The first silverware of the new year in Welsh football was handed out today as Carmarthen Town eventually saw off their Welsh Premier League Cup final opponents The New Saints in an eventful goal-fest at Latham Park, Newtown.
The New Saints, leading the current Welsh Premier League standings by seven points from nearest challengers Prestatyn Town, struck first with Steve Evans giving his side the lead after just seven minutes. Parity was restored just three minutes before half-time when Carmarthen Town, who currently lie in seventh place in the Welsh Premier League table, got back into the game through Craig Hughes. After the break further strikes were traded between both teams in a topsy-turvy fashion. The New Saints regained the lead after Sam Finley’s shot went in off a post on 58 minutes only for Carmarthen Town to turn things around following a brace from sub Corey Thomas, helping his team to a 3-2 lead. However, the game was to take a further twist when TNS’s Michael Wilde equalized with six minutes remaining helping to take the game into extra-time.
In the following thirty minutes of extra-time there were no further goals and, thus, the game required a penalty shoot-out to decide the winner of the trophy. In the ensuing shoot-out it was Carmarthen Town who kept their nerve, prevailing by a 3-1 scoreline. Craig Hanford scored Carmarthen’s fourth penalty to make it 3-1 and then saw victory secured when TNS’s Paul Harrison had his spot kick saved. Carmarthen’s success was only their second such triumph in this competition having previously beaten Rhyl FC to win the 2004-05 edition of the tournament.
The Principality Building Society Welsh Premier League, to give its full title, saw a classic last-day title decider on Saturday. Bangor City, whose most recent championship came in 1994-95, were at home to defending champions The New Saints who were narrow favourites to pick up the point they needed to win a sixth league title in just over a decade. At one time Bangor had enjoyed a massive 16 point lead at the top of the standings but in recent weeks TNS looked to have turned things around and could’ve won the title before Saturday’s game. But TNS lost their anti-penultimate match of the season at home to Neath Athletic who, in turn, were defeated days later at their home ground by Bangor City leaving the destiny of the championship wide open going into this match.
I arrived at Farrar Road stadium, just five minutes walk away from Bangor train station, about three hours before kick-off in order to sense the anticipation ahead of this mouth-watering fixture. Speaking of mouth-watering, I headed to the club bar to buy myself a beer and could also have found myself taking advantage of a ticket for the Welsh Cup final – which Bangor City hopes to win for the fourth year in a row against Llanelli AFC this coming Sunday – for an amazingly cheap £5 as there were a stack of tickets on sale. Following the beer I set out to blend in with the locals and buy myself a scarf but, much to my disappointment, there was nobody in the club shop. I asked a nearby steward when it will be open and all he could tell me was that it’d be open “when the merchandising guy turns up”. As much as I tried to coax any more information out of him he was unable to give me a time so I had to settle for the match programme. I returned to the club shop a little under an hour later and the “merchandising guy” had finally arrived. “Do you have any scarves for sale” I asked him; “No we don’t have any” came the reply. Naturally I couldn’t believe how blasé he was about the lack of available merchandise, especially as the club’s biggest game for years was just little more than an hour away, so just decided to walk around the stadium and plan from which section of the stadium I would watch the game.
Kick-off time of 15:30 finally arrived and I had placed myself behind the goal to which the home side would shoot towards in the first half. Bangor City, playing in their traditional all-blue strip, enjoyed the lion’s share of possession but were unable to make the most of their dominance. With only a couple of clear chances in the opening period it was no surprise to see the first half remain goalless. The point would’ve been good for The New Saints and it was clear that they had come to Farrar Road hoping to frustrate their hosts. In the second half Bangor continued to pile the pressure towards the visitors’ goal but it seemed for a while that luck would allude them. I had changed ends for the second half and was watching the game from behind the goal in which Craig Garside would give the hosts the lead in the 68th minute. A throw-in from defender Peter Hoy was flicked on by midfielder Dave Morley and Garside found himself just yards from goal and able to turn the ball home to send most of the 1,700 capacity crowd ecstatic.
Naturally The New Saints had to come out and attack if they were to re-claim the title and they did threaten in the last twenty minutes but the sense of anticipation around the stadium meant that Bangor gave everything to preserve what they had. When the final whistle sounded it prompted a pitch invasion from the home supporters who could finally celebrate their third league championship title. A media scrum ensued as the game was featured live on the Welsh TV station S4/C as well as an assortment of photographers, supporters and yours truly basking in the warm sunshine and the champagne that was in the air following the Bangor team’s victory. As Bangor City coach Neville Powell and his assistant Marc Limbert lifted the championship trophy in the air it was clear that this ever popular management duo had created even bigger names for themselves amongst the home faithful. Bangor City (played 32, points 70) won the title by just two points from The New Saints and now have a chance to win the club’s first ever league and cup double this weekend. It may only be considered one of the smaller leagues but this was a fantastic occasion for Welsh football and one which would’ve graced any other championship in the world.
WATCH BANGOR CITY v THE NEW SAINTS HIGHLIGHTS HERE:
The New Saints, from the area in the United Kingdom covering Oswestry (in England) and Llansantffraid (in Wales), have won the Principality Welsh Premier League title after a nail biting climax to the season this Saturday. The club have become famous in the UK in recent years thanks to Sky Sports TV presenter Jeff Stelling who, after all of the day’s football results are read out, will often (sarcastically) claim that “they’ll be dancing on the streets of TNS tonight” after every victory that is announced in favour of the club. If it is the case that the club and its followers like to get down after every victory then they’ll be dancing a bit heavier after TNS secured their fifth championship with a 3-1 away win at Aberystwyth Town.
Before Matchday 34 got under way there was one team, Llanelli AFC, who could snatch the title from TNS’s grasp as they started the day just two points behind the league leaders. Llanelli AFC were playing at Prestatyn Town whilst Aberystwyth were not going to make things easy for TNS as they were fighting it out for third in the table, and a place in the UEFA Europa League qualifiers for 2010-11, against Port Talbot Town. With all matches in the league kicking off at the same time followers of TNS must’ve been nervous as news reached them that their title rivals Llanelli AFC had a 2-1 half-time lead whilst their match remained goalless. However the goals started to fly in during the second half with Chris Sharp, son of legendary Everton FC striker Graeme Sharp, bagging a brace and Steve Evans scoring once with Aberystwyth Town scoring a consolation through Luke Bowen in stoppage time. Llanelli AFC did all they could in their match eventually disposing of Prestatyn Town by 5-1 with Rhys Griffiths helping himself to a hat trick but it was TNS’s day. The New Saints qualify for the 2010-11 UEFA Champions League qualification rounds whilst Aberystwyth lamented defeat as it ruined their chances of UEFA Europa League qualification after Port Talbot’s 0-0 draw with Bala Town allowed them to secure third place.
The Principality Welsh Premier League is undergoing fundamental change next season with the number of particpiating teams being reduced from twenty down to twelve. The bottom six teams this season – Newtown AFC, GAP Connah’s Quay, Porthmadog FC, Welshpool Town, Caersws FC and Newi Cefn Druids – are now relegated and two more teams could join them. Bala Town FC and Haverfordwest County finished in 11th and 12th place respectively and their position in the Premier League is dependent on finding replacements from the second tier who will have the necessary facilities and finance to operate in the top flight.