May 12, 2021

Article at Mark Pitman

Advantage Nomads ahead of JD Cymru Premier decider

Connah's Quay Nomads manager Andy Morrison took to Twitter on Tuesday evening to congratulate his former club Manchester City on finally being crowned champions of England. On Saturday, a victory for the Nomads against Penybont will see his side retain their JD Cymru Premier title.

It was only a matter of time before Pep Guardiola once again had his hands on the Premier League trophy, and the inevitable title triumph came courtesy of Manchester United's defeat against Leicester City. But with the UEFA Champions League final still to come in a couple of weeks time, the celebrations will remain on hold.

Down to the wire

Meanwhile, the title race in the JD Cymru Premier has gone down to the final day of the season. A victory on Saturday lunchtime will guarantee the Nomads a second successive title, but rivals The New Saints are just two points behind with a superior goal difference, and Morrison's side simply cannot afford to slip up as the Saints welcome Bala Town to Park Hall.

Although they operate in very different environments, both Morrison and Guardiola share a similar intensity and attention to detail that compliments an unwavering drive to succeed. Arriving on Deeside just a few months before Manchester City announced the appointment of the most-wanted coach in the world game, both have delivered, yet both remain motivated by a continued desire to improve.

Ending the domestic dominance of The New Saints was always a long-term aim in the Nomads project, and the league title was finally delivered last season. The early curtailment of the campaign due to the pandemic meant that the iconic trophy was awarded on a points-per-game basis, but the success was no-less deserved, and it meant that Morrison would start this season testing himself in the UEFA Champions League.

The experience would last just one game as FK Sarajevo claimed a 2-0 victory over the Nomads in Cardiff last August in the opening qualifying round of the 2020/21 edition of the competition. Now Manchester City will finish what Connah's Quay Nomads started as they prepare to take on Chelsea in the UEFA Champions League final at the end of the month.

Domestic success and long-term aims

Since Morrison's arrival in November 2015, the Nomads have won all three major domestic honours and have reached the final of the Scottish Challenge Cup. They have claimed famous European victories over Stabaek, HJK Helsinki and Kilmarnock, progressing through the opening round of the UEFA Europa League on two occasions.

Likewise, Guardiola has celebrated domestic success since his appointment at the Etihad Stadium in the summer of 2016, but the holy grail of making Manchester City European champions has so far eluded him. Now just one game away from repeating the success that established his coaching status at Barcelona, failing now in his first European final with the club would be a significant blow to the project.

A similar pressure will sit on the shoulders of Morrison this weekend with the title very much in the hands of the Nomads. Like Manchester City heading into the Champions League final, they are favourites, and should the season unravel over the course of the remaining 90 minutes they will only have themselves to blame. But Morrison is a winner, and it is a trait recognised by those who have benefited from his character before.

Manchester City are a very different entity now to the side that Morrison achieved two promotions with in 1999 and 2000 as the club moved out of the third tier and back to the Premier League. A natural leader, Morrison was a pivotal figure in manager Joe Royle's side fighting their way through the difficult years and restoring their top-flight status.

“Big clubs in that division are a scalp and everyone wants to beat them,” said Royle to BBC Sport in 2005. “We had that at City and it was hard for us - but we got the hang of it. The catalyst for us was signing Andy Morrison. He was the man for the job and the man for the division. He dragged us up kicking and screaming. He was as strong as they come and feared nobody - he played a big part in turning things round for us.”

As well as fighting his way through his professional challenges, Morrison also faced his own personal battles during that time. While Royle recognises his contribution on the field, it is Morrison who has a mutual appreciation for his former manager, and how he helped him through some of darkest moments.

"I sat with Joe and started with the apologies again, but he stopped and asked about me,” explained Morrison to Chris Wathan of BBC Sport Wales last year. “Rather than saying 'you're a disgrace', he cared about me as a human being. It turned around for me there and then. There are people who have probably had to wait years for their life to turn around after the chaos I had. I'm very, very, very lucky because there's a lot of people who don't get that opportunity and aren't here to tell their story.”

Recovery and a return to glory

Sobriety and success followed for Morrison as he returned to full-time football as a manager with the current champions of Wales. Meticulous in his preparation, his Nomads side may have more of the characteristics of the Manchester City team that battled through the Football League than with the current English champions such is the nature of the league, but their success is more comparable with that of Guardiola's and his domestic trophy haul.

However, lifting the JD Cymru Premier title on Saturday is far from a formality, and as the most decorated club in the Welsh game, The New Saints have the experience in their ranks to capitalise on any slip up by the current league leaders. The Nomads prevented them from claiming a ninth consecutive title last season, and it proved to be a bitter pill to swallow as an ultimately failed legal challenge ensued.

The New Saints have been the dominant force in the domestic game for the best part of the last two decades, and they have seen off many challenges over the years. Parting company with manager Scott Ruscoe when they were top of the table a couple of months ago appeared very harsh, but new coach Anthony Limbrick will now shape the next chapter in their story as they target European progression on top of domestic success.

The desperate need for support

The JD Cymru Premier has needed a competitive title race for a number of years, and while it has finally delivered, nobody has been around to see it. The pandemic has kept the gates closed to the public throughout the season, and only the continued support of S4C Sgorio has enabled fans to keep in touch with the performances of their teams, and the broadcaster will show both games live this Saturday lunchtime.

Sadly, despite the best efforts of all involved, the JD Cymru Premier has not been included in the test events planned by the Welsh Government to bring spectators back to the stadium. Swansea City, Newport County and the national team will finally play in-front of a crowd in the coming weeks, but for whatever reason, such a privilege has not been granted to the highest-level of the game in Wales.

The JD Cymru Premier needs to be competitive, but more importantly, it needs to be supported. The league is only as strong as its clubs, and the fine financial margins of operating at this level mean that literally every penny does count. It is where the comparisons with Manchester City, the Premier League, the Champions League and the proposed Super League abruptly end.

But as much as clubs need their supporters and volunteers back involved, the benefits are mutual. Football clubs at this level are an important hub within each community, and the weekend isolation experienced by too many for too long is in damaging contrast to the usual busy and sociable matchday experience. The JD Cymru Premier title will be won this weekend and nobody will be around to celebrate, but nobody needs to miss out either.

“This year’s title race has been gripping,” explained Sgorio presenter Dylan Ebenezer. “Especially over the last few weeks as Connah’s Quay and The New Saints have both stumbled. We haven’t seen a title race end like this in almost a decade and it’s fantastic that Sgorio are breaking new ground by showing both matches at the same time. Make sure you join us in front of the television and with your device.”