With just five games to go in the JD Welsh Premier League, the title is all but wrapped up thanks to The New Saints’ victory over Bala Town on Friday evening. But the same can’t be said for the race for the race for Europe.
Heading into the final few weeks, the race for Europa League qualification looks set to be one of the tightest races in recent top flight memory.
Bala, Bangor and Connah’s Quay Nomads are locked in the battle for second place, with just ONE point separating the three sides.
Bala are currently second, Bangor third and Nomads fourth – at least one of the three will qualify for Europe automatically – for the others, the play offs beckon.
Here’s our guide to this nail biting race for Europa League qualification.
Who qualifies for Europe?
A total of four teams represent the JD Welsh Premier in Europe. The Champions are guaranteed the one and only UEFA Champions League place available to the league.
There are three Europa League qualifying places available – these go to second place, the JD Welsh Cup winners and the play off Champions.
However, due to the JD Welsh Cup being frequently won by a top side – usually The New Saints – the Welsh Cup Europa spot drops down to third place.
This is how Llandudno qualified for Europe in 2015/16 – and crucially, it may be how one of Bala, Bangor or Connah’s Quay manage it this season.
This year’s dramatic JD Welsh Cup campaign has seen holders Bala Town and hot favourites The New Saints knocked out – and Bangor or Connah’s Quay meet in the semi finals.
If Bangor or Connah’s Quay win the Welsh Cup AND finish second, the third-place finisher will qualify for Europe.
Here’s what the three sides need to do to reach Europe, and how their chances measure up.
Games remaining: Nomads (H) Druids (A) TNS (H) Cardiff (A) Bangor (H)
To qualify: Finish second or finish third via a Nomads or Bangor City JD Welsh Cup win
Bala are in pole position for Europe but by a whisker – Bangor and Connah’s Quay sit behind them by one point.
They will need to pick up points against their rivals – and have a chance to give themselves breathing space with a home game against Nomads next week.
Colin Caton’s side will have little respite going into the end of the season, as they end the campaign with a bumper fixture at home to Bangor – one that could well decide who goes to Europe.
The Lakesiders will no doubt be ruing the slow start that hampered their progress in the early stages of the season, but they are equally satisfied to be in 2nd place with five games to go.
Their squad has been boosted by the arrival of John Disney and Lewis Short, whose skill and flair has allowed the likes of Venables and Hayes to play freely and focus on goal.
Following their 2-1 victory over Bangor at the VSM Stadium, Bala are arguably favourites to finish second as it stands – but they must produce many more big results in order to qualify and avoid the play offs.
Games remaining: Cardiff (A) TNS (H) Nomads (A) Druids (H) Bala (A)
To qualify: Finish 2nd or win Welsh Cup or finish third via Connah’s Quay Welsh Cup win
Bangor boast a deadly attacking line which frequently overwhelms teams, but they have also shown their ability to cope with pressure against Connah’s Quay, who they ground a win out against at home.
Games against Connah’s Quay may prove to be vital for Bangor, as they face them in the JD Welsh Cup semi finals next month.
The Citizen’s faithful are keen to see Bangor progress to the final to challenge for their first Welsh Cup win since 2010.
A Welsh Cup win would give Bangor a place in the Europa League qualifiers regardless of their league position, but finishing second will also give the side their first venture into the Irn Bru Cup.
Remaining games: Bala (A) Cardiff (H) Bangor (H) TNS (A) Druids (A)
To qualify: Finish 2nd or win Welsh Cup or finish third via Bangor Welsh Cup win
Last week their hopes of a 2nd place finish looked to be fading fast as they were 1-0 down against Cefn Druids at Deeside with just nine men, but an inspired 2-1 comeback has kept Nomads in the race.
All teams have a tough end of season run in, but Nomads must finish their campaign on the road with away games against The New Saints and Cefn Druids.
They will be looking to get a result at Bala on Friday night, before winning the rest of their home games including one against Bangor.
Bangor have been somewhat a bogey team for Nomads in the league so far this season as they have lost out against the Citizens three times so far, but beat them in the league cup – will this trend continue when they play Bangor in the Welsh Cup semi final at and Deeside in the league in the space of just seven days?
There will be plenty of twists and turns in the last five games of the race for Europe, with the chance of a final day decider game very real.
Stay up to date with Bala, Bangor and Nomads’ battle right here at Y Clwb Pel Droed.
Featured Image: NCM Media