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Wednesday, 04 May 2016 10:08

The Double Treble

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MONDAY 2nd MAY. The Glyndwr Racecourse Stadium - hail, rain & sunny intervals.
Back on the northbound train, for the second time in three days, and heading for Wrexham, the chosen venue for this year's Welsh Cup final. I'm ambivalent about the choice, as neither finalist has a huge supporter base, and the locals in Wrexham are indifferent to Welsh football - this means only one side of the Racecourse will be open (the antiquated main stand). The FAW have done everything possible to promote the game via social media, but once again huge sections of mainstream media ignore the occasion - and the potentially historic achievement if the Saints can secure the domestic treble for the second year running.

Before the game, there's plenty of activity in what's left of the Racecourse car park, with a merchandise stall doing reasonably brisk business in a range including friendship scarves, until increasingly heavy showers start to send everyone dashing for cover. We hope the showers will pass...

Inside, as kick off approaches, the atmosphere on the stand side is good, with the lower tiers full - the green TNS supporters to the town end, the blue Airbus fans towards the scoreboard end, and neutrals scattered around. The pre-match formalities (anthem, presentations etc) take place in drier conditions, and the game starts with TNS kicking towards the empty stand at the scoreboard end, although in fact most of the early action takes place in front of the decaying terrace at the other end. Airbus are taking the game to the holders, and are creating - but not taking - chances. [article continues, if not visible click on Read More below]

For the first half an hour, having selected my photography pitch behind James Coates's goal, I'm not seeing much of the ball, but then suddenly a goal is scored in front of me: a corner to TNS, hit long and delivered back into the box, where Ryan Brobbel swivels to turn it in from a very sharp angle.

1-0 at half time, and not a classic half of football - a little scrappy, maybe as a result of Airbus preventing TNS from imposing their preferred style of play on the game. Nevertheless, they have the important advantage.

Half time sees another interlude between showers, and the game restarts in sunny conditions, with TNS now looking increasingly comfortable defending their lead, although Airbus are still posing a threat. They need a goal quickly to shake TNS's grip on the game, but it's not to be - instead, a break down the right by Adrian Cieslewicz brings a second Saints goal - his shot takes a deflection and falls to the unmarked Scott Quigley, who buries the ball in the net. Quigley races to the touchline to celebrate with his adoring army of junior Saints.

Now Airbus are forced to throw caution to the wind, and leave gaps that the Saints should exploit. That they don't add to their two goals is down to some very wayward finishing, but it doesn't really matter. The final whistle approaches with the men in hoops simply holding the ball. After the whistle, the FAW team goes into action to assemble the presentation podium (the Racecourse ground staff can't enjoy seeing the lorry making deep tracks in their turf). The process of building the podium and assembling the teams in the right order takes a while, under an ominously darkening sky. The cup is presented as the rain starts, and as the celebrations commence one of the afternoon's more dramatic hailstorms, and everyone runs for cover again...

The New Saints have indeed achieved the remarkable feat of back-to-back trebles (not to mention a third consecutive Welsh Cup win). In truth, they were not at their most impressive today, rather in keeping with their recent league form, although it's been more than good enough. It's hardly surprising that they go off the boil at times - their season has been going eleven months, stretching back to the Champions League campaign in June/July last year. I hope they can have a little rest for a couple of weeks - for Craig Harrison's next challenge is to bring his squad back to its peak for the next Champions League campaign - in less than two months' time.

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