WELSH PREMIER FOOTBALL

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Marc Lloyd WilliamsALL-time Welsh Premier leading goal scorer Marc Lloyd Williams questions whether the exiles should have been invited back into the Welsh Cup.

THE fourth round of the Welsh Cup has thrown up another interesting tie involving a Blue Square Premier club, Newport County, who have been drawn against The New Saints.
I, for one, can anticipate The New Saints insisting the match must be played on the conference date as stipulated by the Football Association of Wales (FAW), as Newport are due to play Gateshead (away) in the Blue Square Premier and provide County manager Justin Edinburgh with a dilemma over his team selection for the cup tie.
Wrexham faced similar circumstances in the previous round against Airbus, as the Wingmakers insisted on the match being played on the same day as Wrexham's FA Cup match at Brentford.
If Newport County have to field a weakened team in the competition, then I question the point of these clubs entering if they aren't able to play their strongest teams?
Did they think other clubs in the competition would move the fixture to suit them? Secondly, why did the FAW invite them into the competition, knowing this would arise?
Was it to raise the profile of the Welsh Cup? Fair enough if Swansea City and Cardiff City had accepted their invitation, then the profile would have been raised, but let's not forget that Wrexham and Newport are now classed as non-league clubs the same as the other clubs in the competition.
The Welsh Premier League (WPL) clubs are within their rights on insisting the match be played on the conference date as stipulated by the FAW, as they see it as a route into playing Uefa Cup football if they win the cup.
If you asked any WPL player if they would prefer to play Wrexham or Newport in the Welsh Cup, or have an opportunity to play in the Uefa Cup, I know what my answer and many other players would be.
With no disrespect to either Wrexham or Newport, the chance of playing Uefa Cup football would far be more important than playing Wrexham or Newport, as these clubs don't have the same magnitude to a player as they did 15 to 20 years ago.
Mathematically, there are two places up for grabs in the Championship Conference with four teams still in the hunt with three games left to play before the split - and I explain more on how the split works, and what it means, below.
Bala and Prestatyn currently sit in fifth and sixth positions respectively. I think Bala have already done enough to secure fifth position and, up until last weekend, Prestatyn were the favourites to capture sixth position.
However a defeat at league leaders Llanelli and both Airbus and Afan Lido securing home victories over the weekend cutting Prestatyn's lead over them to five and six points respectively. This has given both these chasing teams a glimmer of hope in their aim of achieving that coveted sixth spot.
I can't see Prestatyn getting anything from their remaining matches against Championship contenders Neath and Bangor City. So it gives Afan Lido, who has to play Bala and a festive double header against local rivals Port Talbot and Airbus who also have to play Bala (twice) and Newtown a great opportunity to close the gap and overtake the Seasiders.
Last season was the first time the WPL had divided halfway through a season and I deemed it a success, with the Championship being decided on the last game of the season and so many twistd and turns leading up to the very end.
Let's hope for more of the same this season as it looks like going down to the wire again with just two points separating the top three teams.
The WPL will divide into two Conferences after the festive period with the top six teams entering the Championship Conference and the bottom six contesting the Play-Off Conference.
The make-up of both Conferences will be identical with each team playing each other twice. Teams in the Play-off Conference will be battling it out for the last spot in the end of season play-offs to determine who will represent the WPL in the Europa League and determine who will be relegated from the WPL. The rest of the play-offs will comprise the teams which finish third to sixth in the Championship Conference.
[This article first appeared on the BBC Wales Sport website].
Photo: Marc Lloyd Williams.
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29 May 2017

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