Ex-Citizens boss Kevin Nicholson’s on how he planned for Phase Two in the JD Welsh Premier League
He led Bangor City to their second highest league finish since winning the division in 2011, now Kevin Nicholson speaks about his experiences of how he approached the Phase Two split.
The Phase Two split sees the 12-teams put into six-team divisions, as they compete for a Europa League play-off spot and for survival in the Welsh Premier League.
The nature of the Phase Two split sees the top six come up against one another on a weekly basis, as they all strive for the same goal.
The UEFA Pro Licence coach said: “The plan was clear from the outset. Be proactive. Start quick and finish strong. We managed to do that.
Our minds had to be clear and focused on the overall objective. It was important to not get too high after winning and not too down after losing a match.
“Losing was likely to happen because of the level of opposition we were facing on a weekly basis. It was about accepting a defeat when it came along and then putting all of our thoughts and energies into bouncing back to winning ways the following week.
“Having achieved a top six finish at the end of Phase One, we were well aware of the challenge that awaited us in Phase Two and the calibre of the opposition we would be facing on a weekly basis.
The mental approach was important. We knew that we had to be at our best in each and every game to give ourselves the best opportunity to pick up the points that were going to be required to finish in a strong position.
“We worked hard as a group and managed to navigate our way through Phase Two without suffering two defeats in a row. This was very pleasing and highlighted the teams’ character and resilience.”
Bangor’s first game of Phase Two got off to a good start when they beat Europa League play-off finalists Cardiff Metropolitan.
Consistency was important and despite not receiving the Welsh Premier League licence that would have secured a Europa League spot, they finished the season strongly with a win against Bala.
“We made a quick and impressive start by winning our first game 3-0 and went on to win three of our first four matches in Phase Two, picking up nine points in the process.
“We also finished strong by winning the final two matches of what we described to the players as a ‘10-game season’ to proudly clinch the runners-up spot.”
The Welsh Premier League is one of few leagues that has a split halfway through the season. Northern Ireland and Scotland have a 12 team league with a split.
Nicholson’s previous experiences as a coach saw him manage Cardiff City where there wasn’t a split. Instead, it focused on the younger age groups, where teams would be playing each other four times, in a straight division.
“It was a new experience and an exciting challenge. A split league season is fairly unique, however, I am aware of some other countries that follow a similar structure.
“The key that was going to define our success in Phase Two was going to be how well we could defend and whether we could keep some clean sheets. We re-emphasised the importance of defending as a team. Defending from the front and that every player had a responsibility to help the team defend as well as attack.
Despite not being able to finish below six, Nicholson has explained the mindset of approaching Phase Two. The final ten fixtures can be seen as a new start after the previous performances in the first 22 games of the Welsh Premier League.
“As a coach or Manager, you are constantly reflecting on your work, the training, the preparation, individual and team performances. You are always looking for ways to improve individuals and move the team forwards as a whole.
“In terms of Phase Two, it’s a good opportunity to make it a fresh start. To treat it as a new 10-game season and a fresh challenge. The challenge being, of course, to pick up as many points as possible from the 30 that are on offer.”
The New Saints had a stronghold on the Division, so consistency was key for Bangor City whenever they came up against the chasing pack.
Heading into Phase Two we knew we needed a minimum of six wins from the 10 matches to be on track towards achieving our points target. Our target was to average 2.0 points per game in Phase Two to better our average of 1.7 points per game in Phase One.
The advice for the other managers as they approach Phase Two is to work on a game by game basis.
“Our approach was to focus solely on winning the next game. It was about points over performance at that particular stage of the season.
“In terms of squad management, as well as making sure the team were tactically well prepared in relation to the opponent, we made sure that the players were physically and mentally fresh and ready to perform heading into each match.”
At Bangor, Nicholson outlined the principles below as a blueprint to achieve positive results in Welsh Premier League Phase Two:
* This was a new ‘10-game season’
* Set targets. This to be minimum 6 wins / 2.0 PPG target / minimum 58 points
* Believe in attacking quality but maintain clean sheets
* Win the next game – points over performance
* Deal effectively with the winning and losing
* Bounce back from defeat to avoid losing two games in a row
* Stay focused on the overall objective
(Featured Image: Jordan Jones)