Harrison confident TNS will bring top form to cup final
Craig Harrison is confident Welsh champions-elect The New Saints will return to top form in Saturday’s Nathaniel MG Cars Cup Final with Barry Town United, following their recent “setback” at Newtown last weekend.
The TNS boss saw his side’s world-record winning run of 27 victories come to a halt at the Welsh Premier League strugglers, who earned a thrilling 3-3 draw courtesy of Jamie Price’s stoppage-time free-kick.
And despite preserving their 21-point lead at the top of the table, as well as an impressive 28-game unbeaten run, the result is nevertheless a source of great disappointment for Harrison.
He told Clwb Pel Droid: “We’re obviously disappointed by the result on Saturday and to lose the record. I think mainly it was the manner in which it happened. Being 3-1 up and then to let it slip with essentially the last kick of the game is disappointing.”
Harrison’s assessment may seem a little bizarre, but standards at Park Hall are clearly very high, with the club gladly taking on the role of the league’s Goliath team, an identity that has seen them emerge as a significant scalp for even the most established Premier League sides.
“You only have to look at the way Newtown celebrated after the game,” Harrison added. “They celebrated as if they’d won the World Cup, the Champions League and Europa League all rolled into one. I don’t mean that as any detriment to them, it just showed how much it meant for the team and it shows how well our lads have done.
“That’s the way attitudes have been for the last few weeks, particularly once we got the record. Every team wanted to be the one to take the record off us, but it’s a credit to our players to find ourselves in that position.
“It means there are plenty of people hoping you to get beat, but it’s not really something that bothers anybody and it’s part and parcel of being the best football club in the league.”
The rise of TNS has been met with a fair number of critics, many of whom have attempted to belittle their achievements by highlighting the perceived disparity between themselves and the rest of the league.
But the former Airbus UK boss believes such jibes are simply a byproduct of success.
“Manchester United dominated the English game in the 90s and 2000s and got a fair bit of stick but that’s just the way football is. You’ve got to accept that. We’ve got more than enough experience to handle it.”
“For me and the football club, it’s never been a popularity contest. It’s about being the best at winning trophies and we’re certainly good at that.”
Perhaps it shouldn’t be a surprise to see the Saints’ exploits attract some negative comments, given the sheer volume of media attention surrounding the club over the last few weeks.
Outlets from all over the world have descended on the Owestry-based outfit to try and figure out what makes a record-breaking side tick.
Such an experience can often test the resolve of a team, but Harrison is confident his players will not wilt under the pressure of an increasingly bright spotlight.
“Obviously we don’t usually get that much coverage but we’ve had the Champions League for the last few years and there’s always a bit of hype around that, particularly when you’re going away.
“I think the big thing is to try and embrace it rather than fight against it because that’s the way it is and you’ve just got to run with it.
“As long as you’re not taking your eye off the football side of it then I think for everyone it’s good to enjoy the attention and the spotlight that the record has put the club in.”
Saturday’s cup final opponents Barry already know what it’s like to be at the centre of attention after famously toppling Portuguese giants FC Porto in 2001, and Harrison is refusing to take the Division One side lightly, although he does have an ominous warning.
He added: “It’s going to be a tough game. They’re going to be looking forward to it. It’s their first cup final in a while, but there will be pressure on them too.
“It’s going to be very enjoyable and I can’t wait for the game to start. I’m sure it’s the same for the players because of the way we’ve set about training this week.
“I’ve not seen such intensity, body language and attitude for months and months.
“They’ve really got the bit between their teeth and they can’t wait for the next game and to get back on track.”