There’s no Bangor City this year but the new WPL season promises to be as unpredictable as ever – except that is for the actual title race. It would take an upset on par with Leicester City winning the Premier League to see a side other than The New Saints lift the league title come the end the season, and after a busy period of recruitment, this current Saints squad appears to be the strongest it has ever been. Indeed, trying to compete with The New Saints is an increasingly daunting prospect for the remaining 11 clubs and I fully expect them to comfortably surpass last season’s 14 point lead at the top of the table this year.
A new-look back four featuring right-back Kane Lewis and centre-back Ben Cabango, along with the arrival of attacking midfielder Danny Redmond gives the side a fresh lick of paint, whilst Scott Ruscoe’s accumulation of goal-scoring talent leaves the Saints with Greg Draper, Dean Ebbe and Kurtis Byrne all hungrily vying for the centre-forward position.
Beyond that Bala Town and Connah’s Quay will again lead the chasing pack. The growing rivalry that’s emerged between the two clubs over the last year or so will be one of the storylines of the season and I have a sneaking suspicion that Bala might just pip the Nomads to second-place, off the back of the late acquisitions of Henry Jones and Danny Gosset, which enables Colin Caton to have two of the most talented midfielders in the league at his disposal. Connah’s Quay have recruited Bangor City full-backs Danny Holmes and Laurence Wilson although the rest of the squad appears untouched.
Cardiff Met and the considerable fire power of Adam Roscrow and Elliot Evans should once again see the Students produce some eye-catching football and results to match, although achieving success in the play-offs is becoming a burden. We then enter the realms of guesswork with all of the remaining clubs hoping to land a top-six berth. Huw Griffiths stock continues to rise as he looks to have pulled another rabbit out of the hat at Cefn Druids, after capturing the signature of ex-Bangor forward Dean Rittenberg, Cefn Druids might have lost their surprise element from last season but they will remain well organised and hard to beat. Gavin Chesterfield has kept his Barry Town squad together and the addition of on-loan Newport County striker Momodou Touray should complement last season’s top-scorer Kayne McLaggon nicely. Further down the M4, another fallen giant in Welsh football, Llanelli AFC, will do well to make survival look as easy as Barry Town made it appear in last season. The Stebonheath club lifted the WPL title in 2008 but Andy Hill’s priority will be safety and the goals from Mark Jones who replaces Lee Trundle will be crucial to their season. Llanelli could well find the going tough this season. Caernarfon are the other newcomers and the Cofis finally get a chance to see if their side can hold their own back in the top-flight after some encouraging Cup performances against Welsh Premier opposition. How they’ll fare this season is hard to predict, but driven by their strong home support, I suspect they will be very hard to beat at home and results at The Oval could make all the difference.
After losing key out of contract players with nothing in return last summer, it’s been a far less stressful pre-season at Newtown. Chris Hughes has gone about his business quietly adding a mix of experience and youth which rounds his squad nicely. They still perhaps lack an out and out goalscorer but if the team weigh in with goals collectively, the Robins might just fly under the radar and be knocking on the door for a top-six spot though which would be another good season for the club. One team who will definitely be quietly harbouring ambitions of making a top-six push will be Iwan Griffiths’ Llandudno, who’ve under gone a major rebuild this summer with all but two of the last year’s squad being shipped out. Very much a wild card this season but if they can gel quickly and pick up momentum, they could be a team to watch out for. Coming off an excellent season with Aberystwyth, it will interesting to see what impact striker John Owens can make in this new-look side.
It was a turbulent season on and off the field for Carmarthen Town last season and they will be desperate to avoid a repeat of last season’s relegation battle. Only Bangor’s failure to obtain an FAW Domestic Licence saved them last time round and another tense season could be in the offing. Neil Smothers has hasn’t changed to much in terms of personnel but keeping out goals and getting points up on the board early on will be vital if the Old Gold are to survive. Aberystwyth will also be hoping to steer clear of relegation but even with experienced Nev Powell at the helm, the Seasiders could have their work cut-out. Star player Declan Walker remains but after losing most of last year’s main performers they look worryingly light in midfield and attack. Ashley Young and Damian Allen are going to be missed in midfield and it’s difficult to see where the goals are going to come from.
Matthew Burgess’ predicted final league table:
1. The New Saints
2. Bala Town
3. Connah’s Quay
4. Cefn Druids
5. Cardiff Met
6. Barry Town