With a fair bit of doom and gloom surrounding Welsh Football media in the past few days, we’re taking a look at ten things you can look forward to for the Dafabet Welsh Premier League 2016/17 season.
A Treble Treble?
Although their full time status and English place of residence will forever be controversial, The New Saints have a chance to win all three trophies for the third time in a row this season.
Since Craig Harrison’s arrival, he has built the club into a dominant force, winning the league every year from the 2011/12 season onwards. Despite the departures of familiar Saints such as Michael Wilde and Matty Williams – they remain strong enough to go for an unprecedented third treble – but will yet another early Champions League exit come back to haunt them?
2. gap to close the gap
Despite finding themselves at the bottom of the league last November, the Nomads are being widely tipped to threaten the afore mentioned dominance of TNS.
A stunning summer in Europe which saw them more than match full time teams from Norway (Stabaek) and Serbia (Vojvodina), hopes are high around Deeside. Their increased firepower from signings such as Wilde, Williams and Lewis Short, and leadership of Andy Morrison who is proving to be formidable in the manager role, will put them amongst TNS and Bala in what should be one of the league’s tightest ever title fights.
3. Are Bangor back?
Power in Welsh Football shifted seismically two years ago, when Bangor City slipped from being a constant threat in the league to one that flirted with relegation timidly. With limited financial power and even rumours of administration, grey clouds were beginning to surround Nantporth ever since their infamous 9-1 defeat at the hands of TNS.
A takeover by a Chester based consortium involving former Chester owner Steven Vaughan (see their new shirt branding) has however rung the changes, the biggest being the exit of Neville Powell with former Llanelli manager Andy Legg taking the helm. Although this move has been seen as positive by most, abrupt exits from Tom Field, Ryan Wade and Declan Walker ask questions of what the dressing room is really like.
It remains to be seen whether the Citizens hit the ground running or face an awkward start.
4. Venables takes to the Tegid
In the signing of the summer, Welsh Premier League golden boot holder for the past two years Chris Venables switched from Aberystwyth to Bala Town. His status in the league is of such magnitude it even brought on a La Liga style reveal of him with a Bala shirt before their home tie in the Europa League. But the Lakesiders have every right to be excited with Venables scoring 20 in 31 last season – if Bala push for the title this season, he will play a major part.
5. Airbus’ next destination?
The shock departure of Andy Preece, just two days before their league opener against Cardiff Met, leaves the prospects for Airbus’ season in limbo. It appears, despite a reasonable pre season build up, their defeat in the play off final and subsequent failure to reach Europe for the fourth consecutive has done its damage. Although they have made a number of signings in Andy Jones, Connor Roberts-Nurse and Fabio Bassangue, the absence of Preece a big question mark hangs above the club. Fans will be keeping their seatbelts on for some turbulence ahead.
6. New boys in Cardiff and Cefn
Whilst Cefn Druids are once again back in the Welsh Premier League thanks to Cymru Alliance champions Caernarfon Town’s failure to obtain a domestic license, Cardiff Met enter as first time members. These young and hungry students successfully saw off the likes of Barry Town to win the Welsh League Division One, and whilst they will be favourites for a relegation fight, Llandudno’s success shows us they cannot be written off early on.
Cefn Druids return to the league in quiet fashion, but they have always been a respectable and tough side to break down under Huw Griffiths’ management. News of a grant in the region of £300,000 to install a 3G pitch at the club will also give Druids a boost, and make them one of eight sides in the league to have a 3G surface, plunging grass, played on by Nomads, Bangor, Rhyl and Carmarthen, further into the minority.
7.Sunday games galore
The league’s battle to increase attendances sees an interesting move to Sunday as the main day for Welsh Premier action. Whilst the standard has been Saturday at 2:30pm for many years, the league now turns to Sunday at 3pm. This move may increase the interest of those already engaged in English pyramid action on Saturdays, but only time will tell for this untested method. The best way to find out? Go and support your local Welsh team whenever possible.
8. Rhyl to fight off relegation?
After retaining their Welsh Premier League status at the mercy of Port Talbot Town’s unfortunate licensing failure – which now looks to be the least of their problems – Rhyl face a big challenge to keep their heads above the water. The squad has seen wholesale change full of new young signings who are yet to have Welsh Premier League experience and they may find it tough against some of the seasoned regulars. But, with a young manager they can resonate with in Niall McGuiness, the Lilywhites will be looking forward to getting started.
9.Improved coverage off field
They may come in for criticism at times, but the Welsh Premier League is making strides to improve the image of a league that many can’t wait to kick off – which is immediate evidence of their work. Main sponsor Dafabet continue to support the league, as well as Sgorio announcing live coverage of 11 games, one of which will see either TNS or Bala take on a side in the Irn Bru Cup. Furthermore, constant buzz in the social media circle of Welsh Football adds to a healthy atmosphere and communal spirit between all sets of fans.
10. Less postponements
Unless this very point jinxes the weather, travelling fans should hope for less postponements to games this year. No one wanted to see events like last season, when Bangor City fans travelled for over six hours to reach Carmarthen only for the game to be called off. Simple odds should make us optimistic for the season ahead, with eight* of the super 12 now playing on 3G.
*Cefn Druids and Aberystwyth expecting 3G to be installed at the start of the season.
Whatever happens this season, make sure you’re visiting our site for the latest news and updates as well as our Twitter feed @YClwbPelDroed.