WITH the start of the Welsh Premier League season now less than a month away, fans are already tipping it to be one of the most closely contested campaigns that there has been in a long time.
Whilst TNS will be the obvious favourites to lift the title, it’s fair to say that the likes of Bala Town, Connah’s Quay and Bangor City are most likely to be their closest competitors for the prize.
Bangor in particular have been busy in the transfer window, with key players coming and going out of the doors at Nantporth.
In this article, I take a look at what the new additions will bring to the Citizens squad and how the loss of some others may affect them …
First off, let’s look at the departures.
Obviously, in terms of departures Henry Jones is without a doubt going to be the biggest loss to that Bangor City midfield this season.
The 23-year-old’s departure to newly promoted National League side, AFC Fylde, was a somewhat controversial one as much uncertainty surrounded it.
With 14 goals and 10 assists in his 32 appearances for the Citizens last season, he was their creative spark and without him they aren’t going to look as lively.
HUGE loss for City this one but as we’ve seen at Nantporth before, players come and go but the passion is forever.
The other big departure from Bangor was of course their captain, Gary Roberts, which was announced in a damning statement from the club prior to their Europa League match against Lyngby BK last week.
The right-back was released from his contract after displaying “unprofessional behaviour” in recent weeks whilst Southport FC were trying to lure him away. They eventually got their man.
Whilst losing your captain may seem like a bad thing on the surface of things, I think Bangor have certainly made the right decision here in the long run. As the statement itself said “no one is bigger than the club” and quite right too, the last thing you need when you’re heading into a season expecting to challenge for the title is a player affecting the squad.
I think the loss of Bradley Jackson at the back could be a big one too. He was on loan from Premier League side Burnley last season and made a decent impact when playing in defence for Bangor. He’s now moved on to Southport (yes, really) so won’t be coming back to Nantporth unfortunately.
Of course, there are others who have left that fans may not be too bothered about (here’s looking at you Sergio Uyi!).
Fringe players, Christoph Azimale and Yalany Baio have also left, whilst Rodrigo Branco is away visiting family in Brazil until later in the year.
In terms of bringing players in, it seems that the attraction of playing under Gary Taylor-Fletcher and new manager Kevin Nicholson is luring players of a higher standard than ever before to the club.
Bringing Nicholson himself in could turn out to be a fantastic addition as he seems to be a bright young manager having spent time learning the trade at Derby County at Cardiff City. At 31, he’s the youngest English manager ever to hold the UEFA A Pro License, so that bodes well I think.
The signing of Brayden Shaw from Accrington Stanley for a reported club record fee was particularly impressive. The 20-year-old midfielder was on loan at Bangor last season and starred in many a match, making 18 appearances and scoring four goals before returning to his parent club in January. Now, he’s back and I think if anyone is going to try and fill the hole left behind by Henry Jones, it should be Shaw as there’s no doubt that he has the talent within him to do so eventually.
Another player signed from Stanley, is Luke Wall. The winger, who’s 20 years old, was once a Blackburn Rovers trainee and went on to gain invaluable experience during loan spells with Skelmersdale United, Clitheroe, and Marine in the Evo-Stik Northern Premier League during the 2016/17 season. He’ll add something different to the side and I think he could adjust well in the WPL.
Striker Sam Henry arrived at the same time as Wall and came from Blacon Youth, with a reputation as a prolific goalscorer in the West Cheshire League, having finished last season with an incredible 31 goals from 14 appearances during the latter part of the season. It’ll be hard for him to get into the first team ahead of the likes of Nardiello, Rittenberg and of course Branco when he returns, but I do think that if injuries come in to play or if he’s given the chance, then this man could make a name for himself in Wales this season.
Following on from the double capture of Wall and Henry, Bangor managed to sign vastly experienced Football League defender Tom Kennedy following his release from the aforementioned, AFC Fylde. The 31-year-old will bring unrivalled experience to the table at Bangor, having represented several different teams at Football League level and also made more than 100 league appearances for both Bury and Rochdale respectively. I have no doubts that he’ll be a first teamer at Nanporth this season and I think that in GTF’s absence he would probably be named captain as well.
Over the past week or so, the Citizens have announced two more signings to add to their already quality filled squad.
First, they confirmed that they had signed yet another former Football Leaguer in the form of Danny Holmes from York City. The versatile 28-year old will be familiar to followers of Welsh Premier League football, having spent two highly successful seasons with TNS during the early stages of his career. He, much like Kennedy, looks as though he will walk straight into the first team at Bangor and so it seems as though he could be another very beneficial singing to the side.
Then, promising young striker George Harry was bought in to the club following his release from Wrexham. At just 18 years old, he found himself playing quite a bit of first team football at the Racecourse last season and even netted a penalty in a 3-1 loss to Torquay. Much like Sam Henry, he won’t get into the first team easily, but I think the boy’s got talent and Bangor will most certainly help him improve as a player under the guidance of Nicholson and Taylor-Fletcher.
So, with all these pros and promising youngsters being added to the squad, things are looking up for the Citizens and their loyal fan base.
My starting XI for them next season would be: C. Roberts, Kennedy, Miley, Connolly, Holmes, Gosset, Shaw, Allen, Taylor-Fletcher, Rittenberg and Nardiello. (4-3-1-2). Subs: Hall, Wilson, Edwards, Hewitt, Henry Branco. Others: Owen, Wall and Harry.
In my opinion, for the first time in a good seven years or so, they can really push TNS for that title this season. With Bala Town and Connah’s Quay ever improving as well it could turn out to be a very interesting Welsh Prem campaing and I can’t wait for it to kick off on August 11.