Here we go, our first taste of top flight football. We’ve made it into the JD Cymru Premier division, so we’re finally moving up in the world! The board has offered me a new 12 month contract, which would take my time with the club up to 2.5 years. When it comes to the league, I’m just hoping we don’t get embarrassed and sent straight back down! No to be honest my realistic expectations are a mid table finish and the media has us predicted to finish 7th out of 12 teams so that’s the aim, but if we can stay up at all I’ll be happy.
Another busy transfer window was expected and again it was, although we made some great signings last season who could definitely mix it at this level so there was no need for widespread changes.
Not many signings of note in July to be honest, getting right back Max Cleworth on loan from Wrexham added some quality to that area of the pitch which was needed, but it was my business in August that really added quality. Jack Walls (RB – 3 Star), Will Couch (CM – 4 Star), Harrison Nee (ST – 4 Star) and Dale Taylor (ST – 4 Star) all signed on free transfers after an initial trial period.
DP FM Tip – When at a club of this size finances are often not comfortable and you have to be very stringent with any excess costs. Once you have sorted your staff you can trust that your scout will only recommend players who are of good quality, however if there is no report available and you ask them to scout a player then it will incur unnecessary excess scouting costs. Therefore using trial periods, even for just 1 week, completely free, allows your coaches to produce a report and compare them to other members of your squad so you can be sure they’re a worthwhile signing.
Tactics & Pre-Season
The best start to pre-season we could have hoped for was the club finally being in a position financially to support me through a coaching course. In the 18 months I had been at the helm I had taken the club from mid table mediocrity in the JD Cymru South to title winners and a JD Cymru Premier side, however on the 10 occasions I had asked to go on a coaching course I had been rejected each time due to financial circumstances. There was good news this time however as I was finally given the opportunity to get a coaching qualification! Starting at the bottom of the ladder with a National C Licence.
In relation to tactics, we made some minor adjustments to the formation to fit all of our best players into the starting XI. We moved from a 4-1-2-1-2 to a more traditional 4-3-3, however with the central midfielder set to deep lying playmaker on defensive, and the 2 wider forwards of the front 3 down as pressing forwards it made it more of a 4-1-2-2-1 in reality. The instructions remained the same, still asking the team to be positive and try to attack the opposition, whilst still expecting the wing backs to overlap and provide width in the attacking third. Even though we were a level above now, I didn’t want the positive philosophy to change. Here’s an example of the lineup with the minor formations changes:
Pre-season results were very positive to be honest, but as I said before, I don’t worry too much if they’re negative and I don’t get excited when they’re positive, it’s all about team cohesion and match fitness. What was particularly pleasing was a result 1 week before the season against our opening day opponents, Aberystwyth Town, where we won 2-0.
This made me more confident than ever that we could definitely hold our own in this league and put up a good fight for survival. And just like that, it was time for the season to kick off. The JD Cymru Premier has 32 league games compared to the 30 games in the JD Cymru South, and we would still have the Nathanial MG Cup & JD Welsh Cup to contend with along the way. Let’s get into it!
As with last season, the league actually kicked off right at the end of July, our first game being against Aberystwyth as I mentioned earlier, and what a game it was to kick off our campaign, we went behind 3 times and came back each time, before summer signing Michael Sparkes scored in the 94th minute to give us a massive win.
This gave us a massive boost and set us up nicely for the month ahead. It promised to be a hectic month with 5 league games and a Nathanial MG Cup game to contend with.
As you can see we had a really tough draw in the cup against The New Saints (TNS) who, along with Connah’s Quay & Bala Town, challenge for the title every year. So I was disappointed to go out so early, but couldn’t be too annoyed as we were completely outplayed by a team who are just better than us to be honest. We bounced back from that with a 1-0 win away at Flint Town which meant 2 wins from 2 in the league so far. We were then brought back down to earth by defeats at home to Barry, who scored a 2nd minute penalty and then just sat back, and reigning champions Bangor City, which was a close fought contest I could be proud of.
2 goals from summer signing Dale Taylor gave us a memorable win over Connah’s Quay, who despite being the powerhouse they are, have yet to beat us in 90 minutes on this save. A comfortable win against relegation rivals Caernarfon rounded off the month, and meant we had 4 wins from our first 6 league games, certainly better than I expected!
No cup distractions in September, it was just 5 tough league games. Although there are 32 games in the season it is split into 2 parts, the first part is each team playing each other home and away to make up 22 games, before the league splits into a top 6 and a bottom 6 where each team plays home and away again to make up the full 32. So there are a lot of games packed in early before it eases over the November and December period and after the split as you will see in the future episodes.
A hard fought 0-0 draw away at fellow relegation candidates Newtown was considered a good point, but that was before an incredible and unexpected 2-0 win away at TNS, where summer signings Harrison Nee and Dale Taylor both scored, had us in the top 3 after 7 games. To then follow that up with a 2-0 win at home against Bala Town was the stuff of dreams! If you had told me I would have 9 points from 3 games against Connah’s Quay, TNS and Bala Town this season I would have laughed! We were then snapped back into reality by 2 poor results at home, first a draw against Cardiff Met Uni, where we conceded a late equaliser to former Wolves & Tranmere striker Jake Cassidy, which was then followed by a loss to Aberystwyth where I am still genuinely not sure how we lost when you look at the expected goal ratio.
When you look at the start of the season as a whole, 20 points from 11 games and being far closer to the top of the league than the bottom at this stage is something I would have bitten your hand off for!
In the next episode we will be going through the months of October, November, December and January 2023. We will cover 4 months due to the lack of games in November and December. Can we keep up our early season form and push on for a top 6 finish ahead of the split? Or will it all crumble leading to a change of tactics being demanded by the fans? Find out on Tuesday 12th January 2021.
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While you’re here if you want to follow more challenges go over to Scott’s (the co-author of this site) challenge where he is on a journey to rebuild Bolton Wanderers and take them on a Europa League run! Link: https://dpfmblog.com/2020/12/21/bolton-back-to-europa-s1e1/
Thank you for reading and see you again soon!