Fair play and finance needed in the Welsh Premier says record goalscorer
Ten games in to the season and I have seen all 12 teams from the Welsh Premier League in action. It is no surprise to me, or anyone else, that the top four teams are the same ones as last season albeit in a different order.
The New Saints have gone on a magnificent run of winning their last eight games after a stuttering start to their campaign to edge ahead of my tip for the title, Neath.
Llanelli and Bangor are hot on their heels two points further back with just three points separating them at the top.
Can Neath sustain their challenge at the top of the Welsh Premier League? They have this season turned into a full-time outfit, which increases the financial pressures on the club which might affect their quest for the title.
It hasn't as yet, but over the past few years we have seen the likes of ex-champions Barry Town and Rhyl drop out of the league because of financial constraints and their best players leaving to join rival teams once the transfer window opens.
Hopefully the same won't be said of Neath AFC but having made the switch to being a full-time they will need to manage their finances so they can keep their players and so they can meet the licensing criteria of both the WPL and UEFA.
Down at the bottom of the league, Airbus became the last team to record a victory this season after defeating fellow strugglers Newtown to climb off the bottom and move up to eighth in the table. That's how close it is down at the foot of the table with one victory catapulting you four places.
One team that have descended into freefall are Aberystwyth. They've gone eight games without a win and although they're not bottom of the WPL they're certainly bottom of the fair play league.
In their first seven games they had six players sent off, which no doubt has played a major part in their poor form. Aberystwyth manager Alan Morgan, himself a tenacious tackling midfielder, has come to the defence of his players on many occasions, however you cannot blame the match officials for every red card shown to your players - the players have got to take responsibility for their actions. They have a responsibility not only to their fellow teammates but also to the manager, board members and the supporters to stay on the pitch and give their team every chance of getting a result.
It was not a surprise that the first monthly awards of the season went to The New Saints' head coach, Carl Darlington and Llanelli's prolific marksman, Rhys Griffiths. The latter notched two successive hat-tricks against Newtown and Bala and took his tally to 12 for the season in Saturday's win over Aberystwyth.
Griffiths' record over the past few years in the WPL has been exceptional. I am currently the all-time leading WPL goal-scorer, but having now retired from the game, my record may be at risk. Griffiths has a good few years left in him and if he stays injury free, he should be the one to take my record.
Whereas I scored on average three every four games, Rhys currently averages four goals every five games although neither of us can match Eifion Williams' phenomenal record of a goal a game (130 games, 131 goals).
Last week saw the Wales u23 Semi-Pro start their International Challenge Trophy campaign with a tough trip to play Estonia. Wales came out on top with a 2-1 victory. It was pleasing from a WPL perspective that both Wales' goals were scored by Neath players and the squad consisted of 13 WPL players with 9 named in the starting line-up. This not only shows that the league is producing fine young talent but it also gives them valuable experience on the European stage which could only benefit them and their clubs in Uefa club competitions. Wales are in a group of four teams, with Turkey and Norway being the other two nations. The other group comprises England (who are the holders of the trophy), Belgium and Italy.
Finally I would like to congratulate Gary Lloyd for becoming the inaugural winner of the WPL clubman of the year at the FAW's annual awards night last week in Cardiff. Lloyd is currently the first team coach at Llanelli won the award for his continued community work not only in the Llanelli area but also through visiting orphanages during the club's Europa League tie in Georgia.