Over to you, Jeff

Four days after being dumped out of the Cup against Bangor City, we dust ourselves off and travel to Bridge Meadow Stadium to take on fifth-placed Haverfordwest County for our first chance to win the league. The bookies believe that we’ll do it as we’re 4/6 favourites. I make 11 changes from the Cup defeat, so the same 11 who started our last league match against Airbus UK Broughton get the chance to wrap things up – this results in Jan Sebek making his 25th career league appearance (and 25th league appearance for TNS). We might be away, but I tell the lads to do it for the 321 fans in attendance.

As with our last league match, there’s an early goal. Two minutes. But it’s against us; there’s a scramble in the area following a corner and McCulley is on hand to poke it home from 6 yards. It seems to spur us on as two minutes later, Darren Otten shoots over from 20 yards before shooting wide from a similar distance in the 10th minute. Wayne Carlisle has a go in the 12th minute and he sees his shot turned around the post for a corner. We’re piling on the pressure and it tells in the 18th minute when Kofi Poyser crosses from the right and Scott McBride taps into an empty net at the far post from 4 yards out for his second goal of the season. It’s Haverfordwest’s turn to be spurred on as Rose-Miles shoots straight at Sebek from 20 yards. Conor Hourihane unleashes another long range missile in the 24th minute, but sees his 20 yard shot beaten away by the keeper. In the 30th minute, a 25 yard shot from Evans beats Sebek, but it hits the post and we clear it for a throw. In the 33rd minute, Darren Otten takes a free kick from the left and finds David Nixon unmarked at the far post – he lashes into the roof of the net from 5 yards out for his first ever TNS goal and to put us into the lead. Goals are like buses and another one soon comes along in the 39th minute. Marco Pelosi takes a free kick from the left and Steven Smith heads home from 8 yards for his first ever goal for the club. The two goal lead nearly becomes a one goal lead in the 43rd minute when a header from Evans at the far post is cleared off the line by Joseph Oastler. A minute later, Poyser shoots tamely at the keeper from 18 yards.

The second half sees the first chance fall to us in the 51st minute when McBride crosses from the left and finds Carlisle unmarked at the far post. He heads from 8 yards and… puts it wide! That would have definitely wrapped the points and league up. The game starts to fizzle out, although Otten picks up a yellow card in the 78th minute. Poyser has a chance in the 84th minute, but his shot from 16 yards is tipped over by the keeper. The final chance falls to Roberts, but he shoots wide so he doesn’t set up a grand finale. Smith is named Man of the Match with a rating of 8.1 and a goal, but… WE’RE TOP BY 10 POINTS AND THE CHAMPIONS!!!! Winning the league also sees us break the points record, which had been held by Neath (65 points) and we still have three games to go. I think we all know what Jeff Stelling would say…

I’m so close yet far away

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!

What would Fergie say?

There are plenty of stories in the media in the lead-up to our top of the table clash with Carmarthen Town. However, none are about the game – various League 2 and Conference teams are worried about losing their manager at the end of the season and my name is in the mix as a possible replacement, although not the favourite for any. Bradford are worried they might lose Roy McFarland, Karl Robinson and Crewe, Gary Peters and Cambridge, Terry Brown and AFC Wimbledon, Chris Wilder and Oxford and (finally) Paul Holland and Hartlepool. I’m not too interested in moving on at the end of the season because next year will bring either Champions League football or the chance to put right not winning the title. Out of all of them I’ve been linked with, Hartlepool is the one I’d be most likely to take despite them being bottom of League 2; the chance to become Jeff Stelling’s hero would be difficult to turn down!

Game day. We travel to Richmond Park to take on second placed Carmarthen Town and I’m nervous – our last trip there ended in a 5-1 loss. Another loss at Carmarthen will see them level on points with us at the top. Despite this, the bookies have us as Evens favourites. To add to my worries, the conditions are icy and Lee Evans is the referee. The same eleven who recorded a 5-2 victory over Bangor City retain their places, so Darren Otten makes his 25th career league appearance and David Mooney makes his 200th career league appearance. My worries seem well founded as we’re slow out of the trap. Hicks, who scored a hat-trick last time out against us, slides in to meet a cross in the 5th minute and hits the post from 6 yards out before we’re able to clear it out for a throw. Hicks is at it again in the 9th minute when Standing plays him in, but Aaron McCarey is able to smother the ball. Standing has his own effort in the 11th minute from 25 yards, which ends up going behind for a corner. The breakthrough comes a minute later from Standing, who shoots from 30 yards and it hits the underside of the bar and goes in. It had been coming, so I can’t complain (apart from at the team, who haven’t yet turned up). Somewhat against the run of play, we have a great chance to level in the 21st minute when the keeper is caught in possession outside the area by Kofi Poyser. With an unguarded goal at his mercy, Poyser elects to shoot from 25 yards and puts it wide. It looks like it’s going to be one of those days, especially when Mooney shoots wide in the 24th and then hits the bar a minute later. We’re made to pay for our missed chances in the 27th minute when an inswinging corner from the right is not dealt with and Bailey extend’s Carmarthen’s lead from 10 yards out. A Marco Pelosi free kick from 25 yards in the 44th minute is spilled, but Carmarthen clear and take a 2-0 lead in to half time.

We’ve spent a half struggling to pass the ball 5 yards and generally looked poor and I tell the lads I expect much better in the second half. My words evidently have an effect and we’re quick out of the blocks – Wayne Carlisle runs down the right and crosses, but it’s straight at the keeper. But wait! With the icy conditions, the ball slips out of his grasp and into the net! It’s more than we’ve deserved so far, but it’s a lifeline so we’ll take it! Five minutes later, Carlisle has a chance to get a shot on goal, but McKillen slides in – penalty! McKillen gets a yellow card for the foul and Darren Otten steps up. He makes no mistake, putting it low to the keeper’s left for his 11th goal of the season. We were awful for the first half, but within six second half minutes have drawn ourselves level. We take control of the game and look a completely different team, keeping the pressure on as we start to search for a goal to put us in the lead, something that looked all but impossible after the first half. In the 72nd minute, David Mooney crosses from the right and the keeper spills it again, but Carmarthen are able to clear it for a corner. Conor Hourihane starts to pull the string in midfield and plays in Carlisle in the 74th minute (wide) and Otten in the 77th minute (over). With time ticking away, I’m pleased with a point after our first half (lack of) performance. We have a final chance in the 90th minute when Mooney crosses from the right and it reaches Poyser; he chests it down and volleys from 10 yards… into the corner of the net!!!! 3-2!!!!! We’ve managed to take the lead!!!!! We’re top by 6 points!!!!!! It’s his fifth goal of the season and his most important. But there’s still stoppage time. In the 4th minute of stoppage time, Roberts is played in hits a fierce shot. The net ripples. Heartbreak. After scoring so late, we haven’t been able to hold on for what would have been a massive win. Wait a minute. It’s the side netting! He’s put it wide! We’re still in the lead! McCarey take the goal kick (a bit quicker than I’d like) and Mr Evans blows his whistle. Full time. We’ve won 3-2! Standing is named Man of the Match with a rating of 7.5 and a goal. Whilst the 263 attendance (including Derek McInnes, the St Johnstone manager who is interested in David Mooney) may not be happy with the result, I don’t think there can be any denying it was an epic game. We’re top by 6 points after a last minute winner – what would Fergie say?

Fighting on two fronts

After the ‘Battle of The Airfield’, we’re grateful for a ten day break between games as it gives David Nixon a chance to recover from his dead leg and for Wayne Carlisle to regain his fitness after limping off. Llanelli take advantage of a break as well and appoint Scott Ramsey as their manager.

After our break, we welcome third-placed Bangor City to Park Hall. We’re 1/3 favourites to win, but I’m a bit concerned as Darren Otten is playing and Lee Evans is refereeing. I make one change, with Kofi Poyser coming in for the injured Lucas Akins. Amongst the 205 in attendance is Mike Newell, the Wycombe Wanderers manager, who is reported to be interested in signing David Mooney. The fifth minute sees some head tennis in the Bangor penalty area, which eventually results in a header out of the area; it falls to Conor Hourihane who thunders in a volley from 20 yards for his second goal of the season and a dream start. Two minutes later, Mooney plays in Poyser, but he can only shoot wide from 30 yards. Poyser has a chance to make amends in the 15th minute when a cross from the left by Otten finds him unmarked on the 6 yard line, but the keeper gets out quickly and smothers the ball. Marco Pelosi puts an inswinging corner from the right into the near post in the 19th minute and Steven Smith goes down – penalty! Darren Otten steps up and fires it low to the keeper’s left for his 8th goal of the season. Mr Evans is involved in the next incident of note, booking Collins in the 24th minute for fouling Scott McBride. Pelosi is involved in the action again in the 25th minute as a diagonal ball finds Wayne Carlisle, who centres for an unmarked Poyser who scores his 4th goal of the season from 10 yards out. 3-0 inside the opening half-hour – brilliant! Conor Hourihane becomes our first booking of the game in the 27th minute. Bangor win a corner in the 42nd minute and an outswinging corner from the right finds Long, who reduces the deficit from 5 yards out with a header. Otten comes close to restoring the three-goal cushion in the 44th minute, but he shoots wide from 18 yards; he shoots just over from 20 yards in stoppage time. In the 52nd minute, Hourihane slides Mooney in and Johnston makes a last ditch tackle; Mooney goes down and Mr Evans blows his whistle – penalty! Johnston picks up a yellow card for his trouble. Otten places the ball on the spot and goes low to the keeper’s left again and hits the post… but it’s the inside of the post – 4-1! It’s Otten’s ninth of the season. Collins is summoned over by the referee in the 56th minute for a foul, but Mr Evans lets him off with a warning. Reed runs unchallenged down the right of the pitch in the 59th minute and beats Aaron McCarey at the near post to cut the gap to two again as I wonder where the defence went. Wilson is added to the book in the 62nd minute. In the 67th minute, Otten gets the ball and shoots from 25 yards – he beats the keeper at his near post for his 10th of the season and his hat-trick. The game peters out after our fifth, but David Nixon picks up a yellow card in the 88th minute. Darren Otten is unsurprisingly named Man of the Match following his hat-trick and a rating of 9.5. Perhaps more surprising that Otten’s hat-trick is that he doesn’t get booked by Mr Evans (I hope no-one from the Welsh FA is reading this!) Even better news is that we’re top by 6 points following our victory, although Carmarthen were not in action and have a game in hand over us.

Cheltenham Town are worried they might lose Mark Yates at the end of the season and my name is in the mix as a possible replacement. Darren Otten claims Player of the Month (3 games, 5 goals, rating of 8.13) and is named in Team of the Month, along with Marco Pelosi, David Nixon, Joseph Oastler, Paul Robson and David Mooney. I get named Manager of the Month. Some of our fans go slightly overboard with their praise of Otten though:

Happy with Otten #FM

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He’s in fine form and young, but leading the line? He’s my ball-winning midfielder!

Three days after our convincing victory over Bangor, we welcome Haverfordwest County to Park Hall for the Welsh Cup quarter final. We’re 2/5 favourites and I make eleven changes. Bagsan Graham scores his first goal for the club in the 9th minute from 25 yards to the delight of the 252 fans in attendance. Little of note happens after the goal, with the exception of Jeff Whitley shooting over from 30 yards in the 31st minute and Matty Williams being played in by Graham in the 41st minute, but the keeper tips it over. The first half lacked excitement and it continued through the second half. Haverfordwest have a chance in the 60th minute when McLaren runs from deep, but he elects to shoot from 25 yards and it goes wide. In the 67th minute, I bring on Paudie Quinn for his return from injury. Richie Partridge has a free kick in the 73rd minute from 20 yards out, but it’s straight at the keeper. Matty Williams plays Graham in on goal in the 78th minutes and he selflessly squares the ball to Paul Robson, who rolls the ball into an unguarded net for his 4th goal of the season. Graham adds the icing on the cake in the 84th minute when Robson picks up a pass from Williams and fires straight at the keeper; Graham picks up the rebound and gets his 2nd of the game and season from 16 yards – an excellent way to end a 454 minute goal drought! Graham is named Man of the Match with his 2 goals and an assist, getting a rating of 9.3. Our semi-final opponents will be Bangor City. Whilst we’ve been in Cup action, Carmarthen have been in league action and record a victory, cutting the gap to three points again and nicely setting up our next league match away to them.

Can the lads show bouncebackability?

After our 5-1 thumping at Carmarthen, it’s not too surprising that we don’t walk away with any end of month awards. However, Paul Robson and David Mooney do make it into the January Team of the Month.

They say that after a big loss, the best thing to do is get straight back into action, which is just as well because the 4th Round of the Welsh Cup is just three days after our visit to Carmarthen. We welcome Port Talbot Town to Park Hall and I make 11 changes, which includes Darren Otten returning from suspension, Scott McBride making his first start since coming back from injury and Steven Smith making his debut. We’re 1/3 favourites, but after our last performance, I’m not feeling all that confident. We start off in the snow and in the 4th minute, Bagsan Graham plays in Kofi Poyser, but he shoots straight at the keeper. The snow soon turns to rain and the football on offer is less inspiring than the weather. The game sprang into life just before half time, as in the 44th minute, Scott McBride crosses from the left wing and Kofi Poyser heads in from 6 yards out for his 3rd of the season. Things get better almost immediately as in stoppage time, Darren Otten fires a free kick through the wall from 25 yards out into the keeper’s bottom right for his 5th of the season. We almost extend our lead further in the 50th minute when Bagsan Graham cuts the ball back from the right bye-line; the cross hits a defender and hits the post before being cleared to safety. The 54th minute sees the first card of the game as Clifford gets booked for fouling Poyser. A 2-0 lead is always said to be a dangerous scoreline, which Danny Holmes proves in the 64th minute when he plays a diagonal ball across our penalty area and Mirzai intercepts with a header on the 18 yard line that loops over Aaron McCarey and cuts our lead in half. Two minutes later, McBride has a chance to restore our two-goal lead, but can only head wide from 6 yards when unmarked at the far post. Danny Holmes’ afternoon gets worse in the 67th minute when he gets booked, although Clifford ends up with the worst afternoon when he fouls Poyser (again!) in the 73rd minute and the referee produces a yellow card and then the red. We comfortably see the game out to the delight of the 406 in attendance, but without really threatening further. Kofi Poyser is named Man of the Match with a rating of 8 and the contribution of a goal and an assist.

Table split

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After the distraction of the Cup, we return to the league and the game against Carmarthen was the last one before the table splits into two. We start at the top of the table and the first of our final 10 league games is at home against the team we have also drawn at home for the quarter final of the Welsh Cup, fifth-placed Haverfordwest County. We’re 1/3 favourites and some more regular faces return to the starting line up, although Aaron McCarey, Steven Smith, Darren Otten and Scott McBride remain in the starting eleven. Lucas Akins returns to the starting eleven and makes his 75th career league appearance. Despite being favourites, it’s Haverfordwest who break the deadlock in the 14th minute when an outswinging corner from the right finds Gascoigne, who lashes the ball in from 8 yards. Ten minutes later, David Mooney is played in, but his shot is straight at the keeper. David Nixon picks up a booking in the 36th minute. In the 39th minute, David Mooney dribbles to the right of the area and crosses along the floor; his cross is met by Lucas Akins sliding in at the far post from 10 yards out, who celebrates his 75th career league start with his 7th goal of the season. We continue with the pressure and in the 49th minute, Mooney dribbles into the area again and Davies brings him down. The referee has no hesitation and points to the spot. Darren Otten finds the side of the net to the keeper’s right for his 6th of the season and to give us a 2-1 lead. A one-goal lead is always precarious and there’s a scare in the 55th minute when Collins takes a free kick from the right and finds Evans at the far post, who heads just over from 8 yards. Thankfully, we’re able to establish a two-goal lead in the 76th minute when Darren Otten slides in David Mooney, who fires the ball past the keeper for his 16th goal of the season and also his 75th career league goal, which he scores in front of 218 fans. Mooney has a chance to grab his 17th of the season in stoppage time when Ibrahim Farah plays him in, but he shoots straight at the keeper. Despite this, David Mooney is named as Man of the Match with a rating of 8.6, helped by a goal and two assists. The victory has us top by three points as Carmarthen beat Bangor and leapfrog them into second.

There are U21 international friendlies mid-week and Darren Otten and Aaron McCarey get call-ups for Wales and the Republic of Ireland respectively. Otten comes on as a substitute and records a rating of 6.6 as Wales U21s draw 1-1 at Chinese Taipei U21s. Aaron McCarey is also a substitute, recording a rating of 6.7 as Republic of Ireland U21s lose 3-0 at Italy U21s.

Both are available for our next league match, which sees us travel to The Airfield to take on fourth-placed Airbus UK. We’re 1/2 favourites, but Airbus UK decide to take a physical approach to try and level the odds in front of their 107 fans. Wraighte picks up a yellow card for the hosts in the 7th minute and a minute later, Lucas Akins shoots tamely at the keeper from 20 yards. In the 10th minute, David Nixon goes off injured and five minutes later, Edwards picks up a booking. In the 21st minute, Akins hits a much better shot (this time from 30 yards) that beats the keeper, but unfortunately not the crossbar. We continue to put the pressure on and in the 31st minute, an inswinging Darren Otten corner finds David Mooney at the near post and he finds the net. Sadly for us, it’s the side-netting. Three minutes after Mooney finds the side-netting, Akins finds the crossbar again, this time from 25 yards out. It proves to be his last effort of the afternoon as he becomes our second injury of the afternoon. Bagsan Graham replaces him and shoots just wide in the 53rd minute. Three minutes later, Conor Hourihane crosses from the left and finds Wayne Carlisle unmarked at the far post and he makes no mistake from 6 yards out and scores his 5th goal of the season. We have a great chance to make it 2-0 in the 59th minute when Bagsan Graham picks up a loose defensive header, but he can only shoot straight at the keeper. Wayne Carlisle becomes our third casualty of the afternoon in the 65th minute in an incident that also sees Wraighte pick up his second yellow card of the afternoon. In the 71st minute, Bagsan Graham crosses from the right and Paul Robson heads just over, missing the chance to score on his 50th league appearance for us. In stoppage time, Bagsan Graham is fouled in the penalty area and Darren Otten wraps the victory up with a penalty low to the keeper’s left that hits the side of the net before the back for his 7th goal of the season. Joseph Oastler is named Man of the Match, with a rating of 8.5. We remain top by three points.

After the battle at The Airfield, the physio comes with his report. Wayne Carlisle is not out for any period of time, David Nixon is out for 6 days with a dead leg, whilst Lucas Akins has a pulled hamstring and will be out for 5-6 weeks, so there will definitely be a change or two before our next game at Bangor in 10 days time. In news around the league, tenth-place Llanelli sack Andy Legg. Whilst in no danger of relegation due to Bridgend struggling so much, they were joint favourites for the title at the start of the season, so to be in 10th with 8 games to go has seen the patience of the board run out.

Mixed news, mixed results

2013 starts with mixed news on the player front. The good news is that Paul Robson agrees to extend his contract until the end of the 13/14 season. However, Aaron McCarey is not happy with being regular sub keeper and makes it known to me that he sees himself as more than a squad player. There’s interest in Jan Sebek, so I’m very keen to keep hold on him. Further bad news is that Richie Partridge will be spending plenty of time with the physio over the next month after breaking his arm in a reserve team game against Neath.

Our first game of 2013 sees us take a trip to Maes Tegid to take on tenth-placed Bala Town, who recorded a comprehensive 5-2 aggregate defeat over us in the semi-final of the League Cup. I can certainly think of easier fixtures, but the bookies are confident we will win and make us 1/3 favourites. A further worry is that the referee is none other than the card-happy Lee Evans. I name an unchanged 11 and the 59 in attendance include the Cambridge manager, Gary Peters, who is reported to be interested in signing Jan Sebek. The first action of note comes in the 23rd minute when Joseph Oastler sends a free kick down the right wing and David Mooney picks it up and crosses – his cross is met by Lucas Akins who heads in from three yards out for his 5th goal of the season. Little happens until towards the end of the first half, when Mr Evans gets in on the action by booking O’Connor (41st minute) and Macauley (stoppage time), with Akins shooting just over from 20 yards being the meat in that sandwich of action. Mr Evans’ card spree continues in the 47th minute when David Nixon picks up a yellow card. 10 minutes later and Nixon brings down Ngoo and Mr Evans blows his whistle. Thankfully, he’s blowing because the linesman had his flag up for offside. Cards continue to flow as Sebek gets booked for handball (63rd minute), Oastler joins him in the book a minute later and Darren Otten picks up a booking in the 75th minute. Mr Evans continues to make his mark by producing a second yellow card in the 78th minute for David Nixon, putting us down to 10 men with a one goal lead. We continue to hold out and Mr Evans continues to stretch his arm, adding Conor Hourihane to his book (I think he must have an A1 flipchart pitchside!) in the 85th minute. This evidently displeases Hourihane, who lashes an effort just over from 10 yards out a minute later. We come close to extending our lead in the 89th minute when a corner from Otten finds Mooney, but Bala clear it off the line. A minute later, Bala attack and Robinson heads just wide from 8 yards out. Stoppage time produces plenty of drama as Ellis goes clear, but a heavy touch from him allows Sebek to collect. Mr Evans has the final say in the action, producing a second yellow for Darren Otten to leave us finishing with nine men; it’s the third time that Otten’s been sent off this season and Mr Evans has shown the red all three times. Marco Pelosi wins Man of the Match (fully deserved just because he didn’t get booked!) with a rating of 7.4 and we remain top by 2 points.

David Nixon is suspended for one game and Darren Otten for two. Also, Darren Otten has set a new club record with 10 yellow cards and 3 red cards. With around a third of the season to go, he’s every chance of adding to this and setting a record that stands the test of time.

With it being January, it’s the transfer window and I take the chance to add a fresh face to the squad, signing England Under 19 defender, Steven Smith:

Steven Smith – DC/L

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Out first home match of 2013 sees a huge game as we welcome second placed Bangor City to Park Hall. The board make it a fan day (we get a crowd of 295) and with the top two playing each other, it makes it on to TV. The bookies have us 1/2 favourites, perhaps a touch generous with the incredibly tight defence that Bangor have. I’m concerned about how whether we will score against a miserly defence and even more concerned when I see who the referee is – Lee Evans. I make two forced changes, with Joe Jones coming in for the suspended David Nixon, whilst the suspended Darren Otten is replaced by Jeff Whitley, although I’m sure that if Mr Evans catches sight of Otten on the bench or in the crowd, he’ll produce a card for him. Joseph Oastler reaches a milestone, making his 75th career league appearance. Jan Sebek is called into action in the first minute, denying Reed from 16 yards. Lucas Akins has our first chance in the 4th minute, but he shoots over from 16 yards. In the 15th minute, Paul Robson passes from the left to Akins, who fires into the top corner from 16 yards out for his 6th goal of the season. Bangor nearly hit straight back in the 18th minute as an outswinging Gison corner is met by a sliding Reed, but Marco Pelosi is on the near post and clears off the line. Akins has a chance to double his and our tally in the 20th minute when he gets on the end of a long ball forward, but Glass tips over. Reed seems desperate to get himself on the scoresheet as he shoots from 20 yards out in the 23rd minute, but it’s over. In the 40th minute, Long brings down David Mooney 30 yards from goal. Mr Evans gets in on the act straight away and produces a straight red card. With covering defenders, it seems a surprising decision, but after 40 minutes without a card and allowing a game to flow, I’m sure he didn’t want to waste any opportunity. Despite us having a man advantage, Bangor have the next chance of the game as a deep corner in the 60th minute is headed against the bar before we can scramble clear. It acts as a wake up call and in the 66th minute, Wayne Carlisle slides in David Mooney, who can only shoot wide from 16 yards out. Walsh picks up a yellow card in the 68th minute. Disaster strikes in the 83rd minute as Hewitt-Fisher slips in Darlington (released by me in the summer with his contract ending), who rounds Sebek and levels the score. Our players protest, claiming offside and Akins picks up a yellow card. Alton Thelwell, who comes on as a late substitue, records his 25th league appearance for TNS. Lucas Akins is named Man of the Match with a rating of 7.3 and a goal. We remain top of the table by 2 points, missing a great chance to extend our lead to 5 points (although I’m sure that Bangor were delighted with rescuing a point).

Transfer activity continues as St Mirren step up their interest in Aaron McCarey by making an offer. As their offer is nothing, I reject it.

The fixtures don’t come any easier, as we then travel to Richmond Park to take on third placed Carmarthen Town. We go into the game as 4/6 favourites and I make one change, with David Nixon (available after his suspension) coming in for Joe Jones. Scott is booked in the first minute (incredibly, Lee Evans is NOT the referee!!). Evans comes close to opening the scoring in the fifth minute as he mis-hits a cross, but Jan Sebek is alert and turns it behind for a corner. However, Carmarthen open the scoring in the 11th minute as Hicks slides in and meets an inswinging corner from Roberts. In the 20th minute, McKillen brings down David Mooney – penalty! Mooney steps up and… scores! It’s not a great penalty (it’s to the keeper’s left and actually goes under him), but it draws us level and is also Mooney’s 15th goal of the season. Mooney looks to play provider four minutes later, but the shot from Lucas Akins is turned behind by the keeper. Howard is added to the referee’s book in the 34th minute. Carmarthen re-take the lead in the 42nd minute as a cross from the right by Roberts is met by Evans, who scores from 15 yards out. I have a few words in the dressing room and they must have been inspiring as straight from kick off, we attack and Marco Pelosi plays in Mooney, but his shot is turned behind. We’re not having a great day in front of goal, but defensively we manage even worse in the 58th minute as Gibson crosses from the right, Sebek somehow manages to drop the cross and Hicks is on hand to take full advantage from 8 yards out. We look to get ourselves back in and Akins rattles the bar from 20 yards out in the 60th minute. Carmarthen show us how it’s done, going upfield and extending their lead further a minute later as Evans crosses from the left and Hicks completes his hat-trick (he came into the game suffering a goal drought) with a header from 6 yards out. Again, we look to hit back; Jeff Whitley crosses from the right and finds Scott McBride (on as a substitute after returning from injury) unmarked at the far post, but he heads wide. Mooney has a chance in the 68th minute and he chips the keeper, but unfortunately it drops too late and goes over the bar. Carmarthen extend their lead even further in the 84th minute as a corner from Roberts reaches Frater, who fires in from 6 yards. As always, a Carmarthen goal sees us look to hit back and this time it’s the turn of Jeff Whitley, who crashes an effort against the crossbar from 25 yards out. That ends the action and Carmarthen record an emphatic 5-1 victory to the delight of the 266 in attendance (the crowd includes St Johnstone manager Derek McInnes, who is interested in David Mooney). Hicks is unsurprisingly named Man of the Match following his hat-trick, which gives him a rating of 9.6. We remain top by 2 as Bangor surprisingly lose 2-1 at home to Newtown, but Carmarthen move themselves to three points off the top. The title race is definitely heating up.

Finishing off the year

Following our less than inspiring home draw against 10th-placed Newtown, Christmas is not full of fun and festivity. However, there’s a chance to get into the spirit of the season with a trip to Park Avenue to take on 8th-placed Aberystwyth Town. We travel as 4/6 favourites and I make three changes: Richie Partidge for Wayne Carlisle, David Nixon returning at the expense of Joe Jones and Ibrahim Farah getting the nod over Conor Hourihane. The match sees a couple of milestones, as Partridge records his 225th career league appearance, whilst Steve Evans notches up his 325th career league appearance. Whilst going in as favourites, Aberystwyth start with purpose and in the third minute, Osawe shoots from 20 yards, but it’s straight at Jan Sebek. The 26th minute sees Paudie Quinn go off injured. Three minutes after the injury, Matty Williams plays in David Mooney, who can only shoot wide; two minutes later, it’s Williams with the chance after a left wing cross from Marco Pelosi, but he shoots straight at the keeper from 10 yards out. The 39th minute sees Osawe with another chance, but he heads a right wing cross over the crossbar from the penalty spot. The final chance of the half falls to Paul Robson, who crashes an effort against the crossbar from 30 yards in the 45th minute. The other crossbar sees action in the 50th minute, with Darren Otten grazing it from 20 yards out. It’s evidently going to be another of those days. But it’s not, as four minutes later, Robson runs down the left and crosses; the cross is met by David Mooney with a diving header from 8 yards out for his 14th of the season. An inswinging corner from Otten in the 75th minute reaches Nixon and he gets bundled over. The referee has no hesitation and points to the spot. Otten places the ball on the spot and shoots to the keeper’s left; he hits the post and… scores! Thankfully, it’s the inside of the post and rolls in – I’m glad he’s put it out of the reach of the keeper, but it was a bit nervy! Aberystwyth have a chance to set up a grandstand finish for the 306 in attendance in the 83rd minute when Roberts beats the offside trap to create a one-on-one with Sebek, but he shoots wide and we see the game out for a 2-0 victory. David Nixon is named Man of the Match with a rating of 8.1 and he gets credited with an assist for being fouled for the penalty.

The result sees us go top by 2 points as Bangor lose to third place Carmarthen, which is a great result for them and brings them into contention (they’re 4 points behind us). However, the victory that takes us top comes with a heavy price as the physio’s prognosis on Paudie Quinn is not good; he’s strained his knee ligaments and he’ll be out for a couple of months. He’s straight off to World Soccer Magazine, speaking of his devastation at missing the Welsh Cup tie against Port Talbot at the beginning of February.

Three days after our victory at Aberystwyth, we entertain fifth-placed Haverfordwest County at Park Hall. We’re 1/6 favourites and the 196 in attendance see four changes from our last game – Darren Otten replaces the injured Paudie Quinn, Conor Hourihane is back for Ibrahim Farah, Wayne Carlise replaces Richie Partridge on the right wing and Lucas Akins starts in place of Matty Williams (Joseph Oastler takes the captain’s armband). Akins starts well and crosses from the left wing in the 10th minute; Carlisle meets the cross with his head from 8 yards out, but can only head over. Seven minutes later and Carlise gets his goal (his 4th of the season) when Paul Robson crosses from the left and he slides in, meeting the ball 6 yards out. Haverfordwest look to hit back and Rose-Miles shoots just over from 20 yards in the 24th minute. A minute later, we’re back on the attack and the ball gets crossed in from the left to Mooney, who goes down. The referee has no hesitation and blows his whistle – penalty! Sadly, no; he judges that Mooney has dived and produces a yellow card. We continue to have joy down the left and Marco Pelosi crosses from the left in the 27th minute and finds Akins in the area; he goes to the goal line and passes back to Paul Robson who powers the ball through the keeper and into the net for his third of the season. Hourihane looks to add his name to the scoresheet in the 32nd minute with a shot from 25 yards, but he grazes the bar. The 57th minute sees the second yellow card of the game as Todd picks one up for pulling Mooney’s shirt. Haverfordwest have a chance to pull one back in the 70th minute when Mason turns Steve Evans, but his finish is poor and he shoots over from 18 yards. Two minutes later, there’s disruption at the back as Pelosi goes off injured (thankfully, it’s only for the match and the physio has nothing to report afterwards). Haverfordwest look to capitalise on this and McLaren crosses from our left in the 79th minute to the far post, where there’s an unmarked Burgess, who wastefully heads over from 6 yards out. We ensure that we’ll claim all the points in the 85th minute when a Hourihane free kick from the left is headed by Gascoigne into his own net. Haverfordwest grab a consolation goal in stoppage time when a pass from Todd finds Mason, who cuts inside Evans and finishes from 18 yards, but we record a good win. Paul Robson picks up Man of the Match with a rating of 8.6 along with a goal and an assist.

As 2012 comes to an end, we’re top of the league by 2 points. As well as being top of the league at the end of the year, there are a number of awards for December 2012; Paul Robson comes second in Player of the Month and makes Team of the Month, whilst Darren Otten come second for Young Player of the Month and Ibrahim Farah is third. Modesty forbids me from mentioning who claims December Manager of the Month, but it’s nice to have a trophy on my mantelpiece at the start of 2013! There’s further good news as Joseph Oastler signs a new contract until 2017, Marco Pelosi signs on until 2015 and Ibrahim Farah extends his contract until 2014. Roll on 2013!