As you might have read on the social media channels, I am currently in the midst of writing a book about the history of the League of Wales / Welsh Premier League / Cymru Premier. For some reason, there hasn’t been a book which has been produced that explains the history of the top flight of the Welsh football pyramid, although during research for the parts that have been done, I am getting the idea why it hasn’t been done before…
Anyway, considering I haven’t posted much on here recently, I wanted to share with you a sub-section from one of the chapters in the book that I have currently written, so you can get an idea of what I am producing and not just messing about with it ha! Please bear in mind, it’s still in the drafting phase and it will probably change in the eventual book from what is below, as I will probably read through it many, many, many times before I am finally happy with it for printing. If you notice anything that I have missed or is wrong from the information, let me know and I will try and add/amend to it in the main draft.
So for your reading entertainment, here is an extract from what I have currently written for my book Meddiant: The History of the Cymru Premier for you to look through. Please let me know what you think of it on The94thMin social media channels.
This is the section on the The New Saints’ and Connah’s Quay Nomads’ performances in the 2018-19 IRN-BRU Cup:
2018-19 – Creating History in the Highlands
Despite some confusion about the situation regarding Bangor City’s second placed finish but subsequent demotion last season, Connah’s Quay would be announced by the FAW as the second Welsh team to compete in the Scottish Challenge Cup alongside The New Saints who were hoping to go beyond the semi-finals at the third time of asking. Certainly they were given a favourable tie in the second round draw, being drawn at home to the historic Scottish amateur team, Queen’s Park. In comparison, Connah’s Quay were given a truly tough task, having to travel away to Scottish Championship side Falkirk, who had reached the quarter-finals of the competition in the previous season only to lose to the eventual cup winners Inverness Caledonian Thistle 0-1.
The New Saints took the lead against the Scottish League Two side after half an hour of play when the ball bounced off the back of the diving goalkeeper Jordan Hart and unluckily ricocheted into his own net after Jon Routledge’s low and powerful shot had cannoned back off the post onto the sprawling keeper. Alas Routledge would turn from hero into the villain as he was dismissed with eight minutes remaining after a poor first touch receiving a pass resulted in a foot-up late tackle on the challenging Queen’s Park player whilst trying to retrieve ball possession. With a man advantage, the Spiders attacked the Saints’ goal and managed to get the breakthrough with a minute remaining of the ninety when Smart Osadolor bundled in a scruffy goal. Things got even better for the visiting supporters behind the goal as they achieved a superb comeback two minutes later when Lewis Hawke took advantage of poor marking from a corner to score what seemed like a late winner in the first minute of injury time. However in the fifth minute of injury time, the unmarked Joash Nembhard volleyed in a very late equaliser to send the game into a penalty shootout. This time using the usual ABAB format, ultimately TNS’ first two penalties were saved by Jordan Hart which swung the tie in the favour of the Glasgow side, who claimed an important and shocking victory by winning 4-2 on penalties. A disappointing result from TNS with Scott Ruscoe pulling no punches post-match by describing the team’s performance as ‘poor’ and accusing them of being complacent or unfocused against a supposed ‘weaker’ team.
Connah’s Quay Nomads would have no such troubles earlier in the day when they stunningly defeated Falkirk 1-0 at the Falkirk Stadium. It would be a debut to forget for Falkirk’s newly appointed manager Ray McKinnon, who replaced Paul Hartley as the Bairns manager in late August. Despite home pressure throughout the match, Michael Wilde’s header within the first minute of the second half combined with an excellent defensive (if somewhats physical) display from the Nomads ensured they progressed into the next round. Their reward was a home tie against Northern Irish runners-up and cup winners, Coleraine in the third round. Just like Falkirk, the Nomads would be facing Coleraine at a time of managerial flux as their long-term manager Oran Kearney had left the Bannsiders in early September to become the manager of SPFL Premiership side Saint Mirren. His replacement was the highly-rated Dungannon Swifts manager Rodney McAree who had yet to win as Coleraine manager, and had seen the club’s eleven month undefeated streak come to an end during the previous weekend with a 1-4 defeat to Glenavon.
At a rainy Deeside Stadium in the middle of October, in which the two sides were serenaded onto the pitch by the Flintshire-based Cambria marching band complete with the Flintshire and Owain Glyndŵr flags flapping in the stern breeze swirling around the athletics stadium, it would become a hotly-contested game in which a number of cards were shown by the official Mr Colin Steven throughout the game. After a goalless first half, the home side took the lead after an hour’s action through a well-rehearsed routine which saw captain George Horan nod the ball into the net after a long throw into the box from Andy Owens. Their position was made more secure when Coleraine found themselves down to nine men within three minutes – firstly midfielder Stephen Lowry accumulated his second yellow card before centre-back and captain Stephen O’Donnell was dismissed for a professional foul on the 69th minute. The Nomads’ place in the quarter finals was secured in the third minute of injury time when a cutting run and squared cross from the fresh legs of substitute Michael Bakare allowed Andy Owens to get ahead of his marker to bundle home the clincher.
In the quarter finals, they were drawn to play away to TNS’ conquerors Queens Park on November 16, which meant the Nomads made history by becoming the first Welsh league side to play at the grand old iconic Hampden Park stadium in Glasgow, the traditional home of the Spiders as well as the Scottish Football Association and the Scottish national teams. With only 559 supporters being present in the near 52,000 capacity empty cauldron of Scottish football, they experienced a goalless first half although both sides had plenty of chances to break the deadlock, with the Nomads hitting the woodwork twice. However business would pick up in the second half when Lewis Hawke scored his second goal against Welsh opposition to give Queen’s Park the lead after sixty-four minutes by latching onto a long ball before firing past John Danby. Just as it seemed the Nomads could not find an equaliser, captain fantastic George Horan came to the rescue in the 81st minute by sending a powerful header past Jordan Hart. Then the game turned on its head three minutes later when Michael Wilde took advantage of great build-up play to drive a low shot at the inside post to give the visitors a 2-1 lead with just six minutes remaining. The Spiders tried to find a late equaliser once again but their efforts were in vain.
The Nomads had made history by becoming not only the first Welsh club to play at the iconic stadium but win there also, but they gained little compliments from their opponents. Man of the Match, Spiders’ keeper Jordan Hart said in his post-match interview “I don’t honestly know what we just took part in, it wasn’t football! I don’t know what sport that was…” As one would imagine, a peeved Andy Morrison found that comment to be completely disrespectful, describing Hart’s comments as ‘pure ignorance’, ‘some of the stupidest things ever’ and ‘utter nonsense’. This sparked a war of words with his opposite number Mark Roberts, who accused Morrison of disrespecting him and his team by claiming he said that “we beat a big bunch of girls at Queen’s Park who were crying like babies”. This wouldn’t be the only time in the year that Roberts would stick the needle into the Nomads with some barbed comments.
Once again another Welsh club had made it to the semi-finals of the Scottish Challenge Cup for the third consecutive season, and the Nomads were given a home fixture against Edinburgh City. However the Citizens were the in-form team in Scotland’s fourth-tier and were leading the Scottish League Two table at the time, with their striker Blair Henderson (who had scored 23 league goals in 24 games whilst training to become a chartered accountant) the top goalscorer in the league. In front of nearly 1000 supporters, with a large contingent making the trip down from Scotland’s capital, they saw the visitors take an early lead in the cup tie after just two minutes. John Danby managed to save a powerful shot from dangerman Henderson but the onrushing Josh Walker followed up the rebound at the far post to give Edinburgh the lead. However the hosts soon fought their way back and crafted an equaliser, once again utilising the long throw tactic. Michael Wilde headed down a Jake Phillips long throw, allowing Callum Morris to volley at goal but the shot was blocked en route and rebounded back to Wilde who managed to poke it into the net from close range.
Although the match experienced an initial flurry of goals, neither side were able to add to their early goals as the nervy and tightly-contested game proceeded into extra time and eventually a penalty shootout. The Nomads had a couple of chances with the best opportunity coming from Jon Owens hitting the crossbar from a looping header, whilst Edinburgh hit the corner of the woodwork when captain Craig Thomson attempted an Olympico directly from the corner. Alas chances were a rare commodity as the cup game would be decided by spotkicks. Both teams scored their first three penalties but when Michael Bakare scored his penalty and Thomson had his shot superbly saved by John Danby, it meant that Wilde had to score his penalty to confirm Nomads’ spot in the final. However it was disaster as Wilde saw his low placed shot diverted away by Edinburgh’s Calum Antell, and with Blair Henderson cooly slotting his effort away, it went to sudden death penalties. Captain George Horan successfully converted his chance before Danby would become the hero for the Flintshire side when he guessed correctly and denied Ciaran Diver to send Connah’s Quay to the final of the Scottish Challenge Cup. A proud moment for everyone at the club, even if some Scottish fans were upset that a Welsh side had made the final of their cup competition!
For the first time in the competition’s history, Connah’s Quay Nomads became the first guest side to reach the final of the Scottish Challenge Cup. There they had to face the Scottish Championship leaders, and SPFL Premiership returnee in-waiting, Ross County at the very controversial stadium choice of the Caledonian Stadium in Inverness. Certainly not a middle-ground selection of southwestern Scotland or Scotland’s Central Belt as many people expected, where previous finals had been held and selected by the SFA. The Highlanders making just a 15 mile / 24km journey south from their home in Dingwall to reach the Highland city of Inverness, whilst the Nomads would have to travel 400 miles / 640km to make the same journey, with the Welsh side being forced to take a flight up there and landing in Inverness’ small regional airport.
Certainly Andy Morrison was under no illusions that his Nomads side were the underdogs for this final, which could have potentially seen Connah’s Quay win three competitions during the season. The Scottish-born manager, who was returning to his place of birth for the Scottish Challenge Cup final, said during an interview with Sky Sports, “We’re way outsiders to get anything out of it, but in the past that’s never phased us. Yes it’s a massive ask but don’t be surprised if we win the game…For me, there’s a warrior in every man and if I can find that, and bring that out, and I can get eight or nine of them onto a pitch on a Saturday, I’ve got a helluva chance of winning a game of football.“
The final took place on March 23, a day before Wales’ first game in the Euro 2020 qualifying when they took on Euro 2016 group opponents Slovakia once again at the Cardiff City Stadium. The game was played in front of just over 3000 supporters, with roughly 100 hardy fans making the incredibly long journey from Deeside by coach, car or rail to attend the final, whilst a considerable number of the Inverness Caledonian Thistle fans were also backing the Welsh side against their Highland rivals. Certainly the Nomads fans were treated to an excellent first half display as the Deesiders were the more superior team against the side who had been relegated from the SPFL Premiership in the previous season. They took a deserved lead in the 22nd minute when Michael Bakare went on a run at goal, and sent a powerful driving shot into the top left corner of the goal from eighteen yards out. It could have gotten better for the Nomads as they had a golden chance to make it 2-0 just two minutes later, when George Horan fired an effort over the crossbar from around eight yards out from a corner. Then with about ten minutes remaining of the first half, a mistake from County goalkeeper Ross Munro saw him pass the ball straight to Andy Owens, but he saw his effort from 10 yards out saved by Munro to atone for his almost costly error. Alas Connah’s Quay weren’t able to add further goals and went into the break with a 1-0 lead, but the momentum of the match had been with them although they should have perhaps converted one or both of those clear chances.
Unsurprisingly, the momentum swung in the favour of Ross County in the second half as Connah’s Quay’s long season competing on multiple fronts, as well as the lengthy travel to Inverness, was starting to influence the Nomads as they started to look increasingly fatigued as they tried to maintain their lead and defend against the unrelenting Ross County attacking phases. The inclusion of Josh Mullin as a substitute for Ross County with about twenty-five minutes remaining would be the inspired tactical move of the match as the replacement finally found a leveller with fifteen minutes remaining. A couple of minutes later and the midfielder swung the match in his team’s favour when his strike from around twenty yards out found the back of the net. Connah’s Quay made a couple of attacking changes to try and find an equaliser but the momentum of the match was clearly with their opponents. Ross Country confirmed their cup victory with four minutes remaining when Jamie Lindsay’s curling effort evaded Danby’s reach and made it 3-1 to the Scottish side forcing the Nomads to settle for runners-up spot for the IRN-BRU Cup. Nonetheless, the run to the final had impressed many pundits within Scotland, and had raised the stock and reputation of both the club and the league to people who had been unaware of both prior to the cup competition. Morrison was content with the performance of his club proudly stating in the S4C post-match interview, “We’ll leave here with our heads held high and you saw the way they [Ross County] celebrated the victory, that’s not a little team from Wales. We’ve given them a right, right task today!”