St Asaph City FC’s manager Chris Morrell joined the club in June 2016, after a successful stint as head of the North Wales Coast FA Squad.
He is looking to build on the foundations that former bosses Hunter and Hogg laid, as their work has seen the club earn promotion into the Welsh Alliance Division One and stay there, finishing 12th last season.
So far, his start has seen a mix of results, with three victories, two draws and two losses. On Saturday, he faces what could well be St Asaph’s toughest test of the season as they go against high flying Prestatyn Town in the JD Welsh Cup first round proper.
Amidst his preparations, he took time out to speak to Clwb Pel Droed about his thoughts on the game ahead, how he’s found life in St Asaph City so far and how he plans to make his mark on the club.
On Saturday’s game, Morrell is realistic, but doesn’t rule out the chance of what would be a cup upset of huge proportions, with Prestatyn unbeaten in the Huws Gray Alliance so far this season.
“They have started so well & already look like candidates for the title but we just have to focus on us. If we were to get anything this would probably be a bigger shock than when Town were Cymru Alliance and beat a Welsh Premier League Rhyl side a few years back in the cup so the only pressure on us is what we put on ourselves.”
Taking the pressure off his side, Morrell still wants to see a hard working performance against a club he admires.
We are an honest, hard working team which is all we can ask of the lads & as long as we compete, then whatever happens we’ll accept. I’ve great admiration for the management and players at Town and hopefully by the games end, we play well enough for them to have a little for us too.
If facing Prestatyn Town is a difficult prospect, an in-form Prestatyn is an even greater challenge for a lower-league club. However, the club is one Morrell knows well through his involvement with the North Wales Coast FA. In particular, he pays tribute to Neil Gibson’s work on the Seasiders over the years.
“Having been involved at Prestatyn in one form or another for many years, I know Neil Gibson very well & he is by far the best coach I’ve seen round here plus I’ve huge respect for his strong beliefs in the way he makes his teams play out from the back & not knocking it long up field at all so its clear their goals have come from great movement throughout the team. It would have been easy for him at times to change how they play but he is a top coach and is reaping the rewards.”
Whilst Prestatyn are doing well, Morrell is also upbeat about his side’s goalscoring ability and is eager to not fix what isn’t broken in their big JD Welsh Cup test.
“We have scored our fair share of goals too this year, as before this weekend we were the league top scorers and have 27 in nine games and in two of those of we didn’t score, so I’m not going stop our lads doing what seems to have worked over the past couple of months.”
Indeed, St Asaph’s season has seen a respectable start which puts them seventh in the league so far. On this season’s prospects, he hints on a holistic approach to try and pick up a club that spent the majority of last year fending off the gloomy prospect of relegation.
The club fought relegation right the way through last season & confidence was very low. Indeed this time last season we hardly had a point so when I came in the summer its been a big challenge to change the mentality this year but my aim on is just to try & improve the lads, get them enjoying it again & hopefully be a little stronger throughout.
On gameplay, Morrell is again honest in his approach to the game, offering to take the blame for the sides mistakes in an effort to bring the squad together and make them enjoy their football.
“I just want to try to let them have as much possession as possible & if they make mistakes then I’ll accept the responsibility but though we won’t win every game I feel that lads will develop more, get better results & most importantly for players that don’t play for money, enjoy it more. We were really so disappointed in our performance on Saturday when we just didn’t get going at all – any result from that game would have kept us in the top four which is a good achievement already from the lads.”
When asked to introduce his team, Chris is full of praise for a squad with many a character.
“I think the phrase ‘you don’t have to be crazy to work here but it helps’ comes to mind with this lot! Our Captain David Evans & his partner in crime Ali Parsonage are two of the main culprits. The lads night out which started with Karaoke from these two was an eye opener to say the least!
We don’t have too many loud members in the squad but plenty of quiet assassins particularly Paul Fleming who even though he plays Mr Innocent is a dark horse in pulling strings in the prank game. Declan Thomas will tackle a house & striker Aiden Bell will tackle anything although we’re not sure it’s on purpose!”
With the big Welsh Cup game undoubtedly on his mind, he points out a number of interesting Prestatyn links with his current squad, even down to family connections.
“Interestingly enough we have a couple of ex-Prestatyn Town players in Carl Murray and Ben Cawley. Carl played for Town for many years & featured in the Europa League, however Ben’s future father in law is an assistant at Prestatyn Town so I think Sunday dinner could be interesting!
There’s a lot of really good lads here and especially considering the new faces come in this summer they’ve gelled really well although some of the music tastes & dress sense, particularly Jordan Owen & keeper Luke Jones respectively, are not exactly my cup of tea.”
Saturday’s game is St Asaph’s reward for a 3-0 victory over Mochdre in the second qualifying round. Reflecting on the performance, Morrell explains that at times they had to claw through it.
“We just couldn’t play how we like to, as the game was switched to a very small pitch so it was always going to be a battle and to be honest we had to play the ground as much as Mochdre. They are a very good team with some excellent players and were flying at the time so it was always going to be tough but we showed we could play in another style & scored our goals at good times in the match.”
Embracing his new role, Morrell leads St Asaph into their Welsh Cup clash with confidence, and whatever happens, you get the sense his positivity, extensive football knowledge and motivating qualities will come good at the club.