Rhyl emerged on top at the end of the league season in Wales
By Mel Thomas
It soon became clear that the title race would be between the three best-financed clubs in the league – reigning champions Llanelli, four-times winners The New Saints and Rhyl, who won in 2004 – and by the turn of the year they had started to break away from the pack.
The New Saints were the first to falter, allowing Carmarthen Town to threaten them for the coveted Europa League spot, but in a head-to-head Town committed suicide with two red cards in a 0-8 defeat at Park Hall.
Llanelli and Rhyl slowly broke away with the latter virtually clinching the title following a tactically sound 1-0 win at Llanelli in the closing stages.
Rhyl coach Allan Bickerstaff built on predecessor John Hulse’s squad by signing midfielder Gareth Owen from Airbus UK and striker Neil Roberts from Wrexham, both of whom were key elements in their championship win.
For Llanelli’s Peter Nicholas failure to retain the title was costly as his contract was not renewed. Ex-Wales international Nicholas, the club’s most successful manager, was as surprised as everyone else with the news but financial restrictions may yet prove to be part of the reason for a change. Midfielder Andy Legg now takes the hot seat for the European campaign.
The relegation dogfight continued up to the wire. Though Caernarfon Town were condemned with weeks to go, the second drop-spot remained up for grabs until the penultimate round, with Druids, Prestatyn Town, Neath and finally Porthmadog one by one climbed to safety and leaving Caersws in the lurch.
Northern feeder league champions Bala Town are set to replace Caernarfon in the top tier, but Caersws may yet be saved. Southern feeder qualifiers ENTO Aberaman Athletic have failed to upgrade their ground in time but have appealed to the Welsh football association.
Bangor City retained the Cup with a 2-0 win against Aberystwyth Town. Aber were last in the final in 1900 but their end-of-season slump in league form carried on as they lacked ideas against City.
Rhys Griffiths of Llanelli took the Golden Boot for the third season running with 31 league goals but was chased hard by Port Talbot Town’s Martin Rose and the perennial Marc-Lloyd Williams. Porthmadog signed journeyman Lloyd-Williams at the start of the season, bringing him back to his 1993 roots a record 300 league goals later.
Player of the season
The veteran midfielder‘s creativity was the mainstay of the champions’ campaign as his wealth of English League experience paid off.
Manager of the season
His shrewd close-season signings built up a side of much potential with a blend of experience and flair, and they took the title playing attractive, open football.
Revelation of the season
Fast-maturing young goalkeeper.