January can be a deflated month in world football as teams recover from frantic fixtures, but in the JD Welsh Premier League the action never stops as a host of teams battle for a place in the prestigious top six.
The JD Welsh Premier League is played in a format of two phases. Phase One sees all 12 teams play each other twice, and then in Phase Two, the top six teams and bottom six teams then form two ‘leagues’ and play each other twice.
For teams in the top six, it’s guaranteed safety from relegation and a real chance to get into Europe, whilst the bottom six face the threat of relegation and are left to fight for the final place in the play-offs for Europe.
With five sides already qualified, a huge battle for the final place is underway.
Who can finish sixth?
Barry Town, Llandudno, Cefn Druids and Newtown can all still get sixth place mathematically. Here’s the current standings, which place Barry in the coveted sixth, Cefn Druids seventh, Llandudno eighth and Newtown ninth.
— JD Welsh Premier League (@WPL_Official) January 1, 2018
To make things even tighter, Barry and Cefn Druids are level on points whilst Llandudno are just one behind them with 26 on the board. Newtown sit lower, with 21 points.
This means the race for the top six is guaranteed to go down to the final matchday of Phase One on Saturday 13 January.
Here, we take a look at the teams involved in the race and weigh up their chances of finishing in the elusive sixth spot.
Barry Town United: Nomads (A) Bala (H)
Barry have a goal difference of -1 to Cefn Druid’s -3, so it is unlikely the race will go down to goal difference. Although Barry sit sixth at the moment, they face a daunting trip to Connah’s Quay where they know they must win to retain their current position.
Their final game is at home which will be a big boost to the Seasiders, but they face another uneviable task facing Bala Town who have just signed well respected defenders Lewis Short and John Disney.
Despite their position, Barry’s remaining fixtures make their hopes of top six qualification look in doubt. However, Gavin Chesterfield’s men will be up for the challenge as they look to write what would be another amazing chapter in their colourful history.
Cefn Druids: Carmarthen (A) Llandudno (H)
Huw Griffiths has had praise heaped on him from peers in the game thanks to Druids’ season so far. They were at first tipped as strugglers, but have defied that notion to go on and beat Bala, Bangor and hold Connah’s Quay to a draw in a valiant fight for the top six.
They sit seventh having taken only a point from their double header vs Connah’s Quay Nomads over Christmas, but they have a great chance of qualifying – at least on paper.
They travel to basement boys Carmarthen, but will face a rejuvenated Old Gold who are coming off the back of two consecutive wins which has sent them within six points of escaping the relegation zone.
Depending on Saturday’s result in South Wales, Druids’ could set up an all-or-nothing clash with Llandudno on the final day of the Phase One.
Considering their already impressive season, Cefn Druids go into this race as one of the favourites to qualify.
Llandudno: Bala (H) Cefn Druids (A)
Deep into their New Year’s Day game away to Bangor City, Llandudno’s hopes of the top six were fast fading as they went into the 90th minute locked in a 0-0 stalemate.
But a moment of magic from Marc Williams saw goalkeeper Matthew Hall’s clearance deflect off him and loop into the goal to give Iwan William’s side a 1-0 victory which sent them straight into the mix for the top six.
Williams has been busy in the transfer window already, even registering himself as a player as he plots what would be a sensational top six finish having taken over as manager in November.
Bala will provide a stern test, but Llandudno have already held Bangor to a 0-0 draw at Maesdu Parc – if they can get some sort of result this coming Saturday, it may set up a showdown at The Rock.
Llandudno have a lot to do but they simply cannot be written off yet.
Newtown AFC: Bangor (A) Cardiff (H) Prestatyn (H)
Newtown are the dark horses of this race and with good reason, as they have a game in hand that could help them snatch sixth place.
Their rearranged game, taking place next Tuesday 9 January against Cardiff Met, means that if they win all of their remaining games, and their rivals in Barry, Llandudno and Druids lose at least one of theirs, they could secure the final spot in the top six.
Chris Hughes’ men will be well up for the challenge having pulled off one of the shocks of the season last weekend, beating TNS 4-2 at the Champion’s Park Hall home.
They will be looking to complete another giant killing away at Bangor on Friday evening, before facing Cardiff midweek followed by Prestatyn.
If they keep their form strong and have results go their way, Newtown could finish sixth with 30 points – seen as the absolute minimum requirement for top six by most JD Welsh Premier managers.
Newtown are outsiders, but the combination of good fortune and a few solid performances could send the Robins into the top six.
Stay tuned to Y Clwb Pel Droed as we report on the race for the top six.
Featured Image: Rhys Skinner