Welsh Premier League: New Saints must wait to retain Welsh title

New Saints players
New Saints are hoping to complete a third successive Welsh domestic treble this season.

The New Saints will have to wait at least until they host Bangor City on 4 March if they are to win their 11th Welsh Premier title.

They lost 1-0 at Carmarthen Town on Saturday while rivals Bala Town beat Cardiff Met 3-1 on Friday.

That meant TNS failed to win the title earlier than any other side since the league switched to 12 teams in 2010.

The defeat by Carmarthen also means the Saints' 31-game unbeaten run in all competitions came to an end.

After setting a new world record of 27 consecutive wins earlier in the season, TNS retained the Nathaniel MG League Cup with victory over Barry Town in January and manager Craig Harrison now wants the league secured as soon as possible.

"You want to win every single game," Harrison said before their defeat at Carmarthen.

"Winning football games is enough to motivate me and I've got a likeminded group of staff, a likeminded chairman and likeminded players."

"I certainly don't get bored of winning and it's something I came into football for."

'Fantastic' players

Saints' domination of Welsh football has seen them winning the domestic Welsh treble of the league, Welsh Cup and League Cup for each of the previous two seasons.

Despite their unprecedented success and having won the league by a clear seven points in 2015-16, Harrison was not afraid to make changes to his playing squad last summer.

"A lot of people said it was going to be the hardest season we were going to have," Harrison told BBC Radio Wales Sport.

Craig Harrison
Craig Harrison was in charge of Airbus UK Broughton before taking over at New Saints in December 2011

"People said we weren't going to win the league at a canter this year and maybe not even at all.

"A lot of clubs invested heavily and bought some very good players - Connah's Quay, Bangor City and Bala strengthened.

"It was important that we went out and that we recruited players of a very high standard.

"We had a bit of a turnaround with the squad with three or four going out and three or four coming in and it's been fantastic.

"The players have been fantastic from the first game of the domestic season."

Wider recognition

Saints had come into the current Welsh Premier League season after losing to Apoel Nicosia of Cyprus in the Champions League.

They have not progressed beyond the competition's second qualifying round during Harrison's time in charge and the manager wants emulate domestic wins in Europe.

The 39-year-old is inspired by the achievements of League of Ireland sides Dundalk and Shamrock Rovers, who have reached the Europa League group stages during the past six seasons.

"We're certainly not going to take our eye off the Welsh Premier League because you've got to win that to get into the Champions League," Harrison said.

"You don't want to take your eye off the here and now and winning domestic titles because that's your bread and butter and it get you into the Champions League.

"But we all know that we need to start trying to get to the third and fourth qualifying round or even the Europa League group stages.

"You look at Dundalk, who are a huge inspiration for a club like ours and are probably not much bigger.

"It's probably the same budget and they got to the group stages of the Europa League.

The New Saints: Behind the scenes at the Welsh Premier League record breakers

"Shamrock Rovers did the same thing five or six years ago so it's something that certainly is our next step."

Saints have already gained international recognition for their achievements this season.

In December the Oswestry-based club broke a 44-year-old world record held by Dutch giants Ajax for the longest winning streak in top-flight football.

"Breaking the world record put us on a global scale," Harrison added.

"We weren't taking it as seriously as what people were making it out to be. You can't compare TNS to Johan Cruyff's Ajax team and all those top drawer players.

"But in our own way we're very proud of that of record. To win 27 games in a row in any standard is a huge achievement and a huge feat."

Managerial ambitions

Harrison's successful five years at Park Hall - in which he has guided the club to 12 domestic trophies - has seen his name linked with clubs in the English pyramid.

The former Middlesbrough and Crystal Palace player admits there has been interest from elsewhere, but for now he is fully focused on achieving further glory with Saints.

"At this moment in time I'm very happy but I am an ambitious manager. I want to manage as high up as I can," Harrison added.

"We've won one trophy (Nathaniel MG Cup) and we're in a great position to win the Welsh Cup with a quarter final against Bangor City.

"And in a week's time we're in the semi-finals of the Irn-Bru Cup against St Mirren.

"The Irn-Bru Cup has been fantastic for TNS because it's almost been like a European experience every other month.

"We've had something to prepare for, in and out of the Welsh Premier League."

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