WPL Preview: Opening weekend fixtures

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The wait is almost over as the 12 Welsh Premier League clubs prepare for the opening fixtures of the 2017/18 season.

Friday

Bangor City v The New Saints | Friday – 19:45
New managers Kevin Nicholson and Scott Ruscoe have both been thrown in at the deep end for their first league fixtures as respective bosses for Bangor City and The New Saints.

Bangor City finished 4th last season, their highest finish in three years, and went on to secure European qualification via the play-offs.

The Citizens are looking to begin the transition into being a full-time outfit, therefore Kevin Nicholson, along with experienced assistant Gary Taylor-Fletcher will be aiming higher than 4th place this year.

Scott Ruscoe has taken over as TNS manager since Craig Harrison departed the club to take charge at National League side Hartlepool United.

The Saints will be hoping that the managerial change will not have rocked the boat which has sailed steadily to secure the championship year after year for the last six seasons.

In the last meeting between the two sides, Bangor managed to beat The New Saints for the first time in four years, ending a run of 17 league games without a win against the Oswestry outfit.

Last meeting:
Bangor City 3-0 The New Saints (14/04/17)

Prestatyn v Connah’s Quay | Friday – 19:45
Prestatyn make their return to the top flight after a two year stint in the Huws Gray Alliance.

Neil Gibson’s side dominated the North Wales league last season, finishing 16 points clear of 2nd placed Caernarfon, netting 114 goals in the process (31 more than any other side).

2016/17 was also an historical season for Connah’s Quay who finished as Welsh Premier League runners-up, making it their highest ever finish in the league and securing European football for the second consecutive year.

The Nomads won 1-0 against Finnish giants HJK Helsinki over the summer before eventually losing out 3-1 on aggregate.

Andy Morrison’s men have started the transition into going full-time as four players have already put pen to paper on professional contracts – Jake Phillips, Joe Heath, Declan Poole & Rhys Williams.

It could be quite an occasion for the Edwards family on Friday as the four brothers could potentially be on the pitch at the same time with Zyaac, Noah and Zebb Edwards signed on for home-town club Prestatyn, while the eldest brother Kai Edwards is likely to start for Connah’s Quay.

There is less than six months since these two clubs met at the Motion Finance Stadium in the Welsh Cup quarter final where Connah’s Quay were the eventual winners after a penalty shoot-out.

Last meeting:
Prestatyn 2-2 Connah’s Quay (27/02/17) – CQ win 4-3 on pens

Bala Town v Newtown | Friday – 19:45
Bala Town caused one of the biggest upsets in recent years when they beat The New Saints in the final of the 2016/17 Welsh Cup to lift the trophy for the first time in their history.

The Lakesiders secured an European spot for the fourth time at the end of last season, but despite ending the term with the same amount of points as the previous year (57 pts), Bala Town dropped down one position into 3rd place – their lowest finish in three years.

There have been many significant changes at Maes Tegid over the summer, including the signing of the physical forward Les Davies from rivals Connah’s Quay.

Les Davies is the most experienced current WPL player (over 400 appearances), and the ‘Truck’ is one of only 25 players to reach the 100 goal milestone in the league.

But Colin Caton has lost the services of four talented servants as Mark Jones, Mark Connolly, Lee Hunt and Kieran Smith are no longer members of his squad.

These players are not only four of the 10 players to have played the most games for Bala in the WPL, but they are four of the six top scorers for the club in the top flight, and their presence will surely be missed on and off the field.

Newtown have also lost key players over the summer as captain, Shane Sutton and last season’s WPL Player of the Season and Golden Boot Winner, Jason Oswell are only two of a number of players to have left Latham Park.

After a slow start to last season, the Robins managed to reach the WPL play-offs, but we will have to wait and see if new signings Leon Clowes and Jamie Reed can fill the shoes of the influential pair of Sutton and Oswell before we’ll know how Newtown will fair this year.

Bala Town are unbeaten in their last six meetings with the Robins and will be favourites for this one.

Last meeting:
Bala Town 1-0 Newtown (02/10/16)

Saturday

Cefn Druids v Cardiff Met | Saturday – 14:30
Last year will go down as a success for both these clubs, mainly due to the fact that they both avoided the drop in their first year after promotion.

Cardiff Met secured a spot in the Top Six in their first season in the WPL and were only one win away from qualifying for Europe before losing to Bangor in the play-off final.

Cefn Druids were favourites to be relegated last season but Huw Griffiths guided his side into a respectable 8th placed position, which was their highest ever finish in the WPL.

There haven’t been any drastic changes down at Cyncoed, while the Ancients have acquired the services of Neil Ashton, Lewis Buckley and Ilan ap Gareth.

In the last meeting between the two sides Cardiff Met enjoyed a 5-0 victory – their biggest win in the WPL to date.

It was goalless in the only other meeting between the two sides, so Cefn Druids will be eager to score their first goal against the students over the weekend.

Last meeting:
Cardiff Met 5-0 Cefn Druids (16/10/16)

Llandudno v Carmarthen | Saturday – 14:30
It was a case of second-season-syndrome for Llandudno last year, who never really got going after doing so well in their first season in the WPL.

The Seasiders finished in a disappointing 9th position after qualifying for Europe the previous year.

A poor scoring record was a key reason to why Llandudno dropped down the table (31 goals in 32 games), but Alan Morgan will be hoping that his quartet of new attack-minded signings will ensure that this season will be different – Sam Ilesanmi, Shaun Cavanagh, Toby Jones & Ryan Edwards.

Carmarthen reached the Top Six last season and that will surely be the aim once more for the south-west side.

The Old Gold will play their opening six fixtures away from home while the work is completed on the new 3G pitch at the Cymru Tyres Stadium.

Llandudno completed the league double over Mark Aizlewood’s men last season who failed to score in both games.

Last meeting:
Llandudno 2-0 Carmarthen (10/12/16)

Sunday

Barry Town v Aberystwyth | Sunday – 17:15 (LIVE ON S4C)
Barry Town have risen from the ashes, and after 13 years of hurt, they are back in the Welsh Premier League.

Seven times WPL champions, six times Welsh Cup winners, Barry Town were a force to be reckoned with in the 90’s, but financial difficulties meant that the club went into disarray in 2003 and were eventually pulled out the football pyramid in 2013.

Under the guidance of passionate manager Gavin Chesterfield, the club is back in the top flight, and the boss has kept his faith in the squad who got them there as there have been minimal changes at Jenner Park over the summer.

Aberystwyth, on the other hand, have seen many faces come and go since last season, none more significant than that of new manager Neville Powell, who is a well known face to all WPL followers.

Neville Powell spent 14 years at the helm at Connah’s Quay (1993-2007) before being appointed Bangor City manager and spending nine years in charge of the Citizens (2007-16).

In his tenure at Bangor, Powell led the club to win the WPL title (2010/11) and to three consecutive Welsh Cup victories (2008, 2009, 2010), and he will be looking to use his valuable experience to drive Aberystwyth up the table following a nervy season in 2016/17 where the Black & Greens narrowly avoided the drop.

Last meeting:
Aberystwyth 3-1 Barry Town (19/12/03)

Highlights of all WPL matches will be on Sgorio every Monday at 5:30 on S4C.