How Caernarfon could head into the play offs as favourites
With just two games to go in the JD Welsh Premier League season, a sensational European qualification in their first campaign back in the top flight is within reach for Caernarfon Town.
Newly appointed manager Allan Bickerstaff’s side have taken the league by storm, qualifying for the top six and recording big wins over The New Saints, Connah’s Quay Nomads and Bala.
And they’re in pole position for the play offs, sitting fourth and needing at least three points to secure it, as Newtown sit three points behind them.
The race could go down to the wire, as Newtown and Caernarfon face tough tests against Barry Town and The New Saints respectively in the end of season run in.
But should Caernarfon prevail and stay fourth, history will be on their side in their bid to qualify for Europe.
The home advantage in, which goes to sides who finish fourth in the play offs, has typically given the ultimate edge in the mini knock out competition to decide the final Europa League place.
Last year, Cefn Druids, who due to Bangor’s demotion were the highest placed finisher to qualify for the play offs, beat Cardiff Met 1-0 at The Rock.
And in the 2016/17 season, Bangor City made their return to the European stage with a dramatic 3-2 win over Newtown in the semi finals before defeating Cardiff Met 1-0 in the final, both held at their Nantporth’s ground.
In 2015/16, Connah’s Quay Nomads qualified for Europe for the first time via the play offs, firstly beating Carmarthen 2-0 in the semi final at Deeside.
They then faced Airbus UK FC in a derby to decide who would go to Europe, with a 79th minute Wes Baynes goal enough to see Andy Morrison’s side lift the play off trophy.
The last time a hosting side did not win the play off final was in 2014/15, when Aberystwyth lost out 2-1 to Newtown at Park Avenue in front of a 1,000 strong crowd.
Out of the eight play off finals that have been played since the introduction of the current league system, only twice has the away side won.
In addition to Newtown, Bala were triumphant at Port Talbot’s Victoria Round ground in 2012/13 when an 89th minute John Irving goal sent Bala into Europe for the first time.
The history of the play offs shows that the highest placed finisher is the favourite, and Caernarfon will be confident of becoming just that after a 4-1 win over closest rivals for fourth, Newtown, last week.
Bickerstaff and his assistant, Sean Eardley, who managed the club for most of the season, will be willing the club’s sizeable fanbase, known as the Cofi Army, to continue their support for his side as they look to go above and beyond everyone’s expectations this season.
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