On your marks.

Clwb Pêl-Droed contributor Jamie Kent has a look at the opening fixtures within the Welsh Football League Division One. 

Saturday 13th August 2016. (14:30 Kick Off).
Afan Lido vs Cambrian & Clydach Vale BGC.

Afan Lido welcome Cambrian & Clydach to the Marston’s stadium for this season opener. The home side finished 8 points behind the visitors last season. The last time these two sides locked horns was last season, were Lido were the hosts just like this upcoming encounter. Cambrian & Clydach won that game 1-2, and that is something they would be very happy to repeat. This game may be a close affair, just as last seasons meeting suggested as on 12/09/15, Afan Lido won 1-3 away at the Cambs.

Cambrian & Clydach have very recently appointed former Newport County striker, Craig Hughes “Guppy” as their manager. This appointment came hours after manager of three seasons, Shaun Fackrell, left the club via mutual consent. The Cambs board stating, that it was due to a difference of opinion regarding the vision and the future of the club. Craig Hughes will be followed by former Cambrian & Clydach captain, Lee Matthews, who returns to the club to take the assistant manager role.

Everything is rosey at the moment for “Cam”, on and off the pitch. The clubs youth sides are growing, the club has recent passed the new tier 2 introduced by the FAW, the Development side won the first ever Welsh Premier Development League South, and the first team put in a strong season as they finished 5th, with a goal difference of +9. Cambs improved massively after finishing 14th during the miserable 14/15 season, where they finished on 28 points.

Lido in contrast finished 8th last season, and had a +1 goal difference. The former Welsh Premier League side struggled to make home advantage count, having only won 1 more game than they had lost. Lido however bettered their 14/15 season finished, where they finished 13th, 5 points above Cambrian & Clydach. Former Lido midfielder, Liam McCreesh, returns to the club in a assistant managerial role.

Saturday 13th August 2016. (14:30 Kick Off).
Barry Town United vs Undy Athletic.

An intriguing match takes place in the season opener at Jenner Park, as last seasons Division One runners-up Barry Town United host newly promoted Undy Athletic.

Barry Town United had a fantastic 15/16 campaign. Town rocked into their first season in Division One (as Barry Town United) and finished as runner ups. Town amassed 58 points, and had a strong goal difference of +29. The club will go into the new season targeting the Division One title, and a possible return to the Welsh Premier League, and many will probably bet on that happening.

Barry have soared from the Welsh Football League’s basement to being one step from Wales domestic football’s pinnacle, which is a fantastic achievement, considering three years ago Barry supporters were not sure if they still had a club. Manager Gavin Chesterfield has bolstered his side with some top acquisitions ahead of the new season, as his side try to win the title.

Undy Athletic celebrated a fantastic 15/16 campaign as they finally secured promotion to Division One after several strong seasons in Division Two. Undy boss, Laurence Owen, will be relishing the prospect of taking his side into their first ever Division One campaign. The relatively small club were playing in the Gwent County League just six years ago. Owen will no doubt be aiming to consolidate Undy’s place within the country’s second tier, and he will surely be confident after impressive friendly displays against Newport County and Hereford. Undy will represent somewhat of an unknown quantity for their opponents, and having lost only once in the league at the Causeway last season, they will be hoping to duplicate this achievement. Undy finished 3rd last season in Division Two, and recorded a fantastic +52 goal difference.

Saturday 13th August 2016. (14:30 Kick Off).
Caerau (Ely) vs Monmouth Town.

A great match awaits as two former Welsh Football League Division One champions clash, Caerau (Ely) 2014/15 vs Monmouth Town 2013/14.

In this season opener at Cwrt-Yr-Ala, Caerau (Ely) will be looking to storm out of the blocks, after a great 15/16 campaign. Caerau (Ely) finished last season in 4th place, and the former Welsh Football League Division One champions will be looking to build on last seasons great display by emulating their championship victory of 2014/15. The capital city club will clearly be looking to improve on a great season, and hope that they can beat Monmouth after failing to register a win against them in the two league meetings.

The last meeting between these two was also at Caerau, and took place on 03/05/16, ending 2-2. The sides also met on 23/04/16, where the home side on that occasion, Monmouth Town, took the spoils with a 1-0 victory.

After finishing 6th during the 14/15 season, Monmouth Town’s 15/16 season could’ve been deemed a disappointment by critics. Monmouth finished 12th with a goal difference of -4. The Kingfishers will be looking to improve on last season, but in truth, can now be regarded as a stable Division One side who are unlikely to go down. The 2013/14 Division One champions will be looking to make amends for the previous season, and be hoping to make Monmouth Sportsground the fortress it was during the 2013/14 season, when the Kingfishers remarkably only lost just the one game. The Kingfishers could make a massive impact on the division with a away victory in the first game against Caerau (Ely).
Saturday 13th August 2016. (14:30 Kick Off).
Caldicot Town vs Goytre.

In this Division One battle of Gwent, newly promoted Caldicot Town will welcome county rivals Goytre to Jubilee Way.

Hot off their fantastic Division Two championship win, Caldicot Town go into the new season full of optimism. They sealed the Division Two title in dramatic style, and ended the season just 1 point ahead of title contenders Cwmbrân Celtic, and 2 points ahead of Undy Athletic. Town ended the season with a fantastic +40 goal difference, but the real talking point of Division Two was the nail-biting finale. On 21/05/16, Caldicot Town wrapped up the Division Two title with an emphatic 1-5 away victory against West End, leaving Cwmbrân Celtic (with two games in hand) no chance of bettering Caldicot’s points tally. Caldicot Town fans will probably call it a “perfect season”, as not only did Caldicot Town win the Division Two title, but rivals Chepstow Town were relegated. Caldicot Town have already thrown down the gauntlet to their Division One opponents, as they have been impressed during pre-season, particularly their 4-0 victory against English Toolstation Western League Premier side, Hallen.

Goytre may also boast about a great season, having finished 3rd in Division One, just 2 points off 2nd place, and holding a superior goal difference of +29. Goytre are one of the most consistent and stronger of the sides in the division. Goytre have finished 3rd (15/16), 4th (14/15) and 5th (13/14), cementing their place as one of the leagues finest. Goytre have progressed every single season since their promotion during the 12/13 season when they won the Welsh Division Two title with a huge 17 points lead ahead of second place, Aberbargoed Buds.

This will be a stern test for both sides, as both come into the game hot off great pre-seasons and great season.
Saturday 13th August 2016. (14:30 Kick Off).
Cwmbrân Celtic vs Port Talbot Town.

Celtic Park will be bouncing for this game, but will that be because a Cwmbrân club are back in Division One, or because the Port Talbot 1901 Ultras are in town? A match between two sides who in recent years have been relegated, but finished outside of the relegation zone.

The Steelmen travel to Celtic Park for their return game in the Welsh Football League fresh from a controversial relegation from the Welsh Premier League. The relegation came as the result of a Football Association of Wales (FAW) ruling not to renew the club’s premiership licence. This was of course not a result of the team’s performance as the squad managed to stay out of the relegation zone. The Steelmen will no doubt be looking to bounce back to Wales’ top tier at the first attempt, having been members since 2000, but a trip to Cwmbrân will give them a crash course in Welsh Football League football, as the two were two tiers apart this time last season.

Port Talbot Town will know very well that they will be hunted by the rest of the division who will relish the trips to the GenQuip Stadium hopeful of a scalp. The Steelman will no doubt be looking forward to being re-acquainted with rivals just under half a mile away, Afan Lido. The Steelmen clearly have the fire power to win this division, but they haven’t competed at this level for a very long time, and are entering this new chapter with a young side – which could be an issue due to the competitive nature of the Welsh Football League.

The Steelmen have had a tough pre-season with just 2 wins out of 8 games, and manager Paul Evans’ squad is likely to consist of several players who have been promoted from the youth side. The Steelmen have had a mass clear out over the summer, but they have retained former Bristol City man, Marley Bishop-Wisdom, Luke Bowen and goalkeeper Connah McFenton. The Blues have added former Swansea City and Afan Lido midfielder, Jandir Zola to their ranks.

Cwmbrân Celtic will have mixed feelings about their first match in Division One. Celtic will know all about Port Talbot Town, and their exploits in the Welsh Premier League and the UEFA Europa League, but having had such an impressive 15/16 season they will be full of confidence. Cwmbrân Celtic went on an impressive 10 match winning streak at the tail end of last season, but were unable to secure the Division Two title. Celtic finished the season as Division Two runner up just one point shy of eventual champions Caldicot Town. As agonising as it was to be so close to winning the Division Two title, Celtic could take heart in one of the closet ever title races – and a return to Division One.

Celtic will be raring to go in Wales’ second tier, and they will do so without star man, Josh Bull, who netted 25 goals in just 17 appearances last season – who has now joined Welsh Premier League side Aberystwyth Town. Celtic will feel as if they belong in Division One having been controversially relegated during the 2013/14 season, even though they had finished in 13th place – outside of the relegation zone. Celtic were sadly relegated by the FAW due to off the field issues, which of course set the club back – albeit not the clubs fault. The club had to go for a Sport Arbitration tribunal after a row with the FAW. Celtic took action against the FAW’s relegation procedure. This issue came about as the FAW announced that they would not increase Division One to 17 clubs in order to accommodate relegated Afan Lido, which thus meant Cwmbrân Celtic would be relegated without finishing in the relegation zone.

Celtic have become the dominant club in Cwmbrân, and whilst their beloved Celtic Park lies in the shadow of former Welsh Premier League champions Cwmbrân Town’s Cwmbrân Stadium, it is Town who lie in Celtic’s shadow. Celtic will be keen to hit the field and build on becoming a stabilised Division One side.

Saturday 13th August 2016. (14:30 Kick Off).
Goytre United vs Risca United.

Goytre United welcome the Cuckoos to Glenhafod Park Stadium for the 2016/17 Division One season opener. The two United’s both finished mid-table last season, and both will see this as a winnable game.

The last meeting between the pair was a 1-1 draw on 16/04/16, at Goytre United’s Glenhafod Park. Goytre United took the spoils in a 1-2 away win ob 12/09/15.

Goytre United boss Lee John will be looking forward to his sides first game, and hoping that United can pick up a crucial three home points. Having finished 7th last season, United will be looking to build on a decent season. Goytre United finished just four points above Risca United last season. Goytre United will probably relish the chances to face local rivals Port Talbot Town and Afan Lido. Goytre United have bolstered their squad with former Briton Ferry man, Ryan Griffiths, Warren Hudson, Dean Hudson, Adam Orme and dale Griffiths.

The Cuckoos are a club that are continually growing. Ever since their move to Ystrad Mynach, Risca United has seen improvements from their first team right down to their Youth Academy.

Risca will go into this game believing that they can win. They have looked promising in pre-season, and will be confident that they can grab three points against another side who finished middle of the pack. The Cuckoos finished 10th last season, and safely consolidated their position in Wales’ second tier. Risca can take heart in their first season in Division One, having cemented promotion during the 2014/15 season by finishing 3rd, just 1 point ahead of Gwent rivals, Caldicot Town.

Saturday 13th August 2016. (14:30 Kick Off).
Taffs Well vs Haverfordwest County.

In this season opener, recently relegated Haverfordwest travel to Rhiw Dda’r Stadium, to face Taffs Well.

Taffs Well improved on their 2014/15 season finish of 8th by finishing 6th. Taffs Well boss Lee Bridgeman will no doubt be looking for yet another improved league finish. The Wellman ended the season with a goal difference of +6.

The Wellman have bolstered their side ahead of the new campaign and have retained the vast majority of last seasons squad.

Haverfordwest County were relegated from the Welsh Premier League last season. County finished rock bottom, with just 21 points. The Bluebirds will be looking to bounce back into the Welsh Premier League at first attempt, and from their perspective, will probably see this as a winnable game. The Bluebirds will have a fairly young side as the bulk of the squad will consist of Pembrokeshire players. Joint coaches Sean Cresser and Chris O’Sullivan will both be eager to begin the season.

Recently arriving at Conygar Bridge Meadow Stadium to aid the Bluebirds promotion fight are Nathan Banner (Hakin Utd) and Stefano Antoniazzi (Bow Street).

Saturday 13th August 2016. (14:30 Kick Off).
Ton Pentre vs Penybont.

Two clubs with the foundations already laid to become Welsh Football League Division One regulars, face off against each other in this huge opening day fixture.

Both clubs finished mid-table last season, and both clubs will ideally be looking to progress this campaign. Ton Pentre finished 9th, just a single point ahead of 11th placed Penybont.

The last meeting between these two was on 08/04/16 when the home side on the day, Ton Pentre, won 2-1. On 12/09/15, the two sides played out an entertaining 3-3 draw.

Penybont will be looking to build on another progressive season since the club was formed by the merging of Bridgend Town and Bryntirion Athletic. The club are set to embark on their fourth season since the merge, and will be hoping to emulate or better their 2013/14 finish of 3rd place. Penybont must try to make Kymco Stadium a fortress this season, as last season they lost as many games as they won at home (6). Former Newport County and Plymouth Argyle striker, and now Penybont boss, Rhys Griffiths, has bolstered his squad with the signings of Kieron Howard from Haverfordwest County, James Parry from Port Talbot Town, Harrison Collins from Taffs Well, and Ellis Bellamy from Cardiff City.

The Bulldogs stunned League Two side Newport County 5-0 in a pre-season friendly recently. Ton Pentre have finished 9th for the past two seasons, and finished 11th the season before. They will be looking to improve this season, and hopefully get back to the dizzy heights of the top tier. Ton Pentre have been very impressive during pre-season, and if they can get points on the board early on, could be pressing the upper echelons of Division One. A victory over Penybont in this opener at Ynys Park, and we may see the resurgence of the Bulldogs.

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