They can hardly be said to be strangers to success but The New Saints FC's victory in the Loosemores Cup final on Sunday will convince any doubters that they remain a force in the Welsh Premier League.
TNS beat Bangor City FC 2-0 in the final at Newtown AFC's Latham Park to capture their first silverware under manager Andy Cale. It has been a strange campaign in some respects because the Oswestry-based club look certain to finish outside the top two positions in the league for the first time in eight seasons but the League Cup, and the likelihood of a qualifying place for European competition, will provide sizeable compensation.
Their first League Cup triumph since 2005/06 was achieved with ten men after they had striker Matthew Berkeley sent off just before half-time. By that stage TNS were a goal to the good, midfielder John Leah converting from the spot after Steve Evans was fouled. Bangor sensed their opportunity with the numerical advantage and Les Davies was denied by Paul Harrison, who superbly tipped his shot on to the crossbar. Then, with 15 minutes left, man-of-the-match Alex Darlington showed nimble skills to set up Conall Murtagh for TNS's second goal.
"We didn't win anything last year so it's nice to capture the League Cup and, if we can now qualify for Europe, it will have been a good season," said Cale, who succeeded Ken McKenna 12 months ago after a period of outstanding success which included three consecutive league titles. Cale was head coach under McKenna, while in an earlier spell as manager he led TNS to their maiden league crown in 1999/2000.
"Winning this trophy is great for the club, the supporters and the players who showed great character to go on and win after we went down to ten men," Cale added. "We showed excellent defensive qualities and I thought the players were superb."
Bangor were hoping to add a second knockout competition triumph to their victory in last season's Welsh Cup. However, this weekend offers the chance to ease their disappointment as they bid to reach the Welsh Cup final again when they take on Welsh League representatives Bridgend Town FC in the semi-final. The winners face either Carmarthen Town AFC or Aberystwyth Town FC on 3 May.
The cup fixtures will share the limelight with a meeting of the top two in the Premier League. Rhyl FC and reigning champions Llanelli AFC face off at Stebonheath Park with the latter five points behind in second place but with a game in hand. TNS lie third, a further eleven points behind, with four matches remaining.
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