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Welsh Football Preview with Mark Pitman

Pitman is the one of the world’s leading experts on Welsh football.

Welsh football columnist and blogger Mark Pitman takes a look at the new season in Wales in an exclusive interview with ISN.

Visit for links to all blogs, news stories, features, reports and opinion as the big Welsh football news stories break. You can also follow Mark Pitman at and

Which Welsh Premier clubs are likely to finish top and bottom of the table?

The usual candidates are expected to finish at either end of the table, although there are usually one or two surprise packages for both the right and the wrong reasons during each campaign. For the title it is hard to look past the current champions The New Saints. They are now the only full-time side in the league and have again strengthened in the summer. Their artificial surface, currently the only one in the league offers a further advantage, and I expect a successful first full season in charge for manager Craig Harrison. Former champions Bangor City are likely to be in the chasing pack while Llanelli will still prove difficult opponents despite losing top goalscorer Rhys Griffiths. Bala Town are a club on the rise and their recent investment has been well-spent by manager Colin Caton. Other contenders for the coveted top-six place at the split include Airbus UK Broughton, Port Talbot Town, and Carmarthen Town. All three have made significant signings during the summer and will improve on last season when all three found themselves in the bottom six at the time of the mid-season split.

At the other end, newcomers GAP Connah’s Quay will prove a tough test with home advantage, but the league has improved since they were last in the top-flight but they should have enough strength to avoid a relegation battle and enough cash to buy their way out of trouble should they find themselves in any during the January transfer window. Prestatyn Town may find it difficult to once again push for a top six place, but this will be through the strengthening of their rivals more than through their own frailties, while Aberystwyth Town may suffer from the lack of an established quality goalscorer and from the loss of goalkeeper Stephen Cann to West Wales rivals Carmarthen. Newtown and Afan Lido are expected to find it difficult with limited budgets compared to their opponents, but both were expected to struggle last season and did impress against the odds, ironically meeting each other in the League Cup Final. Since the reduction to twelve clubs the league has been competitive each and every season with most clubs having plenty to play for right up until the last round of games before the mid-season split and the end of season rewards. A surprise is inevitable though, and with so many clubs investing for and expecting a top-six place by the split, don’t rule out a few managerial changes during the course of the season either.

What players are likely to have the biggest impact league wide?

For the first time in a number of years the Golden Boot is an open competition. Rhys Griffiths has held the title for the last seven seasons and his efforts have finally been rewarded with a move to the Football League with League Two club Plymouth Argyle. Llanelli will miss him after the striker brought an incredible return of 180 goals from 181 games for the club, but manager Andy Legg has replaced him intelligently with Martin Rose from Port Talbot Town and Luke Bowen from the now-defunct Neath. Griffiths was the headline signing for Port Talbot Town with Rose heading in the opposite direction but his Football League opportunity proved too big a temptation.

Greg Draper was another striker in fine form for The New Saints last season and even made his mark in ensuring Olympic qualification for New Zealand before being left out of the final squad. Draper established himself in the league last season with 22 goals from 27 league starts and could make an even bigger impact in an improved side this season. At the other end, defender Kai Edwards was named the Young Player of the Season last year during his time with Neath, and he has now returned to the full-time game with The New Saints and should impress in league’s safest backline. There are a number of talented players that have established themselves in the league over the last few years and a number of new arrivals this season that could make a significant impact. The above is only a small selection, although their influence over the season will depend on the success of their side, and it is no coincidence that two players from champions and title favourites The New Saints have been mentioned.

Are there any newcomers that should make a difference for their WPL side?

This will be a very interesting season in the fact that increased investment at certain clubs has attracted a number of outsiders to the league. Before the reduction to twelve clubs, the league stagnated with the same players moving between clubs, but the move to twelve teams has attracted talented players from the English pyramid into the Welsh system and there have already been some arrivals this summer of players with obvious quality. Airbus UK Broughton have headlined this change in culture with manager Andy Preece signing no less than eight players from his former club Northwich Victoria since his arrival at the Airfield, striker Wayne Riley the latest and highest-profile of these new additions, and the club have enjoyed some positive preseason results.

Port Talbot Town have also attracted some impressive names with former Southampton and Wales Under-21 midfielder Matthew Crowell returning to the club after a spell in Spain and defender Ryan Green becoming the latest former Welsh International to join the domestic top-flight. Ryan Fraughan made a big impact at The New Saints on-loan from Stockport County last season and he is again expected to impress having completed a permanent move to Park Hall. Other players from the English pyramid will also make their debuts in the Welsh Premier League, but how they will adapt to the league is difficult to determine.

Who is the next great Welsh footballer?

Wales have benefited greatly in recent years from the emergence of so many talented young players. The current golden generation includes established Premier League stars such as Gareth Bale, Aaron Ramsey, Joe Allen and Neil Taylor amongst others and their introduction to international football at an early age has offered solid experience as Chris Coleman plans for the World Cup qualifiers. The work of former manager John Toshack and his Intermediate manager Brian Flynn cannot be underestimated in developing this generation of player but there are a few more progressing towards the senior game. One of the most talked about is midfielder Emyr Hughes of Manchester City. Hughes has been talked about for a number of seasons and has played preseason first team football for his club during the summer. His emergence for could come sooner rather than later for the talented teenage star and he already appears destined to join the ranks of the aforementioned Premier League stars very soon, although it may unfortunately take a move away from Manchester City before he can establish himself as a regular in the senior game.

How would you describe the current state of soccer in Wales in general?

There is a stigma attached to the Welsh game which the Football Association of Wales have actively tried to extinguish since Jonathan Ford was appointed Chief Executive. Significant investment and effort has been made to improve all aspects of the Association from the development of the women’s game to the introduction of futsal and many other positive initiatives. Our clubs in the English pyramid system are enjoying great success with Swansea City planning for a second season in the Premier League and rivals Cardiff City looking to join them in the top-flight. Newport County are once again establishing themselves as a professional club and planning to join them in a return to the Football League are Wrexham. Investment into the Welsh Premier League remains a topic of debate, but there are small steps forward being made against some long-standing resentment and the league has benefited greatly from the excellent support of broadcasters S4/C who now show one live match every Saturday afternoon during the season.

The national team took significant strides forward under the late Gary Speed and now Chris Coleman and his backroom staff must rebuild and restore the optimism that emerged under the guidance of Speed. The challenge for the national league is a difficult one in testing financial times as the lack of support makes it difficult for clubs to continue with sustained investment to challenge for the European prizes available for success. Neath are a prime example having been liquidated during the summer, but other clubs in the past have suffered a similar fate, and there will be others to follow unless clubs learn to spend within their means. The national team also have a difficult challenge ahead as World Cup qualification in 2014 will depend on having every player available for every game. There are positives and negatives to take from each Welsh football situation at present, for some the glass is half-full but for others it is half-empty. However, domestic and international success can be achieved with unity and the potential is very much there.

Swansea City 5, Port Talbot Town 0

Pitman is the one of the world's leading experts on Welsh football.

Mark Pitman is a prominent Welsh football journalist and blogger. Visit for links to all blogs, news stories, features, reports and opinion as the big Welsh football news stories break. You can also follow Mark Pitman at and

Scottish striker Stephen Dobbie let his football do the talking in the sunshine on Saturday as he grabbed an opening half hat-trick to show new manager Michael Laudrup that he is determined to put the disappointment of last season behind him.

Dobbie opened the scoring from the penalty spot against the Welsh Premier League side within the opening few minutes and the lead was doubled by Leroy Lita. Laudrup took a backseat as Alan Curtis and Kristian O’Leary directed his side from the sidelines in a match when the experimental Swansea side were rarely troubled.

Dobbie added his second penalty of the game midway through the opening half after the home side had enjoyed a spell of possession, and then added a fourth just before the break with a performance that would have impressed his impressionable new boss. A number of changes at the break made for a more even second half, but young Henry Jones added a fifth for Swansea City as they outplayed their opponents in front of a large crowd.

How those involved in the match will feature in Laudrup’s squad this coming season is difficult to judge, but Dobbie has done his chances no harm, and both he and his side can be pleased with their afternoon’s work.

Talking Welsh Football with Mark Pitman

Mark Pitman is a prominent Welsh football journalist and blogger. Visit for links to all blogs, news stories, features, reports and opinion as the big Welsh football news stories break. You can also follow Mark Pitman at and 

Pitman is the one of the world's best experts on Welsh football.

Which clubs are likely to finish top of the table and bottom of the table?

I really think the title is Neath’s to lose this coming season. They are still strengthening despite  already having a wealth of talent at their disposal and will have more money to spend in the January transfer window. Their move to full-time football this season will have tremendous benefits once the players adapt and with Peter Nicholas an instrumental part of the coaching staff they have someone on board who knows what it takes to win the Welsh Premier League. The pressure is on them to succeed however and only the title can begin to justify the level of investment that has been put into the project. I fully expect The New Saints to be their closest challengers at the top, strong at home with the advantage of the Welsh Premier’s only artificial surface, The New Saints are the only other full-time club in the league although they have been through a transitional summer after losing the title to Bangor City on the last day of last season. Champions Bangor City enjoyed an excellent campaign last year, but seem set to challenge with Llanelli for third place behind the two professional outfits. At the bottom Newtown are already strong favourites for relegation having lost players through a budget-cut but the league is otherwise very competitive. Bala Town and Airbus UK have strengthened significantly during the summer while Prestatyn Town have lost two very influential defenders and their main striker. Port Talbot Town boss Mark Jones has replaced a number of high-profile departures for what will be a season of transition for his club while newcomers Afan Lido have added some strength and experience to their side under new manager Andy Dyer since gaining promotion.

What players are likely to have the biggest impact league wide?

Neath striker Lee Trundle grabbed the headlines last season with his high-profile return to the Welsh Premier League and played an important part in Neath qualifying for the UEFA Europa League. With a years experience now behind him and his club moving to full-time football the former £1m striker can have no excuses for not making a big impact this season. Rhys Griffiths of Llanelli also seems set for another superb season in front of goal, the Welsh Premier League’s top scorer for the last six years should again enjoy some excellent service as his side continue to strengthen around him on the back of their Welsh Cup victory. From a defensive angle former Wales international defender Steve Evans has returned to The New Saints fold after a well-documented contract dispute and remains one of the most influential players in the Welsh Premier League while Neath’s Lee Kendall is widely-regarded as one of the best goalkeepers to have played in the league and his influence will play an important part in their title challenge.

Are there any newcomers that should make a difference for their side?

The Welsh Premier League welcomes a number of new additions this season and their arrival is a sure sign that standards are improving. There are now a number of players with Football League experience playing in the league and former Wrexham midfielder Matthew Crowell becomes one of the latest signings as he joins Port Talbot Town. Geoff Kellaway has recently impressed in Australia for Melbourne Victory but has now returned to his former club Aberystwyth Town while The New Saints have strengthened after the disappointment of last season by signing defensive duo Simon Spender and Jermaine Johnson. Upfront The New Saints have also brought New Zealand striker Greg Draper to the Welsh Premier League while Neath have signed Toby Jones from Conwy United, a forward who scored 45 times last season. It will be interesting to see how they, and a number of other experienced newcomers, adapt to the Welsh Premier League.

What player would be most likely to make a splash elsewhere in Europe via a transfer?

It is very difficult to judge. There is no doubt that the Welsh Premier League has some quality players, and although collective results in European competition have not been brilliant, there have been some impressive individual performances against teams from Scandinavia and other smaller nations. There are no players who could stroll into the top-flights of England, Germany, Spain etc, but significant investment is being made into the running of each club’s academy system and there are talented young players emerging from Welsh Premier League clubs each year. Tom Bradshaw (Shrewsbury Town), Jake Cassidy (Wolves), Jamie Reed (York City), Scott Barrow (Tamworth), and Danny Holmes (Tranmere Rovers) are just a few examples of players who have progressed from the Welsh Premier League to professional football in England over the last couple of years and as funding increases into academy football and coaching this list will grow and the reputation of the Welsh Premier League will grow with it. I mentioned Steve Evans earlier, in 2006 Steve went from being captain of the The New Saints to playing international football for Wales in less than a year due to a move to Wrexham. It shows that there are players in the league ready and waiting for their opportunity if professional clubs are willing to take a chance on them.

Who is the top manager in the league?

A popular argument this and one that is not exclusive to the Welsh Premier League. With significant funds available to them, compared to the rest of the league, Neath and The New Saints are expected to challenge at the top whoever is in charge. Bangor City won the title last season and for the three-years before lifted the Welsh Cup each time under the guidance of Nev Powell. The former Bangor player rightly earned the Manager of the Year award last season as his part-time side beat the odds and the same can be said for Andy Legg at Llanelli as his side convincingly defeated Bangor City in the Welsh Cup Final and this summer claimed a famous European win over Dinamo Tbilisi. At the other end of the table, former Northern Ireland international and World Cup veteran Bernard McNally has a difficult campaign ahead of him in charge of Newtown, and if he can keep them out of the bottom two places he would be as deserving as any of his peers. Strict coaching criteria means that each Welsh Premier League manager must hold, or be working towards, a UEFA Pro-Licence in order for their club to compete in the league so the standard of coaching and management is at a good level. As for who is the best, Nev Powell currently holds the official title, and it is a pretty-much deserved one.

Which Welsh Premier club has the best chance of having success in European competitions in the future?

There isn’t much point looking outside of the two full-time clubs for the answer to this question. The New Saints have made steady progress in Europe in recent campaigns and this year were the only club to make it through the opening round. They were also the first Welsh Premier League club ever to be seeded in the draw and this itself is a clear sign of their progress. Neath lost a difficult tie against Norwegian side Aalesund on their European debut this summer, but the move to full-time football and the continued strengthening of their squad will eventually bring better results in Europe if they can sustain their current level of investment. At present though The New Saints have the best chance of bringing some European success to the Welsh Premier League.

How would you describe the quality of play in the league?

The standard of football in the Welsh Premier League has traditionally been criticised by people who have rarely watched a game. The excellent work of television channel S4/C has seen the introduction of a weekly live match since the start of last season however and the league has been opened up to a much bigger audience as a result. Opinions remain mixed with some poor, but improving, playing surfaces offering little chance of teams producing an entertaining contest on a week-by-week basis and the lack of atmosphere generated from small crowds does little to improve the product either. The reduction to twelve clubs has improved the competitiveness of the league however, and with more and more players with Football League experience seeing the league as a viable option in their playing careers, the standard continues to steadily improve.

How would you describe the state of soccer in Wales in general?

It is hard to generalise when Swansea City are preparing to compete in the Premier League and the national team are at their lowest point for many years. In-between that Cardiff City are pushing for promotion to join the Swans from the Championship while Wrexham are fighting to stay in existence. Newport County of the Blue Square Premier and Welsh Premier League side Neath have both made the significant step of becoming full-time clubs this summer while the national league heads into the season as one of the few top-flights not to have the commercial and financial gain of a sponsor. The Football Association of Wales come in for heavy criticism from clubs and fans alike, but they continue to redeem themselves to some degree with investment into the women’s game in Wales and through the work of the Welsh Football Trust. The current state of play across Welsh football is indeed mixed! The flagship team of Welsh football however are the national team, and if their performance and ranking are to be used as an indication, then there is unfortunately a lot wrong it seems.

What do you see in the future for the Welsh men’s national team?

It will continue to get worse before it gets better. For a nation boasting a number of Premier League players such as Gareth Bale of Spurs and Aaron Ramsey of Arsenal there is no excuse for the current ranking or recent results. Years of bad management have now come to a head and the Football Association of Wales are suffering the consequences of their lack of action. A whole new culture needs to be introduced as players representing Wales have had too much pull for too long and the pride of representing Wales on the international stage appears to have been largely lost. Fans have voted with their feet and a national team that once regularly sold out the Millennium Stadium now struggles to fill regional rugby grounds. Gary Speed has been appointed as the man to make the short and long term changes, but has so far only offered lip service to that effect during his short time in charge. Welsh football needs a strong national team, but it needs strong leadership and guidance from its governing body to achieve it. Wales sadly lack both.