After a break of 10 days, we travel to Park Avenue to take on Aberystwyth Town, who had held us to a draw in our last match. The match is in the League Cup and we go in as 2/5 favourites. The league is my priority, so I rest some players to ensure they will be 100% for the league game at the weekend; Darren Ebsworth comes in for Marco Pelosi, Paul Robson for McBride, Richie Partridge for Wayne Carlisle, Kofi Poyser for David Mooney and Lucas Akins for Matty Williams. Andrew McNeil also comes in due to Jan Sebek, who is away on U21 International duty for the Czech Republic (he comes on as an 85th minute substitute in a 0-0 draw with Cyprus U21s) – hopefully the 265 in attendance won’t be too disappointed that not all our big names are playing. Aberystwyth start the better side, but don’t create any real chances of note. We go closest to breaking the deadlock through a header from 16 yards by Poyser, but it is still a fair way wide. The header was from a cross by Robson and four minutes later, the same duo combine again but with success, Poyser sliding in on the 6 yard line just ahead of the keeper to score his first of the season. Robson remains in the action, picking up a yellow card in the 41st minute. We hold the lead going in to half-time, but Aberystwyth start the second half well and McNeil is called into action by Codling from 18 yards after a loose pass by Lucas Akins. The lead is doubled in the 74th minute as a cross from Darren Otten is chested down by Jeff Whitley to the right of the penalty spot and then volleyed in between the keeper and the near post for Whitley’s first of the season. McCarten picks up a yellow card in the 83rd minute after bringing down Kofi Poyser. In the 90th minute, McQuilkin brings down David Nixon in the area after a corner and Darren Otten steps up, powering the penalty into the net to the right hand side of the keeper for his first ever goal for TNS. The goal caps an impressive performance from Otten, who claims Man of the Match with a rating of 8.5 and a goal and assist to his name.
Four days later, we return to league action with a journey to Bridge Meadow Stadium to take on Haverfordwest and I make a number of changes from our League Cup success; Sebek for McNeil, Oastler (returning from his suspension) for Holmes, Pelosi for Ebsworth, Carlisle for Partridge, McBride for Robson and Mooney for Akins. After Poyser’s impressive performance in the League Cup and Williams having a poor last league game, I decide to give Poyser a chance to fight for a regular place in the starting line up. We start well, with David Mooney running down the right in the opening minute and picking out Kofi Poyser 20 yards out with a cross from the right, but the shot is wild and goes over. Roberts picks up a yellow card following a foul on Nixon in the 11th minute and in the 15th minute, Haverfordwest have their first chance as Rose-Miles shoots from 25 yards and Sebek smartly pushes the ball around the post. The deadlock is broken in the 30th minute when McLaren crosses from the right and Rose-Miles fires the hosts into the lead from 12 yards. Things go from bad to worse three minutes later as the same duo combine with the same result, this time a cross being met by Rose-Miles with a diving header from 8 yards. Haverfordwest go in to half-time with a 2-0 lead (although Gascoigne and Todd pick up yellow cards) and I make it clear to the boys that I expect better. We show more fight in the second half, with Marco Pelosi picking up a yellow card in the 48th minute. Scott McBride goes clear in the 64th minute, but a heavy touch allows the keeper to come out and smother the effort and the defence manage to clear. Two minutes later, Rose-Mills goes close to getting his hat-trick, but Sebek saves well. With three minutes to go, McBride steals the ball on the halfway line and runs into the area before being brought down. Darren Otten picks up the ball, places it on the spot and drives it low to the keeper’s right for his second of the season and in as many games; it’s also his first league goal. Unfortunately, it proves to be too little too late and we slump to a surprising 2-1 loss. Rose-Miles picks up Man of the Match for his two goals (rating of 8.8), but I’m too busy telling the team I’m not happy and I’m sure that all our fans watching on TV are feeling exactly the same, especially as the 5 point lead we held two games ago has disappeared and Airbus are level on points with us. Whilst I may not be happy, the 242 inside Bridge Meadow Stadium surely go home happy.
We’re back in action a week later, with Bala Town the visitors to Park Hall. We go in as 1/3 favourites and I make one change, with Ibrahim Farah coming in for Jeff Whitley as I look for a bit more creativity from the centre of midfield, something I feel has been lacking since the injury to Conor Hourihane. My midfield injury crisis (Hourihane is out and Paudie Quinn is returning for the reserves to get match fitness) worsens in the sixth minute with Scott McBride’s participation over; it’s a hip injury and he’s off to the specialist and will be out for three months. I don’t know if this further injury setback is the reason, but we seem to struggle to get going and Waldrum goes close for the visitors in the 21st minute with an effort from 20 yards, which Mooney matches two minutes later. In the 25th minute, Ibrahim Farah picks up a clearance from the keeper around the halfway line and runs into the box before firing past the keeper for his first of the season on his first appearance. There’s little further action in the half, although Joseph Oastler picks up a yellow card in stoppage time. The second half is devoid of action as well, with the best chance coming after Ibrahim Farah crosses into the box from the left, but Darren Otten tamely shoots at the keeper from 18 yards and he saves it with ease. Irving picks up a booking for the visitors in the 81st minute, whilst Steve Evans gets booked in stoppage time for blocking Ngoo. Oastler is Man of the Match with a rating of 7.5. It’s hardly a classic, but the 202 fans can leave happy with the three points despite an unremarkable performance and a draw for Airbus sees us top the table by 2 points. Airbus are the next visitors to Park Hall in three days time in the Quarter Final of the League Cup.