The WPL returns: Phase two kicks off in the top flight
The Dafabet Welsh Premier League returns this weekend in its phase two form of a top and bottom six. With 10 games remaining, there will be battles for the highs of Europe and the lows of relegation with clubs and fans alike expecting one of the toughest end of season run-ins yet.
Here, we take a look at what can be expected from Phase Two this season.
The New Invincibles?
The New Saints’ record breaking run of consecutive games won was ended by a 3-3 draw at Newtown on the final day of Phase One, in a result that in some ways felt like a defeat to the reigning champions. However, an unbeaten run is very much alive and that will be TNS’ prerogative going into phase two.
The league is all but theirs with a 21 point lead over second place, with form suggesting TNS can officially win the title by early March. The thrill of their season will be in games against the likes of Bangor, gap Connah’s Quay and Bala, who are all gunning to make a major statement by becoming the first team to beat the Saints this season.
Bangor’s quest for Europe
The Citizens were one of the most active clubs in the January transfer window, with manager Ian Dawes’ comments on players below his standards leaving after a 4-2 defeat to Airbus ringing true. They’ve made waves by the signings of cult hero Gary Taylor-Fletcher, Bradley Jackson, Dean Ritterburg and Yalany Baio to name just a few.
Their activity shows clear signs of Europe being their absolute goal this season, but this new look side, including Dawes himself, are yet to win over a sceptical section of the Bangor support. Big games against gap Connah’s Quay and Bala could prove to be their make or break moments if they are to continue to emerge as a giant of the league once again.
Battles at the bottom
The bottom six is incredibly tight this season, with 11 points from 12th to 7th. Major players of the 15/16 season Newtown and Airbus UK find themselves in the relegation after torrid phase one campaigns.
It will be major shock if these two are to finish in the relegation zone, but the immediate teams above them, Rhyl and Cefn Druids, have shown enough fight to avoid the drop if they are to be dragged into a relegation fight.
Llandudno and Aberystwyth will meanwhile aim for a 7th placed finish which promises entry into the play-offs, but not a single team can be wrote off in a bottom six that may well go down to the wire.
Can the Students graduate?
Cardiff Met can already call their season a success, having been promoted into the league with survival their target only to clinch the top six, winning the league over with their slick football and young, enthusiastic squad. The question hanging over them now, is how far can they go?
They’ve already been tipped as dark horses for Europa League qualification, but this goal will balance on Cardiff’s reaction to their first time in the top six up against some very fast and physical sides. Whatever happens in Phase Two, the students are well worth keeping an eye on.
Nomads and Bala in fight for second place ?
They could easily be caught up to yet, but as it stands gap Connah’s Quay and Bala Town are the main contenders for 2nd place, which offers automatic qualification into the Europa League. The two met on the final day of Phase One, playing out a highly entertaining 0-0 draw which was praised as a conference-level tactical battle by Andy Morrison and Colin Caton. In a cruel twist, both teams could qualify without the play-offs if TNS retain the JD Welsh Cup.
Bala and Nomads will meet twice more, but every single game will be a cup final in their quest for Europe, starting this Saturday.
The full list of fixtures for the first card of Phase One:
The New Saints vs Cardiff Met
gap Connah’s Quay vs Carmarthen Town
Bala Town vs Bangor City
Rhyl FC vs Cefn Druids
Aberystwyth Town vs Airbus UK
Llandudno FC vs Newtown AFC