The New Saints have been pushed harder this season but still delivered

TNS celebrate title number 13. Picture: Stewart Bloor.

For a long while it appeared the lion faced a serious challenge to its king of the jungle title.

But when the threat was at its fiercest, The New Saints truly showed their teeth and roared away with an eighth successive Welsh Premier League championship.

Since beating Bangor City in a final game title decider at the end of 2011/12, the full-timers from Park Hall had won the next six crowns with ease.

Winning margins of 22, 14, 18, 7, 27 and 14 points had guided Saints to a record 12 national league championships.

Most expected them to breeze to eight in a row – and a 13th in all – this season, but it has not worked out that way.

Brave challenges from Connah’s Quay Nomads and, until phase two saw them fade, Barry Town United, meant TNS could not lift the WPL trophy until after the 30th of 32 games – a 4-0 success at Jenner Park this weekend.

The level of celebrations among Scott Ruscoe’s squad on Saturday evening reflected the harder job the players have faced this term to retain than title than in other campaigns.

Saints were not their usual ruthless selves in phase one, although they did end it a point clear at the summit.

Four league defeats – against Connah’s Quay Nomads, Cardiff Metropolitan, Aberystwyth Town and Caernarfon Town – plus a surprise 2-1 loss to rank outsiders Cambrian and Clydach Vale in the Nathaniel MG Cup semi-finals, were uncharacteristic and suggested the second set of 10 WPL games could present a major hurdle to hopes of title number eight on the bounce.

After 22 matches, TNS were on 46 points, Nomads 45 and Barry 43 – an altogether different scenario from the past six seasons.

However, when the going got tougher, the Saints got going.

Unbeaten in eight in phase two, seven wins and a draw have carried the Oswestry club to a 13th title since the year 2000.

Newtown, so often a bogey side for TNS, were dismissed 5-0 and 6-0, Bala suffered a 7-0 walloping and a vital 2-0 success at Nomads on March 9 put the writing on the wall.

Going into that crunch clash at Deeside Stadium, Saints were on 53 points and the Quay 52.

While TNS kept on winning, Andy Morrison’s men went down 1-0 at Caernarfon on the back of an Irn-Bru Cup Final defeat. The tide had turned.

Despite Nomads recording a 4-1 success at Bala on Friday, Saints travelled to Barry the following day knowing three points would be enough to guarantee another top spot.

And in ruthless fashion, Ruscoe’s raiders delivered a 4-0 victory to seal another crack at Champions League football next season.

It was that ability to up the ante in the final few games that made the difference, plus the fact TNS had been in this position so many times before.

The recipe for success has been similar to all the others – keep the nucleus of the squad which has brought past glory and make some impactive additions.

The likes of goalkeeper Paul Harrison, goal-getter supreme Greg Draper, midfield maestro Aeron Edwards and playmaker Ryan Brobbel have been the mainstays, while new blood Dean Ebbe and Kurtis Byrne have added dynamism to the ranks.

It might not have been as comfortable as in previous seasons, but the Saints have done what they set out to do, and there could yet be more trophy joy to come in the Welsh Cup Final against Connah’s Quay Nomads on May 5.

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