The New Saints return to action tonight for their Phase 2 clash against Newtown, a week after their visit to Bala Town was postponed.
With leaders Connah’s Quay hosting Caernarfon Town, a combination of results in the Saints favour could push them back to the top of the Welsh Premier League.
The defending champions swept to a 4-0 win over Newtown in their penultimate Phase 1 fixture – but only after Jamie Mullan scored twice in first-half added time to separate what had been a closely contested opening.
Manager Scott Ruscoe says his team will be ready to go to face a Newtown side, who he believes have strengthened well in the January window: “We’ve had a few days rest and are ready to go again Friday to make sure we don’t slip up.
“They’ve added to their squad and they very nearly took a couple of points off Connah’s Quay.
“The players they have brought in are all from professional clubs, whether on loan or they’ve been released, they’ve all got experience.”
Deadline day signing Billy Whitehouse could make his The New Saints debut but experienced midfielder Chris Seargeant has been ruled out.
“Chris Seargeant is still out and we’re looking at getting a couple of others who can hopefully get back into the squad but it’s touch and go, we’ve got enough options in the squad to compete for Friday anyway.”
Connah’s Quay will be looking to maintain their winning start to Phase 2 after coming from behind to overcome Newtown.
That result gave them a narrow one point lead at the WPL summit and the Nomads can expect another test against a Caernarfon Town side, who have lost just once in their last 10 league outings.
LLANELLI FACE ‘BIGGEST GAME’
In South Wales, Andy Hill has described tonight’s match against Aberystwyth as their ‘biggest game of the season’ as Llanelli Town’s relegation battle heats up.
The Reds are six points adrift of safety in the bottom-two and can cut the gap between themselves and 10th-placed Cefn Druids tonight.
Llanelli have nine games remaining in which to dig themselves out trouble.
They will however be without Leon Britton, and possibly captain Joe Clarke, who Andy Hill will make a late decision on.
“It’s the biggest game of the season for us, we’ve just got to concentrate on our home games, and we have to get three points on Friday night,” said Hill.
Llanelli began their Phase 2 campaign with a frustrating goalless draw against 10-men Cefn Druids – a side Hill has identified as the Reds’ direct relegation rivals.
The Llanelli manager says he wants to build on the momentum gained from last week’s game and hopes results elsewhere work in the Reds’ favour.
“It was a great chance to get three points, but it was important we didn’t lose that game,” he said.
“We’re hoping Cardiff Met can do us a favour [on Sunday] and we just have to better Cefn Druids’ results. We’ve got them to play at home, so we’ve got to mark that down as three points, it’s between us and them I think.”
That draw with Cefn Druids saw star signing Leon Britton pick up a season-ending injury after making just two appearances for the club.
Hill confirmed: “It’s a massive blow. We were looking down his eyes to try and steer ourselves out of trouble with his experience from the Premier League. I think any club losing a player of Leon’s calibre is going to suffer.
“He has said he’s still going to be around to help out, so hopefully his experience and knowledge off the field Is going to be big for us.”
The challenge on Britton from Cefn Druids’ Fisnik Hajdari has divided opinion this week but Hill felt there was no malice in the player’s attempt to win the ball.
“When the game was going on it didn’t seem too bad and not the sort of challenge you would jump out of your seat about,” said Hill, “but having seen it on the TV cameras I just think it’s a full-blooded challenge.
“Leon did say after the game, he knew it was going to happen but had to get his foot there to get the ball, and knew that the challenge was going to come down onto his foot.
“I don’t think it was malicious, I don’t think there was intent there, it was just a tough challenge and Leon’s foot was in the way,” he explained.
Aberystwyth interim manager Gavin Allen says survival remains his priority despite his side’s 12-point margin over the drop zone.
“If we take points from teams i.e. Llanelli, it’s going to be tough for them to catch us,” he said. “I know expectations are for us to get into the play-off but the biggest thing for us is to stay in this league.”
Allen’s side sit eighth in the table after ending a seven-game losing stretch in their draw with Llandudno last weekend.
On Saturday, Llandudno host Carmarthen Town and Barry Town face Bala Town in the live televised game. Relegation threatened Cefn Druids travel to capital on Sunday to face Cardiff Met.
WPL WEEKEND FIXTURES
Friday (all 7.45): Connah’s Quay v Caernarfon Town, Llanelli Town v Aberystwyth Town, The New Saints v Newtown. Saturday: Llandudno v Carmarthen (2.30), Barry Town v Bala Town (7.30, live Sgorio game). Sunday: Cardiff Met v Cefn Druids (2.30).
|1||Connah’s Quay Nomads||23||15||3||5||61||24||37||48|
|2||Barry Town United FC||23||15||2||6||40||33||7||47|
|3||The New Saints||22||14||4||4||63||12||51||46|
|7||Cardiff Metropolitan University||23||9||3||11||35||32||3||30|
|9||Carmarthen Town AFC||23||7||6||10||31||42||-11||27|
|11||Llanelli Town AFC||23||4||4||15||21||70||-49||16|