What to look forward to in the 2017/2018 Welsh Premier League season
In just under a months time, the first set of Welsh Premier League fixtures will have been played and the clubs will be back in the swing of things.
The twelve clubs will all be hoping to perform to the best of their ability and only one side can come out on top and claim that beautiful Premier League trophy.
Many factors have come in to play and it’s been a pre-season of change for clubs, with players and managers leaving for pastures new, whilst the league has seen new faces come in, as well as some old ones.
A MORE OPEN TITLE RACE?
In recent years, The New Saints have wrapped up the Welsh Premier League title fairly early, with their professional status and their impressive transfer recruitment policy, it has shown in the dominating manner in how the title has been won.
This summer though has been all change at Park Hall with both long-term manager Craig Harrison and coach Carl Darlington both leaving the club for Vanarama National League sides Hartlepool United and Wrexham respectively.
Step forward long-serving players Scott Ruscoe and Steve Evans to step forward and take the reigns as they embark on their first job at first team level, as they transition from the phase of managing the younger sides.
Whilst the champions have been getting their pre-season and European preparations into check, the sides around them have also been busy and have been pulling up trees in pre-season.
Connah’s Quay Nomads who reverted backed to their traditional name this year have announced their first stages of becoming a full-time professional club, following in the foot steps of The New Saints.
Bangor City have appointed the youngest ever English coach to obtain the necessary UEFA Pro Licence qualification in Kevin Nicholson and under his guidanceship, the Citizens have brought in Premier League experience in Danny Holmes, as well as signing some talented young players like Brayden Shaw and George Harry.
Bala Town have also been busy and have recruited striker Les Davies who can guarantee goals at this level. The Lakesiders were the side that put a stop to what could have been a clean sweep for The New Saints last season and they’ll be looking to build on that.
CONTINUED DEVELOPMENT FOR THE LEAGUE
Last season perhaps was the season that saw the league viewed as a place that can help berth young talent and offer them a platform of first-team football as they seek the progression of their career.
Henry Jones had a fantastic spell with Bangor City after joining from Swansea City and has since moved to National League side AFC Fylde, as well as their star-loanee Jordan Davies, earning a move to Premier League side Brighton & Hove Albion back in January.
An unnamed agent last month spoke to Dai Sport and spoke highly of the Welsh Premier League, praising the young talent on offer.
“There has been a lot of snobbery from clubs in the English leagues who have long looked down at the Welsh Premier but that is beginning to change,” he said.
“They are starting to realise that there has been a marked increase in professionalism across the division and the talent is there (in the WPL).
“Clubs in England are looking for value and they are increasingly viewing the WPL as a good breeding ground for young talent.”
With Barry Town United back in the Welsh Premier League, it means that Cardiff Metropolitan University and Carmarthen Town will have more local affairs this season, having travelled a majority of their away games to North Wales last season.
This is a massive boost considering Barry Town’s attendances in Division One last season and the festive period double-header between the Archers and the Linnets is one that could see a booster crowd both at Jenner Park and at Cyncoed Campus.
The pair had a close-fought battle back in the 2015/2016 season for the Division One title in which the Archers came out triumphant, so the Welsh Premier League clash between the two could be even more immense.
It’s always good to see a familiar face back in the league and when the news broke this week that Neville Powell had returned to the Welsh Premier League, fans alike welcomed him back with open arms and wished him well as he embarks on a new job with Aberystwyth Town.
The three-time Welsh Cup winner has managed over 600 times as a manager in the top flight and his sides have scored an impressive 1044 goals, with a 42.525% win ratio.
The Premier League stalwart who left Bangor City last season will add a new lease of life to the Green and Blacks this season and we could just see the return of some old names joining him at Park Avenue as well.
Whatever happens this season in the Welsh Premier League, the top flight of Welsh football has certainly grown over the years and I’m sure fans alike are all looking ahead to what could be a memorable campaign.
(Featured Image: Brian Jones)