Will this season’s Welsh Premier League be the most competitive in years?
The Welsh Premier League 2017/18 season is upon us, and although at first glance little seems to have changed, Wales’ top flight could be about to see one of its most competitive campaigns in years.
Defending champions The New Saints start the season as favourites for a seventh straight league title, but will be forced to work hard for it after the departures of manager Craig Harrison and coach Carl Darlington.
Stepping in is new manager Scott Ruscoe and assistant Steve Evans, who oversaw a difficult campaign in the Champions League where the Saints edged past Gibraltar’s Europa FC before losing out to Croatian champions HNK Rijeka.
Chasing TNS is a likely pack of three in the form of JD Welsh Cup holders Bala Town, Connah’s Quay Nomads and Bangor City. The three are recognised power houses of the Welsh Premier, and will all fancy their chances against a TNS in transition.
Bala Town have made one of the biggest signings of the summer with the capture of Les Davies from Connah’s Quay, whilst Bangor City and Connah’s Quay have recruited a number of key players on full time contracts, a clear sign of genuine ambition to topple TNS’ top spot.
This year’s league once again sees Northern sides dominate, with only Carmarthen Town, Barry Town and Cardiff Met representing the South. Cardiff come off the back of a highly impressive first Welsh Premier season which saw them go all the way to the Play Off finals before being denied Europe by Bangor.
But it was Cardiff who halted Carmarthen in the play off semi finals, putting a cruel end to a strong season from Mark Aizlewood’s Old Gold. They will be expected to challenge for the top six again, and face an interesting transition to playing on a brand new 3G surface at the Cymru Tyres stadium.
Barry Town will be a side for the romantics to follow, as they re-enter the top flight after a 13 year exile and dramatic off-field fight to continue as a club. Manager Gavin Chesterfield is a well respected name in the league already, and will have to galvanise his side from the off if they are to retain their hard fought Welsh Premier status.
Coming up with Barry is a tenacious Prestatyn Town outfit, back after two seasons of Huws Gray Alliance football. They stormed to the title last season with 80 points from 30 games, but manager Neil Gibson will expect no walk in the park this time round. Home victories will be vital along with the form of stalwart Michael Parker and new signings Zyaac and Zeb Edwards.
Mid Wales will look to make a comeback this season, with Aberystwyth Town and Newtown seeing little success since their Europa League campaigns in 2015 and 2016 respectively. Aberystwyth made waves with the announcement of Bangor City legend Neville Powell as manager, who is now tasked with guiding the side back into the top six.
Newtown AFC will be eager to get the campaign underway, as they look to put to bed a difficult 16/17 season where they were at point relegation candidates and bottom of the league. Facing a trip to Bala Town in the first game of the season, their mettle will be put to the test straight away as manager Chris Hughes eyes a top six finish.
Cefn Druids were a much under-sung side last year, as Huw Griffiths successfully steered the side away from relegation to secure an eighth place finish. Few will expect them to rise higher than sixth this season, but the quiet success of 16/17 means Druids, like each and every one of the league’s 12 outfits, simply cannot be written off.
Featured Image: Naomi Jones / Bala Town FC