Mark Jones gives us his predictions
The New Saints are again favourites for the Welsh Premier League and our Sponsors, Corbett Sports suggest that it should be a case of who will finish second. But can the eleven other competing clubs, keep improving enough to trouble the reigning Champions?
The league enters into its 22nd season on Friday and calling the right results is getting more difficult as the League improves. Here, Mark Jones who took both Carmarthen and Port Talbot into Europe gives his Welsh Premier League Predictions for 2013/14…
A change of manager in the summer sees Ian Hughes in charge at Park Avenue, assisted by ex-Llanelli players Wyn Thomas and Antonio Corbisiero. Jordan Follows, Matty Collins and Sean Thornton were high profile departures while Geoff Kellaway and Craig Williams again ex Llanelli players will both add width and pace.
Hughes will be hoping that striker Mark Jones returns before the big kick off after his spell playing in Australia. New coaching staff will look for a top six finish at one of the leagues ‘big clubs Prediction:’
Prediction - Top six jury out - 50/50 chance
Key player – Chris Venables.
One to watch – Rhydian Davies
Chris Hartland is Afan Lido's key player
Paul Evans showed he would produce a team to compete towards the end of last season. Evans has made a shrewd decision in bringing back his own coaching staff who are all of Afan Lido mentality and I see this as a big positive. They must once again make The Marston Stadium a tough venue to travel to. Chris Hartland was a revelation last season and he could get 15 to 20 goals. The acquisition of a handful of Llanelli’s promising youngsters of last season will help. Watch out for left back Ryan Batleys long throws and Keyon Reffell is a talent who could blossom in the Welsh Premier.
Prediction – Lido will definitely improve on last season and will become harder to beat at home.
Key Player – Chris Hartland
One to Watch – Keyon Refell
Lee Owens is one to watch
The Wingmakers produced last season and finishing 2nd was a superb achievement by Andy Preece and coach Andy Morrison. There is no doubt that Airbus will be regarded by every other club as a major team to challenge and Andy Preece will know other clubs will be taking them much more seriously. To stay in the top two is a big challenge but midsummer signings like Chris Simm from Bangor and Nicky Ward will strengthen competition for places.
Prediction - To finish second again would be seen as a success. Tough ask but capable of runners up.
Key Player – Michael Roddy
One to Watch – Lee Owens
Colin Caton, Bala and their chairman (Nigel Akyroyd) must all take a bow for what they have achieved in reaching European football. The form team of the Welsh Premier at the tail end of last season finishing with an amazing thirteen game winning run. Dave Morley is a last minute signing but if he’s fit he is still a class WPL player. Mark Jones will again pull the midfield strings and Ian Sheridan will look to double his total of 10 goals last season to compensate for the loss of Lee Hunt’s 17 strikes last season. John Irving one of the WPL’s best right-backs will be a big loss to Caton’s defence who excelled last season.
Prediction – Europe again? Big ask but top six must be achievable if they finish like last season.
Key Player – Mark Jones
Les Davies is key for Bangor
One to Watch – 20 goals for Sheridan.
The Citizens playing squad had a summer break for the first time in six seasons. Nev Powell, Ken Price and Marc Limbert will take the positives out of that and look to start their season well. Captain James Brewerton has a long term injury and will be big boots to fill, while 21 goals Chris Simm has joined Airbus. Les Davies may gain goal scoring momentum again being the Number 9, and at his best, he can destroy centre half’s.
Jamie Petrie is a decent signing from Connah’s Quay. Nev has to try and make Nantporth a fortress like Farrar Road was for so long, but it will be difficult with such a wonderful playing surface.
Prediction – Top six
Key player – Les Davies
One to watch – Jamie Petrie
Christian Doidge - One to watch
Last season the Old Gold would have been very happy with their return of the Word Cup and a top half finish. Mark Aizlewood, Neil Smothers and Kevin Morris will have a tough job in matching that success.
A new pitch at Richmond Park may see a new style of play, but whatever happens they will still be very organized. Cortez Belle’s move from Port Talbot can be a massive coup for Aizlewood, if the big man settles well. They have a group of players who can ‘mix it’ with the best and no one will relish going to Richmond for a physical battle. Corey Thomas in midfield is growing into a quality player and if Liam Thomas can produce last season’s goals, a top six is on the cards.
Prediction – Top six (Just)
Key player – Cortez Belle
One to Watch – Christian Doidge
Mark McGregor would have come close in the manager of the year award had the Nomads not been stopped of their top six spot because of a technicality. Ricky Evans is still at the heart of the action in midfield and Danny Desormeaux and Mark Smyth are both good additions to the Nomad’s squad. Last season’s finish was 8th and they will do very well to finish higher than that. Rhys Healey is scoring regularly for Cardiff City 21’s and how McGregor could do with another youth product like him.
Newtown's Craig Williams
Prediction -They will do well to beat 8th last year.
Key Player - Ricky Evans
One to Watch - Mike Hayes
One of the three founder clubs still in the League. Have flirted a little with relegation over the past couple of seasons but there are positive vibes coming from the Robins that a 7th or 8th finish could be possible this time around. Latham Park always holds a nice welcome and teams don’t mind travelling there, which is not a great scenario for the home team or manager.
Ex-Aston Villa man Bernard McNally is trying to play a decent blend of football and Luke Boundford and Craig Williams both played with great attitude last year and could be top class in this league.
Prediction – Start well to finish 7th or 8th
Key player - Luke Boundford
One to Watch - Craig Williams
Lewis Harling of Port Talbot
Gradually improved last season to gain a decent fourth place finish, but ultimately just missed out after starting as favourites in Euro final play off.
Scott Young, Marc Cahill and Dave Adams are a young coaching team who will stamp their own ideas on playing patterns this season.
David Brooks scored 15 goals last term from the left wing and won all awards from the Steelmen’s vociferous supporters. The big summer signing in the Welsh Premier has to be the return of Golden Boot legend Rhys Griffiths who will hope to return to his prolific scoring exploits of the last decade and if he does, Europe could beckon.
Prediction – Top six
Key player – Rhys Griffiths
One to Watch – Lewis Harling
Neil Gibson and his side did the Town proud last season and also did fantastic in Europe. Well done! It’s back to basics now and the Welsh Premier fixture list throws up no easy games especially up North with plenty of ‘eager’ derby matches. The re signing of Lee Hunt to replace Jason Price is a master stroke to play alongside Andy Parkinson. Gibbo’s midfield may need a bit of WD40 but they are very cagey and know how to win battles. Right back Chris Davies can run for Wales.
Prestatyn's Chris Davies can run for Wales!
Prediction – 6th or 7th
Key player - Michael Parker
One to Watch - Chris Davies
The Lilywhites are back where they belong, in the top flight of Welsh football. Manager Greg Strong has done a great job in getting sunny Rhyl back up and Belle Vue will be one of the hardest grounds to gain away points. One of just a few clubs in the WPL where a home crowd can make a difference. Team togetherness and confidence from a promotion can often help a good start which will be needed.
Prediction – Mid Table
Key Player – Jonathan Bathurst
One to Watch – Paul McManus
Another title last season for TNS and who would argue against it again. They once again competed in Europe against a massive club in Legia Warsaw. You have to play against them on their Park Hall pitch to realize how quick they move the ball around and this alone usually secures about 30 out of 33 home points, which is massive. Their coaches Craig Harrison and Carl Darlington are very progressive and are always looking to improve and keep high standards at TNS.
Prediction - Champions
Key Player – Michael Wilde
One to Watch – Jamie Mullan