Teams across the country will kick off to mark the official start of this year’s JD Welsh Cup this Saturday, and one game sees one of the youngest, smallest teams in the competition take on a club with a long history of success in the Welsh game.
Rhyl FC will make the short trip west along the coastline to Maesdu Parc, Llandudno, to face the little-known Welsh Alliance League Division One side Llandudno Albion.
The key appeal of the JD Welsh Cup, and what makes this domestic knock out competition so special, is that it draws attention to some lesser known teams – and Llandudno Albion are one of those.
Unlike their opponents, Albion are a young side: having only formed in 2014. However, success has followed them very quickly through the leagues. They’ve won a promotion in every season since their inception, along with a cup final victory.
A mixed start to the season sees them in an unusual mid table position, however their rise to the third tier should not be underestimated, especially in this early stage of the season.
Progress to Saturday’s first round proper came with victories against Llanberis in qualifying round one, defeating the Gwynedd side 3-2 and edging Llannefydd on penalties in qualifying round two, before they received their ‘golden’ tie against former four-time winners Rhyl.
Albion manager Paul Cheung said his phone was ‘red hot’ after the tie was made from the jubilant players, ecstatic at the thought of playing such a prestigious club.
Rhyl will be hoping not to repeat last year’s exit from the cup to lower league opposition, after their defeat to Caernarfon Town in a dramatic round four clash where the Cofis beat them in extra time.
Unlike last year’s result, which may have not come as much of a surprise to some, a defeat to Albion has the potential to seriously rock the Rhyl boat, putting pressure on McGuiness’ men to come away from Maesdu with a win.
Team news for Saturday see’s Albion go into the game with a full squad to choose from, consistency being the key to Albion’s rise to success. Rhyl also a full squad to choose from except for new signings Tom Walsh, who is cup-tied and Dimitrios Christou, who is waiting international clearance.
Both managers are looking forward to the game, McGuinness is not underestimating his opponents but is still expecting his side to be victors come full time. Cheung will be aware of the enormity of the game for his team but for all the players’ excitement in playing Rhyl, he is expecting his team to be the competitive side that have helped gained them three straight promotions.
Pressure will firmly be on Rhyl, nothing less than a win will do, and this does have the potential to be a banana skin. The town has come out in force to support Albion in what is easily their biggest game in their brief history, with local business’s helping to foot the costs necessary to make this game a special one for the club, leaving the team fully able to concentrate on the game itself.
This, however, will be a challenging task. Rhyl have the players and, very importantly, the fitness. Unlike some teams this weekend, the visitors won’t be welcomed to an uneven bog of a pitch – which we know can be an unwanted problem at this level.
They are playing on a modern 3G pitch; something they will have seen many times before in the WPL. Take nothing away from Albion, on their way to promotion to the Alliance Division 1, they only suffered one defeat at Maesdu, they are more than used to the new generation of pitches.
As for the game, it will be an interesting tie, both teams have neither scored a bucket full of goals, nor have they had a leaky defence in their respective leagues.
Both would have preferred a stronger start to the season, but this is the cup, there must be a winner.
Rhyl may be the favourites, but Albion are not here to make the numbers up. The weatherman tells us it’s going to be wet and windy, there’ll be a battle on the pitch, expect a cracker.
(Featured Image: Karl Vaughan)