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Wednesday, 27 July 2016 15:17

ROLE REVERSAL

TUESDAY 12th JULY - Park Hall, mild and dry
THE NEW SAINTS 0 APOEL NICOSIA 0 (UEFA Champions League, 2nd Qualifying Round, 1st leg)
A return to Oswestry after the Saints' first round win, but a very different match in prospect. Thankfully, it's a very different kind of day too, no approaching rainstorms. Just an approaching giant of European football, serial Cypriot champions Apoel, with a team stuffed with international players. It's clear TNS will face a very real role reversal compared with their games against Tre Penne.

And, of course, Craig Harrison's game plan is very different for this tie. TNS are cautious, well-organised and wary of the opposition, who demonstrate that they have plenty of skill, co-ordination and pace. TNS reach half time at 0-0, just a couple of half chances to show for the 45 minutes, and some dangerous situations successfully defended.

The second half is the same: solid defending, frustrating the visitors, but little threat, the forward players Quigley and Brobbel mostly battling unsuccessfully for scraps. Unable to hold the ball up in their opponents' half, TNS face a never-ending succession of attacking waves. But the clock ticks down and the score remains 0-0.

A goal-less draw is a huge achievement for the Welsh champions, considering how much more experienced and powerful Apoel clearly are. The game plan is intact - for no away goal has been conceded, and TNS can go to Cyprus with all to play for. It's a slim chance, but one goal out there would be very interesting indeed.

Published in Football
Sunday, 10 July 2016 07:01

Cold Welcome in a Hot Country

TUESDAY 5th JULY. San Marino Stadium, dry and humid.
S.P. TRE PENNE 0 THE NEW SAINTS 3 (UEFA Champions League, 1st Qualifying Round, 2nd Leg)

San Marino isn't the easiest place to get to from Cardiff. My journey for Tuesday evening's return fixture in the Champions League starts at 5.30 a.m. on Monday, and involves a taxi, flight to Milan, airport express transfer, a three hour train journey to Milan, and a bus to San Marino. With an overnight stop in the handsome seaside city of Rimini, we finally arrive in San Marino on Tuesday morning.

San Marino city perches on top of a mountain, overlooking the rest of this tiny landlocked republic spread out in the foothills. It's a lovely place to while away most of Tuesday, and whilst sightseeing we keep bumping into the TNS official party. When we stop for lunch, the very friendly multi-lingual waiter guesses we're here for the game - he turns out to be a Tre Penne fan. I ponder the contrast - nobody in Oswestry town centre last week even seemed to know there was a game on. The home fan is sure his team will "lose heavily" tonight....  

Published in Football
Wednesday, 29 June 2016 13:29

The Underdog Bites Again

TUESDAY 28th JUNE - Park Hall Stadium, heavy rain.
THE NEW SAINTS 2 S.P. TRE PENNE 1 (UEFA Champions League, 1st Qualifying Round, 1st Leg)

It's not yet July, the Euro 2016 tournament is only just past the half-way stage. Wales are still in it, and almost everyone's focus is on matters in France. But the UEFA Champions League 2016-17 tournament starts today - the first largely overlooked steps on a road leading to the final in Cardiff next summer.

Welsh champions The New Saints came through the first qualifying round last year - quite comfortably in the end, after a tricky first leg away in the Faroe Islands. This year their opponents are from sunnier climes - S.P. Tre Penne of San Marino. This season, TNS have the home leg first, so an opportunity maybe to ensure the away game next week is pressure-free. At least, that's how I'm thinking as I head up the English border towards Oswestry. (If rest of article not visible, click READ MORE below)

Published in Football
Sunday, 04 May 2014 21:00

TNS - AT THE DOUBLE

SATURDAY MAY 3RD 2014: The Racecourse - sunny
ABERYSTWYTH TOWN 2 THE NEW SAINTS 3 (FAW WELSH CUP FINAL)
It's been a long week, and I've had enough of travelling. I wouldn't really have chosen a longish trip to north-east Wales today, but I'm not going to miss the Welsh Cup final just because I'm tired. It's an easy train journey anyway (although an expensive one), and by just after 1pm I'm in Wrexham on a sunny and fairly benign spring Saturday. Just time for a quick pint in Wetherspoons' The Elihu Yale before strolling back along Mold Road to the Racecourse.

The Racecourse is a neutral venue, but isn't really anything like a midway point between Aberystwyth and Oswestry. Nor, in my opinion, is it an ideal venue for the Welsh Cup final - too large for a modest crowd, and generally too dated and too depressing. Three sides will be empty, the huge Mold Road stand, the university end stand, and the semi-derelict town end terrace. Just the lower tier of the grim old main stand is in use. But it's what the FAW have chosen to use, so here we are. The crowd is congregating around the main entrance, which these days is hemmed in by the encroaching student flats which have been built on the car park. And to be fair a decent atmosphere is building, with a drum band and dancers and a mini-football game in progress.

By kick off time, the band and dancers have moved inside the stadium, and after they've performed we have the anthem, the team presentations to Chris Coleman and FAW officials, and it's time to get a much-anticipated final underway. It's fair to say that most neutrals would prefer Aber to win today. And although I have nothing against TNS, I'm with them on that: Aber have not won the cup for 114 years, and have given their supporters relatively little success in recent times. There's a feeling that, whereas full-time TNS are undoubtedly the strongest side in the Welsh Premier, maybe this is Aber's year.

Published in Football

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