The race for the Welsh League title is proving to be extremely competitive this season, with four sides having a realistic chance of lifting the trophy.
Among the contenders are Haverfordwest County, whose excellent start to the season saw them lead Division One until recently.
The Pembrokeshire completed their opening 17 league matches with an impressive record of 13 wins and just 1 defeat. That run included eye-catching home wins over Llanelli Town (3-1) and Goytre (5-0), as well as a rout of early season pace-setters Goytre United (7-1) away from home. However, the last two months have seen a halt in the Bluebirds’ momentum with weather-related postponements and three consecutive defeats forcing Haverfordwest down to 4th in the table and six points off the lead.
The Bluebirds’ manager Sean Cresser played down his side’s previous form and admitted it is ‘no surprise’ to see others take advantage of the situation of the last two months.
“We were doing okay, possibly even overachieving. Our young squad are progressing well and we hope they continue to do so now in the long term.
Three defeats coupled with not playing for a month has meant that others teams in and around us have managed to push passed us; that’s a credit to them and their management. I’ve seen the three of them [Llanelli Town, Penybont and Afan Lido] many times this season and they’re all excellent at what they do so it’s no surprise that they are where they are.”
Despite slipping down the table, Haverfordwest County remains in a strong position. They have played fewer games than all the sides above them and with a fixture against Llanelli Town still to play, their fate remains in their own hands. Nevertheless, Cresser stressed the title (and potential promotion to the Welsh Premier League) hasn’t been the focus so far.
“We’re not and haven’t been thinking about [the title race]. I know it’s the oldest one in the book but we literally only ever focus on the next game and take one game at a time. If we’re lucky enough to still be in the mix with four or five games to go, then we may start to consider our position; until then, we’ll stick to the cliched approach.”
This weekend Haverfordwest County are scheduled to play Afan Lido away from home. The Aberavon-based club are among Haverfordwest’s title rivals, currently sitting one place and two points above them in the table. Cresser isn’t surprised by Afan Lido’s rise to title contention this year and expects a difficult challenge against a side that has lost once in ten games.
“Season upon season Afan Lido are consistently one of the best teams in the division, so it comes as no surprise that are achieving again. It’s always a tough game there and with the quality, they have in their squad, we expect nothing less than an extremely difficult test against an extremely experienced outfit.”
While the popular narrative would be to bill this as a ‘must-win six-pointer’ for both sides, Cresser insists his side must first get their mind right before worrying about the outcome of the match.
“Most games are lost won not, so before we try to win the game we must, first of all, try not to lose it. Winning is important, but winning is not really the point for us. Wanting to win is the point; not giving up is the point; never letting up is the point; never being satisfied with what we’ve done is the point.”
Whatever Haverfordwest County achieve this season, they will have to do it without experienced Welsh League forward Joe Leahy, who left to the club a couple of weeks ago and has now joined Pembrokeshire League club Merlins Bridge FC.
“It’s been a difficult few weeks for the club for a number of different reasons and that was compounded by the departure of Joey. Unfortunately, his commitments outside football have changed which meant he was unable to apply himself as he would have liked.
This, in turn, led him to making a decision [to leave]. It’s disappointing for us as he was one of the mainstays of the team; but it’s more of a shame for the lad himself, who has always wanted to ply his trade at the highest possible level. He was excellent for us on the field but, more importantly, a top lad off it and we wish him all the best.”
The Bluebirds have, in turn, signed Ryan Thomas from fellow Division One club Cwmamman United. Cresser says Thomas will offer something different to Leahy and is hopeful he can help the side continue to progress.
“Ryan is a different type of player, so it’s certainly not a like for like replacement. He’s another young exciting prospect, who comes highly recommended and we look forward to working with him. I’m sure he will be a good addition for us.”
(Featured Image: SER Images)