Zac Jones

Haverfordwest County goalkeeper Zac Jones: Pic: Sgorio.

Newtown’s Attack v Haverfordwest County Hero Zak . . . With European Football The Prize

By David Parsons

Zac Jones stands between Newtown and a place in European football next season.

The Haverfordwest County goalkeeper will be the man Newtown have to beat when sixth faces seventh in the JD Cymru Play-Off final.

At stake is a place in the first qualifying round of the UEFA Europa Conference League when the teams clash at Latham Park on Saturday.

Newtown earned home advantage by going to Bala Town and winning 4-2, while some amazing goalkeeping heroics from Zac Jones, who saved three penalties in the match, saw Haverfordwest County through to their first final in a shoot-out at Cardiff Met.

So, the final piece in the Welsh football domestic jigsaw will be put in place as the curtain comes down on a season that kicked-off on 14 August last year.

Nine months on, the prize for the winners in mid-Wales will be a lucrative ticket into European football in July along with The New Saints, Connah’s Quay Nomads and Penybont.

As important as the money guaranteed by UEFA is to the clubs, it is the opportunity the competition offers to the players that is the most important thing on offer.

The two teams have met twice so far this season, with Newtown taking the spoils in the first encounter – a 3-2 victory at the Ogi Bridge Meadow in September – while they also came out on top 2-0 at Latham Park in December.

But they will take the Bluebirds for granted at their peril. Their visitors are on an eight-game unbeaten run and will be backed by a sizeable away following for a game at which the gates have been thrown open to allow fans to enjoy the game for free.

Bluebirds boss Tony Pennock knows how tough a test it is going to be for his side, especially as Newtown’s sharpshooter Aaron Williams and Zeli Ismael both scored twice in the win at Bala.

“They’ve got the better of us twice already this season, so we’ll need to be at the top of our game to get anything of the fixture,” said Pennock.

“We can’t rely on one player. If we’ve got two or three missing, it’s going to be a difficult afternoon – every player needs to be on his game.”

Newtown went into Europe last summer and beat the Faroe Islands side HB Torshvan over the two legs in the first qualifying round. They then went out 6-2 on aggregate to the Slovakian club Sparta Trnava.

Those two games merely whetted the appetite of manager Chris Hughes and his players for more European adventures.

Isamel hasn’t forgotten his goal in the penalty shoot-out victory over Torshvn.

“I loved playing in the Europa Conference League last season, it was an unbelievable experience. Everyone who was here for those games wants to experience it again and the boys who have joined since want to experience it for the first time,” he said.

“We’ve prepared well and done everything correctly, so hopefully we get the result that we all want. It’s a big game, so there will be nerves and tension, but we have to see it as just another game of football.

“I’m fully expecting Haverfordwest to come at us, but we will do the same. We certainly won’t sit off them.

“I remember from phase one that they are quite a technical side who like to keep the ball, which is the same as us, so it will be a good battle.”

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