And we’re off!

After all the pre-season games, the serious stuff begins and my first League game is away at The GenQuip Stadium, home of Port Talbot Town. My Welsh Premier League debut is as 4/5 favourites and in front of 102 fans. Port Talbot may be at home, but they show little signs of going for it as they line up with a 4-5-1. After working hard to improve our options in the final third, the first chance of the season falls to veteran centre back Steve Evans in the fourth minute as a Marco Pelosi corner from the left finds him at the far post, but his shot hits the keeper. We force a number of corners, but Port Talbot do a good job of getting bodies in the way and we struggle to create clear chances. Hodgkinson picks up the first yellow card of the game as he trips up David Mooney. Scott McBride picks up our first yellow card of the season in the 51st minute following a shirt pull. Our best chance of the game comes in the 53rd minute, as Scott McBride crosses to the far post from the left and Richie Partridge has the goal at his mercy, but only manages to hit the post. It looks like it’s going to become one of those afternoons, although our pressure does start to create some chances as Mooney shoots wide in the 54th minute and McBride does the same in the 60th, with Matty Williams putting each one of them in. In the 64th minute, McBride gets hacked down and the ref waves ‘play on’ as we still have the ball; when we lose it, Otten commits a foul and picks up a yellow card. After all our neat passing play and looking to slip strikers in, the breakthrough comes in the 65th minute as Matty Williams receives a throw in and plays a long ball that finds David Mooney, who chips the advancing keeper from 20 yards and grabs a debut goal. The game then descends into farce, as referee Lee Evans proves his comedy credentials with just about every challenge resulting in a booking; Richards and Hay go into the book for Port Talbot, whilst Conor Hourihane and Phil Rayner go into the book for us. Marco Pelosi goes close with a free kick in the 88th minute, but Mr Evans has the final word and sends off Darren Otten on his debut in the 93rd minute for a foul on the halfway line. Having had 13 shots to 0, the margin of victory should have been more, but it’s still worth 3 points. Captain fantastic Matty Williams is Man of the Match, with an assist and a rating of 8.1.

My first home game comes a week later as we welcome Neath to Park Hall Stadium, with a crowd of 224 expectant fans. Neath are tipped to be there or thereabouts come the business end (and line up with a 3-4-3), so we’re going to need a better performance. I make one change, with Jeff Whitley coming in for the suspended Darren Otten. We’re 4/5 favourites for the match and start like it as a shot from David Mooney from outside the area causes the keeper to fumble before the Neath defence clear for a throw in. Neath come close to taking the lead by accident in the 21st minute as John mis-hits a shot from the right, but Jan Sebek is alert and palms the ball to safety before we clear it for a throw in. There’s no chance of John repeating this as he goes off injured in the 27th minute. In the 32nd minute, Jeff Whitley has a go from 30 yards, but his shot goes just wide. Despite being our holding midfielder, Whitley has another go six minutes later, but this time from 20 yards; the keeper stops it and the ball goes loose, but Neath are able to clear it. Much like our opening game, we reach half time in control, but with no rewards to show for it. We get our breakthrough in the 54th minute as Scott McBride goes down the left and his cross finds David Mooney, who gets brought down in the area. Scott McBride steps up, keeps his nerve and fires the ball to the keeper’s left and into the side of the net; the keeper stood no chance and McBride has a goal on his home debut. Seven minutes later, Conor Hourihane picks the ball up on the left hand side of the area and fires a missile into the right hand side of the net from 20 yards to get himself a goal on his home debut. And what a goal! David Nixon picks up a yellow card in the 69th minute for a pull back and Marco Pelosi was evidently watching John earlier; he mis-hits a cross from the left when level with the 18 yard box and it hits the crossbar as the keeper is scrambling back. In the 85th minute, an inswinging corner by Pelosi finds David Nixon at the near post and he gets brought down; penalty! Our second of the game! McBride has been substituted, so Mooney steps up and hits it along the ground to the keeper’s left and into the corner of the net to secure the points and score his second goal of the season and also score a goal on his home debut. Conor Hourihane picks up Man of the Match for his goal and a rating of 8.3. We out-shoot Neath 11-1 and have 5 of our efforts on target, so we look to be getting better going forwards.

Two games, two victories – what could go wrong? Well, Czech Republic U21s call up Jan Sebek, Republic of Ireland U21s call up Aaron McCarey and Conor Hourihane, Northern Ireland U21s call up Joe Jones and Wales U21s call up Ibrahim Farah. So I will be going into a game against defending champions Llanelli without my keeper, my substitute keeper and a strong midfielder. Thankfully, the game gets re-arranged from September 1st to September 19th due to the international call ups. Sebek plays twice for the Czechs, getting ratings of 6.9 as the Czechs win 4-0 in Iceland and 6.8 as they draw against Wales. McCarey picks up ratings of 6.9 in an Irish victory in the Faroe Islands and 6.7 in a 2-1 victory in Latvia. Joe Jones gets a rating of 6.3 and is substituted at half time as Northern Ireland U21s draw 2-2 against Switzerland.

August comes to an end and brings good news for TNS on a personal and team level; I get named Manager of the Month, whilst Jan Sebek, David Nixon, Conor Hourihane, David Mooney and Matty Williams make Team of the Month. Following the rearranged game, the next week has no fixture so I arrange a friendly at Wokingham to give the squad a run out and (hopefully) keep them sharp; we’re 1/33 favourites and win 4-2. The serious stuff resumes in a week’s time and we’ve got three games in a week due to the rearranged fixture.

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