On Saturday evening one of Wales’ most decorated clubs play one of Wales’ youngest, as The New Saints take on Cardiff Met in the Nathaniel MG Cup final.
The final, which is traditionally the first major cup final of the season, is the equivalent to the Carabao Cup in England. The competition is no stranger to upsets, but this year, as expected, two of the pyramid’s finest will face off in the final.
One of the most intriguing things about Saturday’s final is, despite the fact TNS are the dominant side of the last decade, how much they have in common with Cardiff Met.
Both sides look equally fit, as while TNS are full time professionals, Cardiff Met’s squad maintain an impeccable level of fitness which has led to many JD Welsh Premier managers calling them, in essence, a ‘full time’ team.
TNS and Cardiff both enjoy use of top class facilities, and have access to up and coming players who they can nurture into starters in the top flight.
The similarities between Cardiff and TNS were laid bare earlier this season, when at Cyncoed Campus the student side held the Saints to a 0-0 draw.
So what will it take to break the deadlock on Saturday? Above all else, the game could be won by a psychological edge.
The importance of mental mindset in the game has been well documented at the highest levels, and it will definitely play a role in how the final is approached.
The pressure is on TNS. Scott Ruscoe, in his first cup final as a manager, is expected to take home the trophy. To do this, he must look to the experience in the squad, as it will be TNS’ tenth appearance in the Nathaniel MG Cup final.
If TNS do what they do best, they are likely winners of the game. That is approaching the match professionally, taking minimal risks, and not letting the heat of the moment get to them.
If they can stave off the pressure and do so, they will be well placed to retain the trophy – but if Cardiff get inside their heads, all that could change.
Whilst TNS will look to avoid emotional decisions, Cardiff may turn on the passion and play with their hearts on their sleeves.
As a young side, they have the energy to go at, and potentially upset TNS. The game is their first major cup final, and manager Christian Edwards will no doubt tell them that they have the chance to write themselves into the history books.
A no fear, never say die attitude will be key for Cardiff on Saturday. Barry Town displayed it well against TNS in last year’s final, holding the Saints for more than an hour before TNS eventually broke them down.
Such is the magnitude of the game, we will likely see a cagey, respectful opening or even full 45 minutes to start with.
Here mentality will be key, as both sides will have to find the belief they can break the deadlock – neither will fancy penalties with two of the league’s best keepers, Paul Harrison and Will Fuller, in goal.
No one denies that The New Saints go into the game as the overwhelming favourites – but just like last May’s JD Welsh Cup, a plucky performance from a team with their heads firmly on could create another memorable night of Welsh football.
You can watch the Nathaniel MG Cup final live on S4C Sgorio with a 5:15pm kick off on Saturday 20th January.
(Featured Image: Brian Jones)