Burns Road Ramblings: 2016/2017 Division One season preview

This 2016/2017 pre-season preview has been provided by the Port Talbot Town Supporters Club.

The Port Talbot Town first-team’s return to the Welsh Football League gets underway on Saturday, August 17 with an away fixture at newly promoted Cwmbran Celtic. The Blues visited Celtic Park back in March, emerging 2-1 winners in the Welsh Cup quarter-final stage.

That tie saw both clubs sit two divisions apart, with Port Talbot sitting in the Welsh Premier League and Cwmbran Celtic in Division Two, how tides have turned however – with the Blues failing to obtain an FAW Domestic License on financial grounds, in turn relegating them to Division One. Cwmbran Celtic enjoyed a season filled with strong performances last campaign, with a solid run of wins in the later half of the season securing them a promotion place.

Pre-season wouldn’t have filled Blues fans with optimism, Port Talbot won just 2 of their 8 friendly fixtures – their last friendly against Cardiff Metropolitan ended in a 5-1 drubbing.

It’s worth noting that the first-team squad has undergone a massive change over pre-season, all management staff from last season have left, with former Tata Steel management staff joining the ranks to assist new manager Paul Evans. Academy Director Mark Pike has also joined the first-team as an assistant manager.

Just three players from last season will feature in Evans’ Division One squad. Connah McFenton, Luke Bowen and Marley Bishop-Wisdom have all signed and have featured heavily in their side’s pre-season committments. Jamie Latham did sign for the Blues a month ago, but he left the club and signed for Trefelin the night before Port Talbot’s friendly against Latham’s new side.

Despite a number of departures, including club legend Martin Rose who is rumoured to be in talks with Taffs Well – the Blues have also signed a number of players during pre-season, as well as bringing some up through the Academy ranks.

Former Swansea City midfielder Jandir Zola is the standout signing, Zola featured heavily in Swansea City’s Academy and Reserves squads for a number of years, he then signed for Afan Lido where he performed well.

Defender Remi Whitelock has signed from Afan Lido, he has played a part in most of the Blues’ friendlies this pre-season and has already put himself acoss as a solid force in the Port Talbot defence.

Matthew Herman, Aaron Bidderscombe and goalkeeper Matthew Stanton have all joined from Tata Steel over the summer, and have already proved themselves to be more than capable at competing at this level.

The inconsistencies and weakness exploited during the Blues’ numerous defeats during pre-season have come from a reasonably weak defence, which has consisted of a number of players from the Development squad. They may have been a force to be reckoned with during the Development side’s hugely successful campaign last time out, but it came apparent quite early on during pre-season that their lack of strength and confidence when compared with experienced senior players leaves the Port Talbot defence open to be exploited.

An area Evans’ side look quite strong in is attack, Marley Bishop, Luke Bowen and Jandir Zola are all capable forwards and/or midfielders. Marley has demonstrated a good ability during pre-season to force his way through the opposing defence, and Bowen has proved time and time again that he can not only set up chances from the wing but he’s still able to put goals away from inside and outside the penalty area.

A problem we’re likely to come into next season however is the midfield and defence’s tendency to stay back and not push balls up to Bowen and Bishop up front. This was the Blues’ downfall during a few of their friendlies, although Paul Evans is undoubtedly working on this prior to Cwmbran Celtic away next week.

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