As 2018 begins all three divisions across the Welsh League are open at both top and bottom. There are no runaway leaders in any of the divisions and postponement due to cup commitments and the infamous Welsh weather mean the picture is far from clear in all.
Let’s take a look at where things stand as we move into the new year and look at the clubs seeking glory in 2018, those desperate to avoid the heartbreak of relegation, as well as considering which club has provided the surprise package in each division. We’ll also look at the state of play in the Welsh League Cup with the quarter-final ties to play early in 2018.
Title Race: Favourites Llanelli Town sit at the top of the table as we enter the new year. However, The Reds haven’t quite had it their own way, despite Lee Trundle’s continued imperious form in front of goal. For most of the season, Andy Hill’s outfit has had to chase Haverfordwest County, who currently occupy second place two points behind.
Gwent-based Goytre FC also remains in the hunt under Sean Wharton’s management, 11 points off Llanelli Town but with 3 games in hand. It looked like Penybont might make it a four-horse race this season and while Rhys Griffiths’ side are still in contention, they have slipped 10 points off the pace in recent weeks.
In Peril: There is a real risk that Division One could lose three former Welsh League champions this season. Caerau Ely and Ton Pentre are enduring difficult seasons and have occupied the bottom two positions for much of the season. Both clubs seem to be going through transitional periods and may have to accept a drop into Division Two as part of that process.
Monmouth Town has struggled again this season and look in serious danger. Cwmamman United occupy the final relegation place at present, while Cwmbran Celtic are a surprise presence toward the bottom. However, both sides have so many games on hand it is difficult to judge to what extent they are under threat.
Surprise Package: Goytre United’s superb start to the season caught many by surprise, however, they were unable to sustain an unlikely challenge. Nearby rivals Port Talbot Town narrowly escaped relegation last season and have been an improved outfit this year.
However, the emergence of a very young Cambrian & Clydach Vale side under the management of Craig Hughes has been one of the stories of the season so far.
After losing four of the first five games, the Rhondda-based outfit went on a run of form that saw them recently reach as high as 3rd in the table. They have played more games than those around them, which means they are probably out of title contention.
However, there are positive signs that Cambrian is developing a side capable of mounting a serious title challenge in the near future.
Title Race: The story at the top of Division Two has been fascinating, with a number of clubs enjoying the top spot at different points of the season.
The difficulty in identifying the real contenders comes from the discrepancy in games played. Pontypridd Town are top at New Year by virtue of goals scored, as they have the same points and goal difference as Garden Village. The Swansea county side have beaten The Dragons (many people’s favourites) home and away this season.
STM Sports – managed by Gareth Morgan – have emerged as title contenders following promotion from Division Three and were briefly top (and unbeaten) ahead of a recent defeat at Pontypridd Town.
Ammanford are well positioned after a big win over West End this weekend. With games in hand, Llantwit Major (Division Three champions) and Aberbargoed Buds could yet join the hunt.
Caldicot Town and Pontardawe Town both enjoyed spells at the top of the league, but they have played a number of games more than those sides around them and a number of recent losses mean both sides would need a remarkable run between now and the end of the season to have any chance at finishing in the top 3.
In Peril: AFC Porth are rooted to the bottom and still awaiting their first point of the season. However, with 19 games still to play hope springs eternal and if there are crumbs of comfort it is that the team have come a long way since their early season 18-0 humiliation at STM Sports, as well as the fact there are other clubs enduring difficult seasons and not completely out of reach.
They include Dinas Powys, Aberdare Town and West End. It is certainly a troublesome situation for Vale of Glamorgan club Dinas Powys having played more games than their fellow strugglers.
Aberdare Town has seen better days, added to a poor league position, mean the Cynon Valley outfit will be nervously looking over their shoulder. West End’s seven-point gap over Dinas Powys (plus two games in hand) could be enough to keep them safe, even at this stage of the season.
Surprise Package: Promoted sides STM Sports and Llantwit Major have done really well and are in the mix for successive promotions.
However, the transformation David D’Auria has presided over at Garden Village has to be the story of the season so far. The former Scunthorpe United midfielder left football for 15 years before joining the coaching team at Garden Village and after taking over the reigns this season, he has quickly turned the club from one that struggled near the bottom last season to serious title contenders this season.
Title Race: Trefelin BGC have been turned around under Richard Ryan’s management, sitting top of Division Three and one of only two unbeaten sides in the whole of the Welsh League. Swansea University and last season’s League Cup finalists Bridgend Street look the most likely rivals, but only two sides can go up to Division Two.
Tredegar Town was another side that emerged as potential contenders after struggling last season, but their form has tailed off and there looks to be too much ground to make up.
In Peril: Treowen Stars have managed just one win in the league this season and are rooted to the bottom, six points from safety. Ely Rangers and Ynysygerwn have struggled again this season and make up the rest of the relegation places. It has been a difficult season for Neuadd Wen following promotion from the Gwent League and having played more games their position just outside the bottom three is far from secure.
Penrhiwceiber Rangers and Caerau are also positioned at the lower end of the table, but both have games in hand over most of the division and based on results this season you would expect both sides to climb away from their current lowly position.
Surprise Package: There are a number of contenders, including leaders Trefelin BGC who finished 12th last season and Tredegar Town who currently sit in the top four having finished in the bottom three last season and only avoided relegation from the Welsh League because of permutations further up the national pyramid.
However, Swansea University’s incredible debut season in the Welsh League in which they have quickly established themselves as title contenders at this level means they earn the plaudits as the division’s surprise package.
Welsh League Cup
The second weekend of 2018 will include the quarter-final ties of the Welsh League Cup.
Holders Llanelli Town travels to AFC Llwydcoed and will be red-hot favourites to progress to the semi-finals as they attempt to claim to successive league and cup doubles. There’s an all Division One tie at Old Road as Briton Ferry Llansawel host Cwmbran Celtic.
Pontypridd Town has enjoyed a fantastic season in the cups, having also reached the last 16 of the Welsh Cup and narrowly lost in the Nathaniel MG Cup to WPL side Cardiff Met.
They have also claimed the scalps of Division One sides Taffs Well (Nathaniel MG Cup), Cambrian & Clydach Vale (Welsh League Cup & Welsh Cup), Haverfordwest County (Welsh Cup) and are arguably second favourites behind Llanelli Town. The Dragons are at home to Aberbargoed Buds for their tie and for a little extra spice it is worth noting the Rhymney Valley club won at USW Sports Park in the league earlier in the season.
The final and most intriguing tie will see STM Sports host Trefelin BGC at the Cardiff University Playing Fields. Both sides are going well in their respective divisions, however, STM were dumped out of both the Welsh Cup and FAW Trophy by South Wales Alliance side Penydarren BGC; while Trefelin have knocked out two Division Two clubs en route to the quarter-finals.
(Featured Image: Jordan Harris)