WPL preview: Second phase begins

DSC_0017

Following three weeks of cup fixtures it’s time to turn our attentions back to the Welsh Premier League as the second phase of the season begins.

Top Six

gap Connah’s Quay v Carmarthen | Saturday – 14:30
With only ten games left in the WPL season it promises to be an exciting race to secure an automatic European spot this summer.

The Nomads start the second phase three points clear of Bala in the second spot, knowing that finishing as runners-up would guarantee the a ticket to Europe.

But if The New Saints were to win the league and the Welsh Cup then the 3rd placed team would also qualify automatically for Europe, as Llandudno did last season.

2nd or 3rd spot might be a bit ambitious for Carmarthen who are in the Top Six for the first time since the 2013/14 season, but the Old Gold will treat these next 10 games as a chance to prepare for the all important play-offs.

The previous two fixtures between the sides have been closely fought affairs with only one goal scored in two meetings this season.

Last meetings:
gap Connah’s Quay 1-0 Carmarthen (02/10/16)
Carmarthen 0-0 gap Connah’s Quay (13/08/16)

The New Saints v Cardiff Met | Saturday – 14:30
Regardless of other results, if The New Saints win their next four league games they will secure the title, but if other results go their way then it could be over much sooner.

The New Saints have already claimed their first silverware of the season as they beat Barry Town (4-0) in the Nathaniel MG Cup final last month, and now they set their sights on the next target.

The Saints are hoping to secure four trophies this season as they are only 10 points away from the league title, into the Welsh Cup quarter final, the Irn-Bru Cup semi final and have reclaimed the League Cup trophy for the third consecutive season.

TNS broke the world record for consecutive victories after winning 27 games on the bounce earlier this season, but the run came to an end in their last league outing as they drew 3-3 with Newtown.

But the Oswestry outfit are still unbeaten in 30 games in all competitions in 2016/17 (won 29, drawn 1).

The New Saints might have made the headlines this season, but Cardiff Met have also completed a remarkable feat by securing a Top Six spot in their first season in the top flight.

The students are nine points behind Bala (3rd), and will be able to concentrate solely on closing that gap in the league after their shock cup exit at the hands of Guilsfield last weekend.

Last meetings:
The New Saints 3–1 Cardiff Met (10/12/16)
Cardiff Met 1-2 The New Saints (31/08/16)

Bala Town v Bangor City | Saturday – 17:15
Both clubs will be eager to secure a place in Europe as they compete for the 2nd and 3rd spots.

Bangor City haven’t won any of their last seven away games against Bala at Maes Tegid (5 WPL, 2 League Cup) since February 2012.

857 attended the last match between the clubs which was the first match to be played on the new Maes Tegid 3G surface.

Bala have only lost once in 11 games on their new 3G pitch, and that was a 2-4 defeat to Scottish side Alloa Athletic in the Irn Bru Challenge Cup back in October.

December’s WPL Player of the Month winner Brayden Shaw has returned to Accrington Stanley following his loan spell – but the Citizens have strengthened by making 10 signings during the January transfer window, including the experienced 35 year-old striker, Gary Taylor-Fletcher who made over 300 appearances in the English Football League.

New signing Taylor-Fletcher got on the score-sheet in his first game for Bangor in the Welsh Cup last week and will be keen to impress in front of the live Sgorio cameras this Saturday.

Last meetings:
Bala Town 1-1 Bangor City (23/09/16)
Bangor City 2-0 Bala Town (27/08/16)

Bottom Six

Aberystwyth v Airbus UK | Saturday – 14:00
There will be two targets for the Bottom Six sides in the second phase – the first and foremost, to avoid relegation, and secondly to compete for the 7th spot to clinch a play-off place.

Avoiding relegation will be the only thing on the mind of Airbus manager Andy Thomas as his side have been rock bottom of the table since mid-November.

But after 12 league games without a win, Airbus’ disappointing run came to an end in their last outing as they unexpectedly beat Bangor 4-2 at the Airfield.

Aberystwyth will hope to compete for the 7th spot as they start the second phase only three points behind Llandudno (7th).

The Black & Greens have completed the double over Airbus this season, and with influential wingers Jamie Menagh and Ryan Wignall leaving the Airfield, it will be a tough ask for Airbus to climb out of the drop zone by the end of the season.

Last meetings:
Aberystwyth 3-1 Airbus UK (29/10/16)
Airbus UK 0-1 Aberystwyth (21/08/16)

Llandudno v Newtown | Saturday – 14:30
Llandudno will be disappointed not to have made the Top Six after doing so last season, but with a three-point advanatge over the rest of the pack they will no doubt be favourites to finish 7th and make the play-offs.

The Robins will also be frustrated to be in the bottom half for the first time since 2012/13.

Llandudno have the worst attacking record in the league and have failed to scored in half of their league games this season.

Newtown scored three times in their last match, and that was against The New Saints (3-3) to bring their run of 27 consecutive victories to an end.

The two meetings between the sides in the first phase finished goalless, but they will need to start firing in the second half of the season.

Last meetings:
Newtown 0-0 Llandudno (29/10/16)
Llandudno 0-0 Newtown (10/09/16)

Rhyl v Cefn Druids | Saturday – 15:00
Only one point separate these two sides who are lingering a little too closely to the drop zone.

Rhyl managed to avoid relegation last season despite finishing in the bottom two as 10th placed Port Talbot failed to secure the domestic license and were relegated instead, but Niall McGuinness will hope to survive on merit this time around.

Cefn Druids have been promoted, relegated and promoted again in the last three seasons, and manager Huw Griffiths will hope that the pattern doesn’t continue this season.

Rhyl are the only club to lose twice against the Druids in the WPL this season, but after scoring only once in their last six league games the Ancients need to start finding the net if they are to avoid relegation.

Last meetings:
Cefn Druids 4-3 Rhyl (30/09/16)
Rhyl 0-3 Cefn Druids (20/08/16)

Highlights of all Welsh Premier League fixtures will be on Sgorio every Monday at 6:30pm.