ending a 13-year stay in the top flight in the process.
So where has it all gone wrong?
Interestingly, the Wingmakers’ woes arguably began just 12 days after that Cup Final defeat, as a 1-0 loss at home to local rivals Connah’s Quay in the Europa League qualification play-off denied Andy Preece’s men a fourth consecutive appearance in the preliminary stages of Europe’s secondary competition, setting off a chain reaction that would come to define a season.
A turbulent summer followed, leaving boss Andrew Thomas, who took over the hot seat after Preece left the club by mutual consent on the eve of the new season, with an increasingly unenviable task in trying to steady the ship.
As Thomas explains: “We didn’t really have a preseason. We had no preseason games and we didn’t really have a proper summer of preparation to be honest.
“Obviously we didn’t get to Europe which led to a budget cut. If you look at the players who left, it was always going to be tough.”
A total of 18 players have left for pastures news this season, with the average age of those departures standing at around 27, depriving the squad of a valuable and experienced spine, although a winless run of 12 league games just before the mid-season split would nevertheless have come as a shock to the Airfield’s biggest pessimist.
Their catastrophic fragility has arguably stemmed from the back. Only Rhyl have shipped more league goals so far this season, and that’s only due to the Lilywhites’ spectacular 10-0 defeat to champions TNS.
The experienced heads of defenders Ian Kearney, Mike Pearson and Lee Owens, all of whom left as part of the mass clear out, have clearly been sorely missed, despite a sizeable recruitment drive in the January transfer window.
“The goals we’ve been conceding have been on the back of mistakes and bad marking and second balls,” Thomas added. “No one’s really ever scored a truly outstanding goal against us. Performances have been fine, but it’s just been about conceding silly goals and that’s disappointing.
“Obviously with having an essentially new team in February we managed to improve a bit, but some of the lads hadn’t been playing so it was like their preseason and it’s proved too little too late in the end.”
A season in the Huws Gray Alliance is likely to be a chastening experience for Thomas and his charges, but he believes they have all the tools needed to bounce back, adding that valuable lessons have already been learned.
“Everyone’s obviously very down about being relegated, but I think a lot of them are looking to bring the club back up.
“But this is a good club and I’m sure it will rebuild.
“I think the club’s learned a lot about how when you get into Europe it’s important to keep money back for the following year. It’s important to always have a reasonable budget as it’s tough to stay in touch with the likes of TNS and others.”
Learning lessons is one thing, but Thomas will know that they will count for nothing without results on the pitch.
(Featured Image: Rhyl FC)