Who will be crowned Welsh Football League Division One champions?
As winter becomes spring, we enter the ‘business end’ of the season. Although, the usual fixture backlog across the Welsh Football League means much of the picture isn’t entirely clear.
This is the case none more so than at the top of Division One, which Penybont currently lead. However, it does appear the race for the Welsh League title is four-strong involving Penybont, Llanelli Town, Afan Lido and Haverfordwest County.
With the exception of Afan Lido all three have applied for the FAW domestic licence that is required for promotion to the Welsh Premier League, so there is more at stake for most than just the honour of being crowned Welsh League champions.
Following Llanelli Town’s 1-0 win over Penybont on Wednesday night there are still five matches to be played among the top four sides, games you expect will go some way to deciding the final positioning of all. One quirk of the run-in involves all four title contenders travelling to Cwmbran Celtic, which means the Gwent-side could play a very important part in who lifts the trophy at the end of the season.
Looking at the last five seasons, the average points required to win Division One in a 30-match season is 63.8 points, which means all four are very much in the mix as the lowest maximum points that can be attained by one of the featured clubs is 63.
Here we look at each of the four clubs competing for the Welsh League title: their form, their prospects, as well as some of the fixtures that could decide the fate of the championship.
Current position: 1st
Games left: 5
Last six games: WWWDWL
As current leaders of Division One Penybont must be considered among the runners. However, despite their status, on paper they arguably carry the most unrealistic chance of winning the league. Penybont’s position is largely due to playing more games than their rivals, including five more than Llanelli Town and Haverfordwest County.
Penybont have been in good form and before Wednesday night’s defeat at Llanelli Town, Rhys Griffiths’ side were unbeaten in ten league games. They really needed to win at Stebonheath Park to have any realistic chance of lifting the title. With just a three-point lead and so many games in hand for the team’s below it is going to take a mind-boggling series of results for Penybont to claim the Welsh League title this season.
Penybont do have fixtures against Haverfordwest County and Afan Lido, giving them an opportunity to take points off those clubs and at worst equal last season’s second-place finish. Whatever happens, it looks likely next season will offer Penybont a more credible shot at the Welsh League crown.
Selected Fixtures: Cwmbran Celtic (A), Mar 17; Haverfordwest County (H), Apr 14, Afan Lido (A), Apr 21
Current position: 2nd
Games left: 10
Last six games: WWLDLW
Favourites since pre-season in the eyes of many observers, Llanelli Town are in an excellent position to win the Welsh League title and return to the Welsh Premier League. Wednesday night’s win over Penybont moved them up to second, closing the gap between them and the leaders to three points; The Reds still have games in hand too.
Andy Hill’s side also have arguably the friendliest run-in as they only have to play Haverfordwest County among the top four clubs, but with ten fixtures still to fulfil, congestion could become an issue. The Reds are still in the Welsh League Cup too, which will add at least one additional fixture (a semi-final versus Cwmbran Celtic) and possibly two (if they progress to the final).
A recent wobble that saw Llanelli Town go three games without a win – along with the transfer of goalkeeper Scott Coughlan to Swedish League club GIF Sundsvall – may have given some hope to their rivals, but the win over Penybont suggests they have found their winning edge again.
Llanelli’s double header with Goytre could provide an additional acid test. The Gwent-side have suffered a horrendous slide in form in 2018, but their run of defeats have all come away from home. At Plough Road, Goytre still boast a 100% win record, Llanelli’s trip to Gwent on Friday 13th April could prove a critical fixture.
Selected Fixtures: Goytre (H), Mar 16; Cwmbran Celtic (A), Mar 24; Haverfordwest County (H), Mar 27; Goytre (A), Apr 13
Current position: 3rd
Games left: 8
Last six games: WWWWLW
Wayne Davies’ side are very much the surprise package in the title race, emerging among the front runners after a six-match win streak spanning the end of 2017 and the start of this year. Their 1-0 home defeat to Briton Ferry last month is their only defeat in the last ten games, in which they have won eight games, so form remains strong for the Aberavon club.
Afan Lido were the WFL club of the month in January and their strong run has included wins at Llanelli Town and Cambrian & Clydach Vale BGC. Their win in the Rhondda last time out prompted Cambrian to declare on their official Twitter feed Afan Lido the best side they have faced this season.
Afan Lido have also coped well with the loss of top scorer Mark Jones to Welsh Premier League side Carmarthen Town at the end of January, with the likes of Sean Hanbury making the step up front the youth team.
Of their remaining games a double header against Haverfordwest County followed by a home fixture against Penybont at the end of April could have a large bearing on where they finally finish in the league table.
Selected Fixtures: Haverfordwest County (H), Mar 17; Haverfordwest County (A), Apr 7; Cwmbran Celtic (A), Apr18; Penybont (H), Apr 21
Current position: 4th
Games left: 10
Last six games: WWWLLL
It wasn’t so long ago that Haverfordwest County appeared to be the side with all the momentum, however a run of three consecutive defeats has halted that. Nevertheless, despite sitting 4th, the Pembrokeshire side are arguably the team best positioned to prevent a Llanelli Town success.
They have the same amount of fixtures to play as Llanelli Town, are just three points adrift and with similar goal difference. Significantly, the two are scheduled to meet at Stebonheath Park on March 27th; a match that could prove to be a title and promotion decider.
However, Haverfordwest County face a tricky run-in, including a double header with Afan Lido and a trip to Penybont. The recent transfer of forward Joe Leahy from the club leaves a void in the side that needs filling. Nevertheless, if Haverfordwest County can win all those key fixtures against the sides around them it is probable they will push Llanelli Town all the way to the final fixture.
Selected Fixtures: Afan Lido (A), Mar 17; Llanelli Town (A), Mar 27; Afan Lido (H), Apr 7; Penybont (A), Apr 14; Cwmbran Celtic (A), May 5
(Featured Image: SER Images)