WPL 2017/18 PREVIEW: The New Saints
After winning a 6th title on the bounce, can The New Saints withstand a challenge and win a 7th?
It’s been a busy summer for The New Saints, who were left to look for a new manager after Craig Harrison’s departure to become manager of Vanarama National League side Hartlepool United. His departure made preseason complicated for the reigning Champions, who installed Harrison’s assistant Scott Ruscoe as boss, first on an interim basis for preseason, and then as the new permanent manager at the end of July. Ruscoe is a legend at The New Saints, holding the all-time appearances record as a player, so his appointment has been greeted with excitement and enthusiasm from the Saints supporters.
A big part of the summer for the Saints was the chance to take part in the UEFA Champions League Qualifying Round 1 against College Europa of Gibraltar. Expected to sail through, The New Saints were stunned at home in the first leg, as they lost 2-1 to the part-timers. They eventually managed to progress to the second Qualifying Round after a much improved second leg performance, winning 4-3 on aggregate after Extra Time, with Europa down to 9 men after picking 2 red cards. They were then drawn against HNK Rijeka of Croatia, losing 7-1 on aggregate.
One of the bright sparks of preseason has been the outstanding form of Scott Quigley, whose performances in the UEFA Champions League has reportedly alerted English Football League 1 side Peterborough United, who’ve been linked with a move for the 24 year old striker. Should TNS manage to keep their star man, he will no doubt be expected to be one of their main sources for goals this season, as the Saints hope to clinch Welsh Premier League title number 12.
In terms of transfers, TNS have been one of the quieter teams, only signing 2 players, while 4 have departed. They released Phil Baker, Mihai Leca and James Jones, while Tom Matthews joined Wroxham. The Saints have signed Tom Holland from Swansea City, aswell as completing the signing of Blaine Hudson from Chester City.
Winning the League and League Cup for the third consecutive year was impressive last season, but the Saints will be desperate to regain the Welsh Cup, after losing in the final to Bala Town. And we cannot discuss last season, without talking about the fantastic World Record that The New Saints won for most successive wins at the start of a season, with the Saints winning their opening 27 games of the 2016/17 season. However, this season is expected to be a lot more difficult for the Saints, with Bangor City, Connah’s Quay Nomads and Bala Town looking stronger and more able to launch a title challenge. Being Champions is a fantastic achievement, but you have to expect to be chased by the teams around you, and so TNS will be aware of the need to perform to an excellent standard this season once again. Despite being installed as favourites to retain their crown, they will head into the season taking one game at a time, and it remains to be seen whether the chasing pack can provide more of a challenge to the Saints this season.
Tom Holland-Swansea City
Blaine Hudson-Chester City
James Jones, Phil Baker, Mihai Leca-All Released
‘Scott Quigley has been on fire during preseason, but can he fire TNS to another title?’
Photo Credit: Wales Online
Photo available from: http://www.walesonline.co.uk/sport/football/football-news/new-saints-progress-champions-league-13283081