Of the 24 fixtures scheduled to take place in the Welsh Football League this weekend arguably the most eye-catching will take place at USW Sports Park where Pontypridd Town will host Caldicot Town in a Division Two clash that pits second place against first.
Pontypridd Town are many people’s picks for the Division Two title this season given the depth of quality in their squad, as well as narrowly missing out on promotion last season behind Briton Ferry Llansawel. The Dragons have certainly lived up to their billing this season with a strong start to their league campaign, winning seven of their opening nine games.
Pontypridd have also been performing well in the cups having reached the quarter-finals of the Welsh Football League Cup and the third round of the Welsh Cup. The Rhondda Cynon Taf club also performed well with their wildcard entry in the Nathaniel MG Cup, knocking out Division One sides Cambrian & Clydach Vale and Taffs Well before a narrow loss to current Welsh Premier League leaders – and Nathaniel MG Cup finalists Cardiff Met – in the third round.
Caldicot Town are the current leaders of Division Two and hold a four point advantage at the top having won eight and drawn one of their twelve league fixtures. The Monmouthshire club have previous pedigree too having won the Division Two title in 2016 and gained Welsh League top flight experience despite being relegated last season. First team manager Tony Wallis took on the reigns in the summer (an appointment Pontypridd joint-manager Damien Broad believes was ‘very astute’) and has already made his mark on the side by ensuring there was no hangover from last season’s disappointment.
Both sides boast more or less full-strength squads. Jamal Easter will miss out for Pontypridd Town with injury, while Gavin Beddard is suspended. For Caldicot Town there are no injury concerns, but Ben Ahmun has recently returned from injury and is working his way back to full fitness.
Both sides enjoyed wins last weekend, Pontypridd pulling off an impressive 4-2 win away to third place Pontardawe Town having trailed 2-1 at half time. Caldicot beat point-less Porth 3-0 at Jubilee Way courtesy of a Richard Sharrat hat-trick.
Caldicot go into the game unbeaten in seven in the league, with six wins and just two goals conceded in that run. Pontypridd have won the last three league matches, but have only played four league matches in October and November. If you take into account The Dragons cup commitments they are on a five-match winning streak.
It is a fixture that brings together two sides seemingly in the rudest health ahead of a top of the table clash.
What They Said
Damien Broad, Pontypridd Town Joint-Manager
“I was delighted with the result last Saturday…the character shown to respond in the manner we did, coming back and winning the second half 3-0 showed great desire and resolve from the lads.”
On the importance of this game:
“We have come into the season looking to do our best in every game and that’s down to the characters we have in our changing room. To them no game is more important than another and we approach every game in the same manner, to do our best and get a positive result.”
On Tony Wallis’ impact at Caldicot Town
“He’s shown early doors the impact he’s had with Caldicot sitting top of the table. Clearly he’s utilising his many years of experience playing in the Welsh League and is doing a very good job. They have some real experience and quality in their side and we know we are in for a very tough game.”
Tony Wallis, Caldicot Town Manager
On Caldicot’s recent good form:
“I certainly wouldn’t put this down to one specific factor or change. The coaching staff have always maintained belief in the squad’s ability, and the inconsistencies in our early results weren’t always a true reflection of our performances. Some may point at our defensive record of only conceding 2 goals in the last 7 league matches. However, with so many variables in the amount of games played, we’re not getting carried away with past results less than half way through the season. It’s always about what we do next that’s most important thing.”
On the weekend’s fixture:
“I’m very much looking forward to the game and testing ourselves against one of the strongest squads in the league.”
An Early Title Decider?
There is a temptation to describe this fixture in the context of the promotion challenge, however Caldicot Town boss Tony Wallis believes any talk of a ‘title race’ is “extremely premature” in the context where “some teams have only played as few as 7 league fixtures”.
Pontypridd Town are one of the sides that have had to postpone league fixtures because of their progress in other competitions. While the league table may not be quite reflective of where each team really is while discrepancies in the number of matches played exist, it brings to the fore the familiar debate about whether games in hand or points on the board are more of an advantage.
Damien Broad is looking on the positive side of his team’s cup progress and doesn’t see it as a problem that Pontypridd will have to make up the games later in the season.
“Personally I think it’s great we are still competing on 3 fronts. There is still a long way to go mind and nobody is getting ahead of themselves. We are taking one game at a time!”
It is an open battle at the top with arguably as many as half a dozen teams capable of challenging; this spread of quality means Wallis doesn’t give much weight his club’s previous success at this level
“There are many WL2 teams with players who have large amounts of promotion and title winning experience, so in my view our success in 2016 is irreverent and certainly not an advantage within the context of this campaign.”