When I last wrote an instalment of the blog Caernarfon’s match at Gresford had just been postponed due to a waterlogged pitch. Seven weeks have since passed and I’m pleased to say that things have gone as well as anyone with an affinity to the Cofis could have hoped for.
It is said that success often generates its own momentum and these past few weeks have proved just that as we have enjoyed five victories, one draw, a Domestic Licence, the Cymru Alliance League title and promotion to the Welsh Premier League. Not too bad for a side that was overlooked by many as promotion candidates at the beginning of the season!
Back in August, Rhyl and Airbus UK were regarded as title favourites and probably rightly so, based on both clubs having been well-established Welsh Premier League sides before relegation just a few months earlier. Much of the talk last summer was of the big budgets the clubs supposedly had available to them, whilst Airbus had the added advantage of their 3G pitch (which may actually have worked against them in some way, which I’ll touch upon later on.)
Despite being overlooked in some quarters, I think most of us in and around the Oval believed we were more than capable of winning the league and I think that became obvious very early in the season. Iwan had strengthened the squad with experienced players and also brought in Sean Eardley as his number two, which certainly seemed to have been a positive move and would, in hindsight, prove to be a masterstroke.
We all know how the next few months panned out as Sean seamlessly stepped into the managers’ role in November and confidently steered the side to an unbeaten run of ten league matches up to March. The Cofis had been sitting on top of the Cymru Alliance league for most of the season and were still there as we approached the final seven fixtures of the campaign.
As a result of so many postponements throughout the league in February, it was difficult to work out which teams would pose the biggest threats to our title aspirations, although it seemed that Holywell and Denbigh, and possibly Rhyl, would feature amongst them. One thing that was clear, however, is that Sean and his squad were in a very strong position and had promotion in their own hands.
Of course, the Cymru Alliance League is a tough old competition and the seven match run-in was not going to be easy, especially with five of those fixtures away from home. And so, to the first of those, which saw us welcoming the pre-season title favourites Airbus UK to the Oval on March 10th.
The weather in the days leading up to the match had been a bit like Marti Pellow and his gang: wet, wet, wet. However, against all the odds (I was going to reference Phil Collins here, but decided against it?!), our groundsman ensured the pitch passed two inspections and was just about good enough to withhold ninety minutes of action.
|The players celebrate Messi's opener against Airbus.|
Our visitors were second in the league at the time and I am led to believe that the Airbus management were just as keen as ours to get the match on, despite the less than perfect conditions, and it is credit to them for this. However, judging from what I heard from their players once Darren Thomas put us ahead, they may have fancied it a touch less than their coaching staff! And this is where I believe their own 3G pitch may have been a disadvantage to them this year as they really didn’t seem to enjoy playing on a less than perfect surface. They’ve been much better at home than on their travels during the campaign and so I think there may be some truth in this.
To be fair to the Caernarfon side, however, I think the Wingmakers would have had their work cut out whatever the weather, and the playing surface were like because we proved too strong for them in a blistering first half performance that saw Jamie Breese making the most of a slip up in the visitors defence to double our lead. Rhys Roberts added a third after the break and, with Town’s other main rivals, Holywell and Denbigh both out of action due to postponements, the victory further strengthened our position as league leaders.
An interested spectator on the day had been Holywell manager Johnny Haseldin and his side would be our next opponents, although our visit to Halkyn Road held back for a week because of yet more bad weather. There was plenty of talk, and not a little banter, about a ‘Cae Tatws’ in the fortnight leading up to the fixture and I had expected the worse, but credit to the ground staff there because the pitch looked pretty good from where I stood.
As expected, the encounter was an old-fashioned blood and thunder affair, more akin to a cup match than a league fixture as both sides looked for victory. The hosts were desperate to close the gap at the top and keep their title hopes intact whilst for the Cofis, it was important to keep one of our closest challengers at arms’ length.
Caernarfon started well and just about shaded the first half, which saw plenty of goalmouth action, mostly from the Cofis, who went close to finding the target on numerous occasions before Darren Thomas broke the deadlock just before the break. It was a typical cool finish from the Cofi Messi after had been put through by Gareth Evans and I don’t think anyone could have argued with the half-time score as Caernarfon led by the solitary strike.
I felt quietly confident at half time that the Canaries would go on to win the match but the second period proved to be a very different affair as the Wellmen moved up a gear to put us under the cosh for long periods of play. Having said this I can’t recall Alex Ramsay being forced into too much action and, for all their possession, the hosts did not create any clear cut opportunities to get back on level terms. In fact, I’m not sure if they would have found a way past our backline had it not been for Gareth Evans’ harsh red card in the seventy eighth minute. This had a galvanising effect on Holywell and they eventually got on the scoresheet, courtesy of a late Sam Jones penalty. To be honest we had our reserve keeper, Liam Jones, to thank for securing a point because the young stopper, who had come off the bench to replace the injured Ramsay, pulled off a stunning save to keep out a Phil Lloyd attempt in the final seconds of the game.
I felt the draw was a fair result, despite the predictable outpouring of frustration on social media by those who seemed adamant that the hosts deserved to win. The encounter and ensuing social media comments reminded me of our opening match of the 2015/16 season, at the same venue, when the Cofis dominated the opening period and the hosts did the same after the break. That one had ended goalless and back then, as now, those with a Holywell affinity were not shy in saying how lucky Caernarfon were to ‘escape’ with a point from Halkyn Road. On both occasions, however, the Cofis could have been two or three goals up at half-time and so it’s always worth remembering that every match is played over two halves, and not one.
On a personal note, I managed to snap a decent photo of Darren as he came over to celebrate his goal with the Cofi Amy (see photo, right) and was delighted to see it used in the local media. As always, Dave Jones seeked permission to use the shot and I’m always happy to help someone who has been such a friend of the club for many years. Other publications also used the photo and it was good to see that they now have the decency to credit me or the club for its use, which has not always been the case! Darren was voted man of the match for us, whilst I thought Jay Crowther was another stand-out performer, particularly as he played in a new position, at right back.
Before moving on, just a quick word about the Wellmen’s manager, Johnny Haseldin, who I know is a keen and loyal follower of this blog! We’ve had a few words over the years, due mostly to how passionately we both feel about our clubs and, whilst I can’t say that I know him on a personal level, I do know that he’s doing a great job at Halkyn Road, and I am sure he’ll lead them to the top tier of Welsh football very soon.
In addition to this, of course, Johnny has also proved a great pantomime villain for Caernarfon Town supporters for a number of years and also for me with this blog. Our recent promotion means I have my work cut out to find an adequate replacement, although I’m sure there are a few candidates who will step up to the plate over the coming months!
|Nathan taking on a Caersws defender.|
The victory was another important step forward for the side but just as important, if not more so, than the three points was that we submitted our application for the FAW’s Domestic Licence on the same day. I won’t follow the path I’ve taken many times about our failure to get the licence after winning the league two years ago but suffice to say it was imperative for us to get it if we wanted promotion. I can’t pretend to know exactly how much work is involved in making a successful application but what I do know is that our chairman, Marc, and committee member Darren worked their socks off in completing the work this year and last. Having gained the licence last time out I had every confidence in them and, on Friday April 6th, we received the news that we had been hoping for: Caernarfon Town had been awarded the Domestic Licence for a second successive year!
|Chris Williams during the Caersws match|
On a much more positive note, Sean took the opportunity on the night to announce that he will be staying on as our manager, and will be keeping his backroom staff intact for next season. Wonderful news for everyone connected to the club and here’s the interview where the Gaffer discusses his decision and plans moving forward: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2smCzF1GYro
The licence news was also a massive boost to everyone at the club and I wondered if it would have an effect on the players. We travelled to Ruthin on the Saturday and it crossed my mind if the squad would feel additional pressure now that they knew the licence had been secured? On paper, the match at the Memorial Playing Fields looked to be the trickiest of our remaining fixtures and whilst the hosts played well, the Cofis were superb on the day and the 4-0 scoreline was a fair reflection of the action. Here’s a short video of the action, including the opening goal by Darren Thomas: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EHhGmBaOSeE
|Eards warming up the players at Ruthin|
|Breesey grabbed a brace at Ruthin|
Things could hardly have started off any worse for the hosts as their goalkeeper suffered an injury in their warm up and, with just five minutes on the click, Rhys Roberts put us ahead when he made the most of a classy Nathan Craig delivery into the box Here’s a video of the goal: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SlX9rfMxRL8
|Clive Williams gets a cross in against Caersws|
To cap off a fine afternoon for the Canaries word reached us, via Club President John Watkins’ underground contacts, that Holywell had been held to a draw with Penrhyncoch, a result that guaranteed our promotion! I won’t go all technical about it at this stage but our victory and their draw meant that we could no longer finish lower than runner-up and as the only club challenging for the title who have a Domestic Licence our return to the top tier was confirmed! There’s no need for me to say what it meant to me, and to everyone involved in the club, to receive the news that we had finally made it back but if you really want to know, just take a look at my post-match interviews with Sean Eardley https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U_Uh2FLKmJ0 and Nathan Craig https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qD4m2VV465w
|Sean refuses an Eards dive at Caersws|
After a seemingly never ending finish to the campaign, we finally had the opportunity to win the Cymru Alliance League title last Wednesday, when we visited Llandudno Junction for a rare midweek fixture. Although promotion had already been secured, Sean and the squad were not going to be content until the title had been won and so the Cofi Army arrived at the Arriva Ground en-masse for the 6:30pm kick off. The Railwaymen have been stuck at the bottom of the table for most of the season and so whilst the Cofis were favourites for victory, it was important for everyone to focus on the job in hand.
Of course, there was no fear of anyone taking things for granted and, despite the hosts’ decent start to proceedings, Caernarfon went ahead through Darren Thomas, who struck from a yard out following a save from Junction’s stopper, Tom Hooson. Our number ten ran the show in the first half and it came as no surprise when he doubled the lead as he got on the end of a Breese cross to head past Hooson before the break.
|Messi puts us ahead against Llandudno Junction|
Unfortunately, the trophy itself was not presented after the match and so the players and fans celebrated together, with plenty of songs and champagne! The ovation the team received from the travelling Cofi Army was brilliant and well deserved and it was great to see the squad, led by Eards, walking along the side of the field shaking hands with the supporters. I’ve posted a video of interviews, action and celebrations on our youtube channel, which you’ll find here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RGul51KITis
Please watch the video until the final scenes, where you’ll get a real glimpse of how close the players have become.
So, there you have it, a not so quick catch up of what has been going on in and around the Oval during these past seven weeks. All our targets for the season have been met and there are exciting, and challenging times ahead for us but, before we can begin to think of next season, we can look forward to our final match of this one, against Gresford at Airbus UK’s ground. Isn’t it ironic that we will be receiving the league trophy at the ground of the pre-season favourites?
It should be a good night…….