One of the biggest surprises in the opening two months of the 2019-20 Cymru North season has been the poor form of Porthmadog.
After eight matches, Sion Eifion Jones’ side have yet to win a game and lie bottom of the table with just a single point to their name.
It is all a far cry from the heights of last season which saw Port finish third – their best position since returning to the tier-two league in 2010/11 following relegation from the Welsh Premier.
When Craig Papirnyk stepped down as manager last May to join the coaching team at Pwllheli, his natural choice as replacement was Sion Eifion Jones.
The 28-year-old had enjoyed considerable success as head coach of the youth and reserve set-up at Port, achieving notable double-doubles with the under-18s and second team.
Prior to that, Llanrug man Jones had worked as a performance analyst at Manchester City, winning the U-18 Premier League in his first season, as well as having two spells in the USA as a professional soccer coach for Challenger Sports.
Jones recruited well at Y Traeth in the summer, bringing in quality players like striker Mel McGinness, who scored the winning goal in Ynys Mon’s Inter-Island Games final victory over Guernsey and boasted a great scoring record with Holyhead Hotspur in both the Welsh and Cymru Alliance.
Forwards John Littlemore and John Owen, both with Welsh Premier experience, were brought in to add strength to the front line, while the return of midfield ace Jay Gibbs, another gold medalist for Anglesey at the Inter-Island Games in June, was seen as a massive boost.
The capture of Rhys Alun Williams, top marksman for Nantlle Vale over the past two seasons, was also warmly welcomed at Y Traeth, the young striker hitting the net regularly in pre-season, and the same was true of Ilan ap Gareth, whose loan move from Cefn Druids became permanent this summer.
All looked well set for a strong start to the campaign. Sadly, it has been anything but.
The season began with a nightmare 5-1 Nathaniel MG Cup thrashing at Flint Town United, followed by four straight league losses against Conwy Borough, Buckley Town, Bangor City and Flint again.
Granted, those reverses came at the hands of very good sides, but a squad with Port’s ability would have been expected to pick up a few points at least, rather than 0 out of 12.
A draw with Llangefni Town hinted at a stopping of the rot, but since then there have been three more defeats against Llandudno, Prestatyn Town and Llanrhaeadr-ym-Mochnant.
The performance against league leaders Prestatyn at Y Traeth gave much cause for hope. The game certainly did not have the look of a bottom versus top contest, with Port unfortunate to lose 2-1.
However, it was back to square one after last Saturday’s 4-2 failure at Llanrhaeadr, although admittedly the Powys side are in fine form and occupying second spot.
So where to from here, and is there any cause for optimism?
The recent return of Papirnyk to the coaching team to work alongside a manager he knows very well will surely serve as a positive.
There is also the fact Port have faced a lot of high-placed opponents so far and there may be a few slightly more winnable matches coming up – although an ‘easier game’ does not really exist at this level.
Also, despite having just one point, Llanfair United and Corwen immediately above are on two apiece, and next up Llangefni are far from out of sight with six.
A couple of victories for the red and blacks could make a big difference. All is far from lost.
Assessing the Port squad makes it hard to believe they are struggling so much, although these early weeks have exposed defensive frailties which need addressing sooner rather than later.
With such a capable group of players, a reuniting of Papirnyk and Jones, who has certainly not become a bad manager overnight, and the Prestatyn performance to build on, things can still turn around for Porthmadog this term.
While the league table does not lie, the Traeth men’s current position does appear somewhat false and once they get that first win under their belts the picture could look considerably different in a month or so.
Porthmadog squad 2019-20
Goalkeepers: Paul Pritchard, Morgan Jones
Defenders: Tomos Emlyn, Josh Banks, Iddon Price, Daniel Roberts
Midfield: Ceri James (player-coach), Rob Evans, Ifan Emlyn, Iwan Lewis, Rhys Alun Williams, Ilan ap Gareth, Math Roberts, Gethin Thomas, Jay Gibbs, Telor Williams, Dan Dascalu.
Strikers: Sion Parry, Mel McGinness, John Littlemore, John Owen
Results – 2019-20 season
Aug 10: Flint Town United (a – Nathaniel MG Cup) L 1-5 (Sion Parry)
Aug 17: Conwy Borough (h – Cymru North) L 0-2
Aug 24: Buckley Town (a – CN) 2-3 (Gethin Thomas, Jay Gibbs)
Aug 31: Bangor City (h – CN) 0-1
Sep 07: Flint Town United (a – CN) 1-3 (Jay Gibbs)
Sep 10: Llangefni Town (h – CN) 2-2 (John Owen, Mel McGinness)
Sep 14: Llandudno (a – CN) 1-4 (Josh Banks)
Sep 21: Prestatyn Town (h – CN) 1-2 (John Owen)
Sep 28: Llanrhaeadr YM (a – CN) 2-4 (Jay Gibbs, Mel McGinness)
League: Played 8 Won 0 Drawn 1 Lost 7 Goals For 9 Goals Against 21 Points 1 Position 17th (bottom)
Cymru North positions last nine seasons
2018-19: 3rd; 2017-18: 7th; 2016-17: 4th; 2015/16: 10th; 2014/15: 6th; 2013/14: 6th; 2012/13: 9th; 2011/12: 4th; 2010/11: 8th.