After our thrilling 3-2 victory over Carmarthen Town, it’s back to being linked with various League 2 and Conference jobs. Lincoln are worried about Mark Venus leaving, Hereford have similar concerns with Ian Butterworth, Port Vale and Paul Simpson, David Holdsworth and Mansfield, Alan Knill and Bury, Andy Hessenthaler and Gillingham, Paul Ince and Colchester, Sammy McIlroy at Morecambe, Mark Yates and Cheltenham, Les Parry at Tranmere and, finally, Kevin Dillon could leave Aldershot. Although being linked with so many jobs, I’m not the favourite for any of them; however, I think there’s likely to be an offer or two over the summer if all those managers were to leave. There’s also good news and bad news through the week. The good news is that Wales U21s call up Darren Otten, whilst Aaron McCarey and Paudie Quinn get called up by the Republic of Ireland U21s. The bad news is that Steven Smith will be out for 2-3 weeks with a virus, whilst David Mooney is out for 4 weeks after fracturing his cheekbone in training after colliding with Steve Evans.
Our next match is a visit to Mid Wales Leisure, Latham Park where we will take on sixth-placed Newtown. The bookies have us 2/5 favourites and I make two changes, both enforced; Steve Evans replaces Steven Smith, whilst David Mooney’s replacement is Bagsan Graham. David Nixon is making his 75th career league appearance and his 25th league appearance for TNS. Scott McBride nearly opens the scoring in the 7th minute with an overhit cross, but it goes just over. Newtown play well and Campbell has chances in the 19th minute (just wide) and the 31st minute (shoots straight at Aaron McCarey). Newtown are knocking at the door and they open it in the 37th minute when Jones plays in Peat and he converts from 16 yards. The action in the first half ends in the 40th minute with Joseph Oastler picking up a booking. Newtown pick up where they left off in the first half and Klein-Davis shoots just over in the 50th minute and five minutes later, Griffiths heads wide from 6 yards. Wayne Carlisle goes close for us in the 72st minute with a lob that goes over and David Nixon celebrates his 25th league appearance for us with a yellow card. In the 80th minute, the net sees some action as Fitzgerald heads, but thankfully for us, it’s the side netting. A minute later, Conor Hourihane bursts into the area but gets tackled. The ball runs loose and Kofi Poyser slides in for his 6th goal of the season to rescue a point for us. Our game in hand over Carmarthen has been an uninspiring draw in front of 266 fans, but it does extend our lead at the top to 7 points. Peat gets named Man of the Match with a rating of 7.5 and a goal.
The managerial situation at Aldershot is incredibly serious as Kris Machala gets sacked. I’m linked with the job, but Shaun Derry takes the job. I also get linked with the Darlington job should Martin Foyle leave them at the end of the season. Darren Ebsworth pulls his hamstring in a reserves match and will be out for 5-6 weeks. The Welsh Premier Player of the Season contest is hotting up and David Mooney, Darren Otten and Paul Robson are all in contention to win it.
We face another away game, this time at Haverfordwest County. We’re 4/7 favourites, but by the time we reach Bridge Meadow Stadium, the game has been postponed due to a waterlogged pitch – the game gets rearranged for Wednesday 17th April. Carmarthen play and cut the gap to 4 points. I arrange a friendly against Glasgow University to keep the squad ticking over and we win 3-0.
Our home match against fourth-placed Airbus UK does not fall victim to any bad weather and we’re 1/6 favourites for the game. 250 fans turn out for my 100th game in football management and I make three changes – Jan Sebek replaces Aaron McCarey, a fit-again Steven Smith replaces Steve Evans and Paudie Quinn replaces Bagsan Graham as I change to a 4-3-3. Kofi Poyser is our lone centre forward, whilst Wayne Carlisle and Scott McBride are pushed on as attacking wide players. The change in formation has an instant impact, with McBride slipping in Carlisle in the 4th minute and he finishes into the far corner from 16 yards for his 6th goal of the season. Things get even better in the 8th minute when a McBride diagonal ball finds Poyser, who beats the keeper from 12 yards for his 7th goal of the season. I think the change of formation should have come earlier in the season! Airbus look to hit back and McClean heads just over in the 14th minute from 6 yards. This spurs us on to ensure victory and Poyser comes close to adding his second in the 25th minute, but shoots just wide from 18 yards. We have a corner in the 30th minute that Airbus clear to Conor Hourihane and he fires through a crowd with a bullet of a shot from 30 yards for his 3rd goal of the season. Hourihane finds Carlisle unmarked at the far post in the 34th minute, but his shot back across goal from 6 yards goes wide. The 36th minute sees Airbus go close when Wraighte hits the side netting. The second half is a bit of a non-event, with our best chance coming in the 54th minute when Poyser chests and volleys a McBridge cross against the bar from penalty spot. Airbus have a couple of late chances when Jones shoots at Sebek in the 86th minute and the same player sees a header cleared off the line in the 89th minute. McBride is named Man of the Match with a rating of 8.3 and 2 assists and our lead at the top extends to 7 points.
The Welsh Cup semi-final against Bangor City provides a distraction from the league and the game is played at Maesdu Park in front of 1697 spectators. The bookies make us 1/6 favourites, evidently ignoring the 11 changes I make. The early chances go to Bangor, with Gibson shooting wide and Young heading over in the 10th and 13th minute respectively. Matty Williams goes off injured in 35th minute and things get worse 6 minutes later when a cross from Walsh deflects off Hendry and goes in at the far corner. Jeff Whitley comes close to equalising in stoppage time, but his shot from 25 yards hits the bar. Disaster strikes in the 50th minute as McCarey makes a mistake outside the area and Connerton finishes into an empty net from 18 yards to double Bangor’s lead. Long almost makes it 3 in the 58th minute, but he slides in and puts the ball wide. With the game slipping away, Bagsan Graham plays in Lucas Akins, but he shoots over from 25 yards. His next effort is much closer (in all senses) as a header from 6 yards is tipped wide for a corner. Akins doesn’t give up and has efforts in the 84th minute (wide from 20 yards) and the 90th minute (a header from 10 yards straight at the keeper), but it’s too little, too late (although Danny Holmes does pick up a booking in stoppage time). Walsh is named Man of the Match with a rating of 8 and an assist as we crash out of the Welsh Cup. Whilst we were losing 2-0, Carmarthen were doing the same at Newtown and we are now potentially one game away from winning the league!