94th minute winners, giant killings and frozen pitches, this weekend’s Welsh Cup third round had it all. The early stages of the competition are guaranteed to entertain, but this year some games made a strong case for the expansion of Wales’ top flight.
Goytre FC, Caernarfon and Penybont all made big statements by beating Llandudno, Carmarthen and Airbus respectively. Whilst a cross-pyramid competition will always promise upsets, these results simply can’t be put down to the magic of the cup.
To put their achievements into perspective, two teams who have played in Europe in the past two seasons were knocked out of the cup by feeder league clubs – another Europa qualifier, gap Connah’s Quay, were trailing 2-1 down to Goytre United in the 90th minute before a last gasp comeback.
These results are proof of a growing quality in the feeder leagues, with consensus building that a 16 team league with your Caernarfons, Prestatyns, Goytres and Barrys could help inject some excitement into a league often criticised for being boring, due to the guarantee you’ll play at least six clubs four times a season.
Welsh Premier newcomers Cardiff Met are living proof of the effect a lower league team can have on the top flight. Their pure football brand has come good for them under the management of Dr Christian Edwards, who has guided them to fifth in the table giving them a very real chance of top six qualifcation and the chance to fight for an Europa League place.
You only have to look at Llandudno for confirmation that Cardiff’s dreams might come true, as last season the Seasiders took the league by storm, going straight from promotion to qualifying for Europe.
The list of clubs capable of feats such as Cardiff’s and Llandudno’s is a subjective, yet long one. Based on current league tables, Prestatyn, Caernarfon, Goytre and Afan Lido are leading the tier two pack, but from Flint to Barry Town and even lower league Llanelli Town are amongst names fans would love to see back in the Welsh Premier.
The league administration remain in favour of the 12 club format and have justified reasons to do so, with nearly three quarters of all teams in the league now playing on a 3G surface and rising quality seeing the likes of former minnows Connah’s Quay and Llandudno qualify for Europe.
Yet the cost of the 12 club format success has been the disillusionment of fans who think their league deserves drama like that of the Welsh Cup, fans who might just be tempted back into the league should some fresh faces be introduced into it.
The season is far from over at all levels in Wales, and just as the football continues so will the argument about what is best for our national league.