Can Nomads mount a serious title challenge against TNS?
On Saturday evening The New Saints welcome Connah’s Quay Nomads to Park Hall in what may be the biggest JD Welsh Premier League game for many years.
Connah’s Quay come to Park Hall leading the league pack, with second placed TNS in the unfamiliar situation of having to chase the top spot.
They trail Nomads by two points, and despite trouncing Llandudno 6-1 on Wednesday are in slightly poorer form than their opponents.
Scott Ruscoe’s drew a blank in a 0-0 draw with Bala Town, before going down 4-1 to Cardiff Met in a shock loss at the capital.
They have since bounced back with two consecutive wins, but seven points from a possible 12 is less than the Saints and many in the Welsh Premier would’ve expected them to get.
Instead it’s Nomads who are the form side, with five back to back JD Welsh Premier wins in addition to a Nathaniel MG Cup derby win over Airbus, and perhaps most impressively a battling 2-0 win over Irish Cup winners Coleraine FC last week.
Andy Morrison’s men have scored 26 goals and conceded just eight so far, but will braced for a tough battle on Saturday.
The Nomads will be well aware of the challenge they face at Park Hall, having never registered a league win at the Champions’ stadium.
In 2016 they came to TNS undefeated in 13 games, but were undone in a 3-0 loss as TNS, then under Craig Harrison, marched to a world record 27 consecutive wins.
Last season they came to TNS knowing a win would confirm a second place and automatic European qualification, but after taking a 1-0 lead in the first half the Saints hit back to record a convincing 3-1 victory.
So what will be different this time?
For the first time ever, Nomads come to TNS above them in the league, and this could serve as a psychological advantage for the title challengers.
And a reinforced squad through the likes of Danny Holmes and Laurence Wilson, who were part of the Bangor City side who recorded a 5-2 win over the Saints just over 12 months ago, look well tuned to provide a title-tilting performance.
Nomads also have more full time professionals in their roster than ever before as they continue to develop from a semi-pro to professional status.
A win will put them five points clear and provide a major opportunity to establish themselves as the league’s pace setters, but a home victory will see TNS return to the top, all be it by one point.
The likes of George Horan and John Disney must keep golden boot holder Greg Draper quiet, whilst former Saints striker Michael Wilde will out to deliver what could be a hurtful defeat for his old side.
The magnitude of the game has been recognised by S4C Sgorio, who will be broadcasting the game live on Saturday from 7:30pm.
Whatever happens at Park Hall on the night, it will surely have a big say in whether the status quo remains in place, or a new pair of hands will lift the league trophy in April.
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