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After 4 successive away games, we welcome third-placed Airbus UK Broughton to the unfamiliar setting of Park Hall. Despite the fact they’re third, the bookies have us a 1/6 favourites – perhaps they remember our demolition job completed at Llanelli. Steve Evans returns for Joe Jones, whilst a fit again David Mooney returns straight to the team at the expense of Lucas Akins. Paudie Quinn goes close to opening the scoring in the 8th minute after a corner, but his shot from inside the area goes over. Quinn remains in the action, picking up a yellow card in the 20th minute; David Nixon joins him in the 26th minute following a dive and Joseph Oastler follows a minute later after a foul. Davies is first into the book for Airbus UK in the 30th minute after fouling Mooney and Marco Pelosi ensures he really pays, firing in the free kick from 25 yards out to the bottom left hand side of the keeper’s goal for his first of the season. Airbus look to strike back and hit the post from 30 yards out in the 39th minute. We keep the lead until half time and in the 50th minute, Quinn commits a foul on the halfway line; the referee summons him over and I fear the worst, but he escapes with a talking to and is swiftly substituted for Darren Otten, who picks up a yellow card in the 70th minute. A one goal lead is never safe and Hamilton has a 1-on-1 chance in the 68th minute, but he can’t get a shot on target. The 76th minute sees the crucial second goal after Mooney cuts the ball back from the right byeline to Matty Williams, who blasts the ball into the roof of the net from 10 yards to end a 13 hour goal drought. The goal makes the points safe to the delight of the 195 in attendance, but Conor Hourihane picks up a yellow card in stoppage time. Marco Pelosi is named Man of the Match after his goal with a rating of 7.8.

The victory sees us remain top by a point with Bangor City keeping the pressure on. David Nixon’s yellow card is his fifth of the season and he will be suspended for the next match.

We welcome tenth-placed Newtown to Park Hall on the Saturday before Christmas and we’re 1/6 favourites again. Joe Jones comes in for the suspended David Nixon and amongst the 220 in attendance is the York City manager, Justin Edinburgh; he’s reported to be interested in Paul Robson. In the 16th minute, Robson sets up Matty Williams, but he can only hit the crossbar from 18 yards out. Robson’s value sky-rockets a minute later when he scores, but unfortunately the linesman on the far side has his flag up for offside. The notable action for the half ends in the 20th minute when Cadwallader picks up a yellow card for fouling David Mooney. Robson remains in the action in the 52nd minute when a ball over the top from the left hand side by him is picked up by Mooney, but he can only shoot wide. That’s our best chance of the half, but Johnston and Brown pick up yellow cards for the visitors. The game fizzles out to a 0-0 draw despite us controlling the game and Joe Jones picks up Man of the Match with a rating of 7.5. The Christmas non-cracker sees us drop to second, a point behind Bangor

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On the road

After our League Cup disappointment, we head to The Gnoll as Evens favourites to take on six-placed Neath. The Gnoll has a capacity of 12,000, so the 85 in attendance must be feeling quite lonely. Joseph Oastler returns for Danny Holmes, Jeff Whitley makes way Darren Otten, Paul Robson comes back in at Jay Young’s expense and Matty Williams replaces Bagsan Graham. Lee Evans is the referee and he gets to work immediately, booking John for a foul on Marco Pelosi in the third minute. Jan Sebek saves well in the fifth minute, pushing a shot away for a corner. It then returns to being the Mr Evans show as David Nixon enters the book in the sixth minute for a foul and Darren Otten joins him six minutes later following a shirt pull. The game goes quiet then for a while until Wayne Carlisle plays in David Mooney in the 34th minute, but the shot from 20 yards goes wide. Trundle has a chance for Neath in the 39th minute, but he chips over from 20 yards before being added to the book in the 43rd minute. The game remains quiet after half time, with the first incident of note coming in the 72nd minute when David Mooney enters the growing list in Mr Evans’ book. An inswinging corner from Marco Pelosi is cleared back to him in the 78th minute and he passes to Darren Otten, who takes a shot from 20 yards that is going wide until Steve Evans at the far post heads the ball goalwards; his header hits a defender, rolls along the face of the goal and reaches Mooney, who is on hand to tap home from 2 yards out for his 13th goal of the season. The lead doesn’t last long as a corner from John finds an unmarked Trundle at the far post and he makes no mistake from 6 yards out with a header. We almost nick a winner in the 85th minute, but Mooney’s shot skims the bar. In truth, it was a poor game and a victory would probably have been undeserved. Marco Pelosi claims Man of the Match with an assist and a rating of 7.9.

The draw sees us overtaken at the top, with Bangor City going top by a point. Joseph Oastler is named the second best Player of the Month, but it’s not good enough to make November’s Team of the Month. Marco Pelosi and David Mooney do make the cut for the Team of the Month. We haven’t been playing well and have been struggling in front of goal and in training, David Mooney picks up a strained neck in training, putting him out for two or three weeks; it never rains, but it pours.

Actually, it snows. Or at least it does for our visit to Stebonheath Park when we take on sixth-placed Llanelli. They were joint favourites for the title with us, so it’s safe to say they’re underperforming and the bookies agree; we’re 13/8 to win. The game is on TV, so more than the 240 inside will get to witness the action during Marco Pelosi’s 75th league appearance for the club. I make one change, with Lucas Akins coming in for the injured David Mooney. Llanelli get off to a flyer as Knight scores in the 3rd minute from just inside the area after having been played in by Griffiths. Just what a team struggling to score and without their leading scorer need – to be one down away from home inside three minutes. Fortunately, it seems to inspire the lads on the park and we’re level within two minutes following Marco Pelosi passing to Paudie Quinn from the left and Quinn fires in from 20 yards to score his first ever goal for the club. Things improve further in the 11th minute when McArdle brings down Lucas Akins in the area; Darren Otten steps up and fires low to the keeper’s left for his third of the season. Howland enters the book in the 31st minute following a foul on Quinn. Llanelli are able to level in the 40th minute as Griffiths scores from 18 yards after picking up a loose ball after a tackle by Joseph Oastler. Matty Williams tries to restore our lead in the 42nd minute, but his shot is deflected; the deflection does find Wayne Carlisle, but he can only shoot wide. Llanelli almost take the lead in the 52nd minute through Griffiths, but Jan Sebek saves well. A minute later, Otten joins Howland in the book and Steve Evans is added two minutes later after fouling Griffiths. Steve Evans puts this behind him and in the 59th minute he wins the ball on the halfway line and gives the ball to Matty Williams, who slides in Lucas Akins and he applies the finish from 18 yards for his 3rd goal of the season. There’s not a long wait for Akins to register his fourth of the season as 12 minutes later, he gets on the end of a Darren Otten inswinging corner and converts from 8 yards. McArdle had picked up a booking between the goals and in the 78th minute, Darren Otten picks up a second yellow card and takes the long and lonely walk back to the changing room for an early bath. It’s Otten’s second red card of the season and card-happy Lee Evans has been the referee both times. There’s still time for another goal in the game and it comes in the 85th minute; Danny Holmes switches play from right back and finds Paul Robson, who gets his second of the season from just inside the area to give us a remarkable 5-2 victory. Mr Evans also finds time to issue another card, with Knight picking up a yellow card in the 87th minute. Lucas Akins is named Man of the Match following his 2 goals and an assist, giving him a rating of 8.8.

The victory puts us top by a point and there’s more good news as Ibrahim Farah is rumoured to amongst the front-runners for Welsh Young Player of the Season; to date, he’s made 5 appearances (2 of them have been as a substitute) and has a goal to his name and an average rating of 6.88. It’s not all good news, as Steve Evans’ booking in our victory at Llanelli is his fifth of the season, so he’ll be suspended for our next match.

Once again, we board the bus and set the sat-nav for Brewery Field to take on rock-bottom Bridgend, who have yet to record a victory. The bookies believe in us and make us 1/3 favourites as we travel towards to the 12,000 capacity of Brewery Field, although we don’t receive the most hostile welcome as only 44 people turn up. Joe Jones makes his league debut for us, coming in for the suspended Steve Evans, whilst the fit-again Conor Hourihane returns, taking the place of the suspended Darren Otten. We make a good start and in the 10th minute, Matty Williams squares to Paudie Quinn, who fires his second of the season into the top left of the goal for his second of the season. Unfortunately, the lead doesn’t last long as Pugh skips past Joseph Oastler and his cross from the left is met by White, who slides in and scores from 6 yards. Matty Williams goes close in the 18th minute to restoring our lead from 20 yards and also in the 39th minute, when he shoots over from 12 yards; between these two efforts, there’s a yellow card apiece as Griffiths and Hourihane enter the book and French joins them in the 41st minute. Just before half time, a long ball finds Lucas Akins in the area and although he collects it well, he shoots wide. The second half begins with Pugh being booked and in the 54th minute, Joe Jones looks to mark his league debut with a 30 yarder, but only succeeds in skimming the bar. A minute later, Matty Williams slides in Lucas Akins, but he can only find the bar from 18 yards. Three minutes later and it’s the turn of Bridgend to hit the bar via a header from 8 yards out by an unmarked White. The 64th minute sees a diagonal Marco Pelosi free kick find Wayne Carlisle unmarked 8 yards out and he coolly slots in a half volley for his 3rd goal of the season. The lead nearly extends three minutes later when the keeper spills a cross from the left by Paul Robson, but Akins can only find the post from two yards out. In the 74th minute, Pelosi passes from the left and Williams is fouled, with the referee pointing to the spot. Our usual penalty takers (McBride, Mooney and Otten) are all either injured or suspended, so captain Williams picks himself up, dusts himself off and places the ball on the spot. A real confidence booster for him as he’s been suffering a goal drought and he confidently fires low to the keeper’s right. Unfortunately, it goes wide, summing up our performance in front of goal in this game and Williams’ season; the drought continues. Williams sets up Carlisle in the 86th minute, but Bridgend get a tackle in and clear before Carlisle can shoot and Ibrahim Farah picks up a booking in the 90th minute as we record a nervy 2-1 victory. Marco Pelosi picks up another Man of the Match award following his assist and rating of 7.8.

The victory sees us remain top and we’ll finally be playing at Park Hall again, although it will be against Airbus UK Broughton who are in the chasing pack.

All the competitions

The third round of the Welsh Cup sees us welcome Caerleon to Park Hall and we go in as 1/10 favourites. With an eye on our upcoming first leg of the League Cup semi-final and it being a game against lower league opposition, I change the starting line-up completely. We’re immediately on the front foot and Jeff Whitley hits the crossbar from 20 yards out in the 9th minute, with Caerleon scrambling it away for nothing more than a corner. A corner in the 16th minute looks as though we might be awarded a penalty, but the referee takes a different view and books Joe Jones for diving. Darren Ebsworth joins him in the book 11 minutes later following a foul, whilst Penny is the third to pick up a yellow 2 minutes later for pulling back Kofi Poyser. Jay Young goes close to breaking the deadlock in the 30th minute when a mis-hit cross from the left hits the bar, which also comes to Caerleon’s rescue again in the 45th minute when it’s the turn of Lucas Akins to find the woodwork from 30 yards after a run from the halfway line. Akins receives another chance two minutes after the break, but his header from a Richie Partridge free kick is straight at the keeper. In the 65th minute, Akins sets off from the halfway line again and gets into the area, but the keeper comes out and smothers the shot. Eight minutes later, Jeff Whitley shoots from 25 yards with the inevitable result – the crossbar is rattled. It’s clearly not our day, proved further in the 80th minute when Phil Rayner plays in Kofi Poyser, but the keeper is equal to the effort. Following all our possession football and creating chances with clever passes or shooting from range, the breakthrough comes in the 84th minute when Kofi Poyser flicks on a long ball from the back and Lucas Akins gets to the ball ahead of the onrushing keeper and slots into an empty net from 20 yards for his second of the season. Kofi Poyser claims Man of the Match with a rating of 7.5 and an assist and the 189 spectators have to leave happy with a victory, but no mountain of goals as predicted. The fourth round will see us welcome Port Talbot Town to Park Hall.

The first leg of the League Cup final follows days later as Bala Town visit Park Hall and the line-up is changed completely again, with all the regulars returning for the 1/2 favourites in front of our largest attendance of the season – 480. We’re on the front foot from the off, with Paul Robson shooting narrowly over in the second minute from 18 yards. In the 14th minute, Matty Williams crosses from the left and finds Darren Otten, who can only find the side netting at the near post. Seven minutes later, an inswinging corner from Marco Pelosi is met by David Mooney, but the keeper pushes it away and Bala clear for a throw. Mooney finds the net in the 26th minute after being played in by Robson, but unfortunately it’s the side netting. Bala’s first chance of note comes in the 40th minute when Bowen is played in, but Jan Sebek is able to push the shot away and Joseph Oastler completes removing the danger by putting the ball out for a throw. The second half begins in heavy rain and Bala take the lead in farcical circumstances in the 59th minute when Robinson crosses from the right; the cross hits the back of the head of a Bala player and beats the dive of Sebek, hits the post, hits Sebek on the back of the head and trickles in for an own goal. Bala are able to double their lead when Ngoo crosses in from the left and Bowen heads in from 6 yards. Mooney goes close to pulling one back in the 88th minute after Darren Otten plays him in, but the keeper is able to save at the expense of a corner. Bowen claims Man of the Match with a rating of 7.6 and a goal and we have a two-goal deficit to overcome in a week’s time.

Before the second leg, we welcome Port Talbot Town (who are in 11th) to Park Hall for our third home game in a week. Richie Partridge comes in for Wayne Carlisle and we’re 1/6 favourites. Again, we start well and Steve Evans plays a ball over the top in the 7th minute, with only a heavy touch from David Mooney denying us a chance. Two minutes later, Joseph Oastler plays a ball over the top; Richie Partridge’s control is better, but his finishing sees the ball over the bar. We control the game well, but struggle in the final third as the next event of note is in the 42nd minute when Paudie Quinn gets booked for a trip. Mooney’s touch returns in stoppage time, but the keeper is able to push his shot away. Port Talbot go close to taking a lead against the run of play in the 59th minute, but Mirzai’s shot goes just wide, something that Mooney achieves for us in the 82nd minute. This proves to be the last chance of the game and the 215 fans have endured a dour 0-0 performance. Steve Evans claims Man of the Match with a rating of 7.7 and Airbus draw level with us on points.

Our goal-shy team travels to Maes Tegid to overturn a 2-0 deficit from the first leg against Bala Town. We’re 1/2 favourites for the match, which seems optimistic considering our recent form and the result a week ago. Danny Holmes comes in for Joseph Oastler, Jeff Whitley for Darren Otten, Wayne Carlisle for Richie Partrige, Jay Young for Paul Robson and Bagsan Graham for Matty Williams as I change from our usual 4-4-2 to a 4-2-3-1 as we go in search of goals. Graham goes close to opening the scoring in the fifth minute, but he shoots just wide from 20 yards. Bala open the scoring in the 26th minute when Ellis nods in a Waldrum cross from the left from 6 yards out. Our response is both impressive and immediate – 2 minutes later, Wayne Carlisle is brought down in the area and David Mooney steps up fires low to the keeper’s left for his 12th of the season. The stroke of half time sees what feels like a crucial moment in the tie as Jay Young crosses from the left and finds Mooney at the far post and 6 yards out; with the goal at his mercy, he somehow shoots wide. Mooney has a chance to make amends a minute into the second half after Graham plays him in, but the keeper saves his 20 yard effort. Jay Young causes more problems with a cross from the left in the 51st minute as the keeper drops it, but Bala are able to clear for a throw in. Three minutes later and there’s a goal, but unfortunately it’s against us as an outswinging corner from Waldrum sees Ngoo sliding in and his effort hitting Steve Evans before going in for an own goal, the second we’ve conceded in the tie. Mooney gets into the Bala area in the 66th minute, but the keeper saves and the rebound goes wide. The tie is put to bed in the 72nd minute when Waldrum finds Davey who fires in. I make some substitutions to rest players ahead of our weekend game and with a maximum of three substitutes named and used, goalkeeper Andrew McNeil finds himself playing in central midfield. We manage to claw a goal back in the 83rd minute when Marco Pelosi plays the ball in from the left and Bala clear to the edge of the area and, as Chris Kamara might say, unbelievable – Andrew McNeil picks the ball up and and coolly slots home for his (unsurprisingly) first of the season as well as for the club. The game finishes 3-2 in Bala’s favour as they claim the tie 5-2 to the delight of the 162 spectators. Waldrum claims Man of the Match for his three assists and finishes with a rating of 9.

Whilst we’re crashing out of the League Cup, Ibrahim Farah comes on for the Welsh U21s in the 66th minute and ends up with a rating of 8.1 and a goal in a 3-3 draw with Sweden U21s. We have to pick ourselves up and dust ourselves off and prepare for a visit to Neath.

Sublime and ridiculous

We welcome Airbus UK Broughton to Park Hall for the quarter final of the League Cup. The bookmakers have us as 1/4 favourites, but evidently they haven’t seen my team selection as I make 10 changes from the weekend, with only Ibrahim Farah remaining in the side. Notable inclusions are centre back Joe Jones, who makes his debut for us and left back Andy Scarlett, who I bring up from the Under-19s to make his debut. The crowd of 233 includes Northwich Victoria manager Paul Higgins, who is reported to be interested in Joe Jones. Thankfully, Andy Scarlett is not over-awed and in the 18th minute he passes into the area and Lucas Akins applies the finishing touch into the top corner at the near post from 12 yards to register his first goal of the season. The lead comes close to being doubled a minute later when Ibrahim Farah lifts a ball over the defence, but Kofi Poyser can only shoot wide. The lead does double in the 31st minute when Lucas Akins passes to Poyser, who rifles home from 18 yards for his second of the season. We take out two goal lead in at the break, but it comes close to being halved two minutes after half-time when McManus shoots wide when only 8 yards out. Chances then start to dry up for both sides, with Akins probably having the most notable effort in the 72nd minute (even that is well wide though). Four minutes later, Akins picks the ball up on the halfway line, beats 3, powers into the area and… blazes well over the bar from 12 yards out. So good until the finish. Thankfully, it doesn’t matter and we see the game out. Lucas Akins claims Man of the Match with a rating of 8.2 following his goal and assist.

Team of the Month is announced and Marco Pelosi and David Mooney are included, but there is no Manager of the Month award (I don’t even make the top three). The semi-final draw for the League Cup pairs us with Bala Town, with the first leg being played at Park Hall.

Our next league game is a journey to Farrar Road, where we will take on Bangor City who are fourth going into the game. We’re 4/5 favourites and the team is as it was for the last league match, with the exceptions of Paul Robson replacing the injured Scott McBride and Paudie Quinn coming in for his debut after coming back from injury at the expense of Ibrahim Farah. As well as Quinn making his debut, there are also notable milestones for Joseph Oastler and Matty Williams, both of whom are making their 50th league appearance for us. Paudie Quinn is soon in the action, picking up a yellow card in the 8th minute as the referee (Lee Evans) clamps down early – he’s given plenty of cards already this season, so more can be expected during the game. Matty Williams has a chance to mark his milestone in style in the 10th minute, but fires across the face of the goal from 12 yards out. A poor clearance from Jan Sebek in the 17th minute is picked up by Bradley around the halfway line and he runs into our box, where is run is curtailed by Steve Evans who gives away a penalty. Gibson steps up for our hosts and shoots to the right of Sebek, but watches it go past the post. Matty Williams shoots wide in the 20th minute when 8 yards out, whilst Reed heads over from 6 yards out 5 minutes later. The 37th minute sees Hewitt-Fisher find his way into Mr Evans’ book and we create a chance in stoppage time with Wayne Carlisle playing in David Mooney, who shoots straight at the keeper. Matty Williams looks certain to open the scoring in the 47th minute with a wonderful effort from 20 yards, but an equally wonderful diving save from the keeper keeps the scores level; the agony is further compounded a minute later when Mooney hits the post from a tight angle a minute later. It’s starting to look like it’s not going to be our day, especially in front of goal. Darren Otten joins a growing list for Mr Evans in the 49th minute and in the 51st minute, an inswinging corner by Gibson is met by the head of Long 6 yards out and Bangor take the lead. An inswinging corner from Otten in the 58th minute is met by David Mooney running in and his half volley is pushed away well by the Bangor keeper. Walsh and Johnston bring Mr Evans’ total for the match up to 5 and in the 88th minute, Jan Sebek keeps us in the game by tipping over a header from Wilson from 6 yards out. Wilson atones a minute later when he puts the ball into the corner of the net from 6 yards out after a scramble and secures the victory for Bangor to the delight of the 232 in attendance. Long is named Man of the Match for his goal and has a rating of 7.8, but I think the Bangor goalkeeper is hard done by after a couple of exceptional saves. With Airbus losing as well, we remain top by two points, but this doesn’t placate me in any way and I declare my anger to the team, which Marco Pelosi reveals to the media.

We welcome second place Carmarthen Town to Park Hall four days after our loss at Bangor and I name an unchanged side and tell them I expect a victory (odds of 4/7 favourites suggest we really should be winning). We start with some early pressure, but no real chances of note; the first real chance of the game goes the way of Hicks who has a one-on-one with Jan Sebek, who tips the ball over the bar. The good save from Sebek evidently wakes us up and in the 26th minute, Darren Otten slides in David Mooney, who fires into the roof of the net for his 9th goal of the season. Three minutes later, Quinn shoots from 20 yards, but it’s straight at the keeper. An inswinging corner from Otten in the 36th minute finds David Nixon at the near post, but the ball goes loose; Mooney reacts quickest and slides in to stab home his second of the game and 10th of the season from 2 yards out. We go in at half-time with a 2-0 lead and I tell the lads I expect that their performance will not drop. Paul Robson was evidently listening and in the 47th minute he picks up a loose ball, cuts in from the left and unleashes a missile from 20 yards that flies into the net for his first goal of the season. We increase our lead in the 61st minute when David Mooney wins a foot race from a long ball and completes his hat-trick (and grabs his 11th of the season) by placing the ball between the keeper and the near post from inside the area. Mooney comes close to adding his fourth of the game in the 85th minute after being played in by Matty Williams, but can only shoot across the face of the goal. Carmarthen’s best chance comes in the 88th minute when Frater picks up a loose ball, but shoots wide with only Sebek to beat. I substitute David Mooney in the final minute so the fans can acknowledge his role and he deservedly receives a standing ovation from the 191 in attendance; he is also unsurprisingly Man of the Match with his three goals and has a rating of 9.6.

A victory for Airbus sees them reclaim second and keep our lead at the top to two points. After having played each team once, we’ve dropped eight points, which is a reasonable start. It’s 10 days until our next league game, but before then we’ve got Caerleon in the Welsh Cup and the first leg of our League Cup semi-final against Bala Town.

Highs and lows

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.

Back in action (finally)

A couple of the lads have some U21 games, with Joe Jones coming on as substitute for Northern Ireland in the 79th minute during a 1-1 draw with Estonia, whilst Conor Hourihane came on for the Republic of Ireland in the 74th minute of a 1-0 loss against Georgia, getting a rating of 6.7.

Three weeks after our last league match, we travel to Mid Wales Leisure, Latham Park to take on Newtown. We go in as 4/6 favourites and with an eye on our re-arranged midweek fixture against Llanelli, I bring in Paul Robson to rest Scott McBride and Darren Otten returns from his suspension and takes the place of Jeff Whitley. We get off to a good start, with David Mooney having an effort pushed away in the first minute and eight minutes later, Matty Williams goes close from 20 yards. The pressure tells in 13th minute as Paul Robson crosses from the left and Matty Williams is far more successful from 6 yards, registering his first goal of the season. Things get even better two minutes later as a diagonal ball from Conor Hourihane picks out Richie Partridge, who puts in a cross that is not cleared and David Mooney is on hand to tuck the ball in for his third of the season. The half then goes quiet until the 41st minute when Griffiths runs from the halfway line and passes to dangerman Klein-Davis, who rolls the ball into the net to pull one back for Newtown. Griffiths nearly gets one himself on the stroke of half time, his effort going just wide. The second half isn’t much of a thriller, although Williams plays the ball around the corner on the halfway line for Mooney, who runs into the box and sees his effort pushed away. Cadwallader gets booked in the 75th minute for fouling Matty Williams on the halfway line. Steve Evans nearly adds a third when he cannons an effort against the post from 25 yards after Marco Pelosi picks him out from the right after a corner. We hold on quite comfortably for the victory to the disappointment of the majority of the 261 fans and although Steve Evans didn’t score, he did have the consolation of making his 225th league appearance. Matty Williams claims Man of the Match with his goal and a rating of 7.8.

Four days later, we welcome Llanelli to Park Hall Stadium. We go into the match as 4/5 favourites against a team who are joint favourites for the title with ourselves. Scott McBride returns to the left wing and Robson drops to the bench, whilst Jeff Whitley replaces Darren Otten in the centre of midfield and Wayne Carlisle makes his debut by replacing Richie Partridge on the right. I consider McBride and Carlisle to be my strongest wide midfielders and hope they will have success against a Llanelli side lining up in a 3-4-3 formation. The teams cancel each other out in the opening half hour, with Howland going the closest to breaking the deadlock in the 22nd minute with a 20 yard effort that Jan Sebek watches wide. In the 38th minute, Marco Pelosi takes a free kick on the right and side and swings it to the far post where it is met by the diving head of Steve Evans who makes no mistake from 6 yards to open the scoring and his account for the season. His celebrations are short lived though as he gets booked within a minute of the game restarting for a trip. On the stroke of half time, McBride runs down the left and crosses; Wayne Carlisle gets ahead of the keeper and nods into an empty net from 6 yards for a goal on his debut (and his 50th career league goal), delighting the 209 spectators. I was hoping my wide midfielders would have an impact and one of them setting up the other certainly counts! We remain in control in the second half; Jeff Whitley goes close from 25 yards in the 48th minute, a poor first touch from Scott McBride in the 61st minute allows the keeper to claim and five minutes later, his touch is better and he goes down in the area, but the referee doesn’t award a penalty. Matty Williams plays in his 175th career league game, but Marco Pelosi claims Man of the Match with a rating of 8.5 and an assist to his name. The win sees us go top of the table as we draw level with the rest of the league for games played.

Three days later, we welcome Bridgend to Park Hall and go in as 1/6 favourites. After the game midweek, I make some changes to keep the team fresh; Partridge replaces Carlise, Otten comes in for Whitley and Robson returns at McBride’s expense. In the 12th minute, Matty Williams plays in David Mooney who fires the ball into the net, but the linesman has his flag up for offside and Mooney’s effort is chalked off. Mooney is not to be denied and scores three minutes later after turning his man and firing in from 25 yards for his 4th of the season. Between Mooney’s disallowed and allowed goal, Cook picks up a yellow card for fouling Richie Partridge. In the 20th and 25th minute, Mooney rolls his man again, but shoots wide both times. In the 27th minute, Richie Partridge runs down the right and crosses from the byeline; his cross is met by Matty Williams running in late who crashes a volley against the bar from 12 yards. Bridgend are amongst the favourites to go down and the 32nd minute gives ample evidence of why this is the case as Robson goes down under a challenge outside the area. The keeper was already rushing out and blasts a clearance into his defender, with the ball rebounding into the area and Mooney rolling into an empty net for his 2nd of the game and 5th of the season. Chances then start to become rare (although with a 2-0 lead, I’m sure the majority of the 224 fans are happy enough), with the only chances of note coming in the 58th minute (Mooney blazes over from 12 yards) and 67th minute (an inswinging free kick from Pelosi on the right hand side finds Mooney, but the keeper pushes his effort wide). However, the yellow cards make an appearance, with Marco Pelosi, Steve Evans and Danny Holmes picking up cards for us, whilst Thompson and French go into the book for Bridgend. Unsurprisingly, David Mooney claims the Man of the Match with his 2 goals and a rating of 8.8.

The draw for the League Cup is made and we will be travelling to Aberystwyth Town. Before then, we have two league games to play, one against Airbus UK Broughton and the other against Aberystwyth Town.

We travel to The Airfield to take on Airbus UK Broughton and go in as 1/2 favourites as the top 2 sides in the league meet. Airbus haven’t conceded in the five games they have played so far, so it looks like it will be a tough test. Incredibly, my backroom staff recommend dropping Jan Sebek for poor form – he’s conceded one goal in five games and has generally been lucky not to have been charged an admission fee! I replace Richie Partridge with Wayne Carlisle and Scott McBride for Paul Robson for the top of the table clash.

David Nixon picks up a booking in the 7th minute and two minutes later, Marco Pelosi crashes a free kick against the crossbar from 25 yards. We open the scoring in the 27th minute as a forward pass from Conor Hourihane picks out Matty Williams, who unleashes a piledriver from 20 yards to claim his second goal of the season. We double our lead in the 42nd minute as Matty Williams runs down the left and picks out Wayne Carlisle on the edge of the area. Sensibly, Carlisle heads forward to an unmarked David Mooney who coolly slots home from 6 yards for his 6th of the season. I’m hoping to go in to half-time leading 2-0, but it is not to be as in the first minute of stoppage time, Williams takes a free kick on the left and finds Hales, who pulls a goal back for Airbus from 6 yards. Incredibly, we still take a two-goal lead into half-time as Wayne Carlisle grabs his second of the season with a controlled finish from 10 yards in the third minute of stoppage time after Marco Pelosi crosses along the ground from the left. The rain had been falling steadily during the first half, but it becomes heavy as the second half starts. Goalscorer Hales picks up a yellow card in the 51st minute for brining down Darren Otten outside the area. Despite where the foul occurs, Airbus started the half better and nearly pull one back in the 56th minute following a goalmouth scramble after a corner that is eventually cleared by Steve Evans. The reprieve is temporary as an unmarked Jones scores a minute later off the far post as a cross from the right from Hamilton finds him unmarked 8 yards out. Joseph Oastler picks up a yellow card in the 61st minute for a trip as the Airbus pressure continues. Things get even worse in the 67th minute as Conor Hourihane goes off injured – after the match, the physio advises he’s strained knee ligaments and will be out for approximately two months. We make the game safe in the 80th minute as Darren Otten finds David Mooney 20 yards out and he gets his second of the game and 7th of the season. Mooney is hacked down in the 82nd minute, earning Thomas a yellow card and Airbus pick up another yellow card six minutes later as Williams trips Darren Otten. Matty Williams nearly adds a fifth in the 89th minute with a late run, but his shot from 12 yards from a cross by Carlisle on the right goes wide. There is still time for more drama as in the first minute of stoppage time, Joseph Oastler concedes a penalty and picks up his second yellow card of the game. Hutcheon takes the penalty, but hits Jan Sebek’s right post. Marco Pelosi makes his 125th career league appearance in an exciting game, but David Mooney’s 2 goals and a rating of 8.8 earn him Man of the Match as the 97 in attendance witness a scoreline that not many would have guessed at before.

The win sees up open up a 5 point gap at the top of the table and I secure Manager of the Month for September. Marco Pelosi comes second in Player of the Month awards, whilst David Mooney is third. Team of the month features 5 of our players – Jan Sebek, Marco Pelosi, Steve Evans, Conor Hourihane and David Mooney. Aaron McCarey plays for Republic of Ireland U21s and gets a rating of 6.7 as the Scots beat the Irish 1-0.

Our first game in October sees us welcome Aberystwyth Town to Park Hall Stadium. Danny Holmes comes in for the suspended Joseph Oastler, whilst Jeff Whitley replaces the injured Conor Hourihane. We’re 1/6 favourites and prove why this is the case in 37 seconds as Scott McBride picks up a through ball from Marco Pelosi and squares the ball for Mooney to fire into the empty net for his 8th goal of the season. Codling nearly levels for our visitors two minutes later, but fires over. Our superb start proves to be our high point and we just can’t get going. Darren Otten, Scott McBride, Danny Holmes and Steve Evans all pick up bookings (only Riley gets booked for Aberystwyth) and Allen hits the post for Aberystwyth in the 60th minute. A minute later, they deservedly equalise as McCarten prods home a goalmouth scramble from 2 yards after a corner from our right. McCarten claims Man of the Match with a rating of 8 and his goal, but Mooney claims he should have had a penalty in the first half after a challenge by McCarten. The 202 spectators are disappointed with the draw and the lead at the top is cut to three points, but we have a gap of 10 days until our next day to put things right. We’ll be travelling to Aberystwyth to take them on in the League Cup, so at least we have a chance to put things right against them quickly.

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.