WEEK one of the Huws Gray Alliance finally takes place this weekend in what looks to be another highly competitive campaign.
With plenty of teams investing in their squad, things promise to be very tight in the race for the Welsh Premier League once again, and Dean Jones gives his predictions for the opening round of fixtures.
Airbus Broughton vs Llandudno Junction:
The recently relegated Wingmakers will have the perfect opportunity to lay down a marker to their title rivals, and they have made significant improvements to their squad to ensure their second-tier stay is a short one.
With the likes of Mark Jones and Wes Baynes spearheading their charge, the new-look squad will need to hit the ground running to avoid doubt settling in during the crucial early stages of the season.
Junction have been handed a tough test in their first game playing their trade in the division following promotion, and I cannot see them coming away with anything from the game despite a number of impressive signings.
Prediction: Airbus Broughton 3-0 Llandudno Junction.
Caersws vs FC Queen’s Park:
Like so many other sides, the Bluebirds have made some improvements on the field and looked primed for a tilt at a top flight return this season.
The form of midfield pair of Ross Stephens and Luke Sherbon will go a long way to determining their fortunes next spring, and they will be hoping to make a good start at home against a Park side that achieved promotion last term.
The Wrexham-based outfit have high expectations of their own, but they have been handed a difficult task in their opening fixture that I doubt will see them leave with any points.
Prediction: Caersws 2-0 FC Queens Park.
Denbigh Town vs Holywell Town:
This is undoubtedly the tie of the opening day, with fierce rivals set to square off in what is expected to be a hotly contested affair.
Both sides enjoyed a series of intense fixtures during their Welsh Alliance days that threatened to spill over, and while that may not be the case this time with a great deal at stake for both the tempo is once again going to be extremely high.
With a newly renovated stand and a heavyweight squad, Eddie Maurice-Jones’ men will be looking to build on their end-of-season turnaround in form, while the Wellmen boast plenty of firepower in the form of Phil Lloyd, Steve Lewis and Paul Williams.
It will be frantic, feisty and I simply can’t split them at this stage.
Prediction: Denbigh Town 2-2 Holywell Town.
Holyhead Hotspur vs Ruthin Town:
Expectations are high at the New Stadium thanks to the high-profile signings of John Littlemore and Alex Boss, while Mel McGinness will once again be relied upon to provide to firepower and guide the Harbourmen to the higher echelons of the league.
Chris Williams did a fantastic job to avoid the drop with Town last term, and in Mike Sharples they have a solid defender that will sure things up at the back and provide WPL experience to compliment the veteran presence of Kevin Evans.
Home advantage has always been s strength for Campbell Harrison’s talented squad and I see that continuing here.
Prediction: Holyhead Hotspur 2-1 Ruthin Town.
Penrhyncoch vs Caernarfon Town:
The Canaries have kept their core together which is as much of a plus as the signing of Gareth Evans, and it could be a long afternoon for a Penrhyncoch side that were one of last season’s surprise packages.
Iwan Williams will be settling for nothing less than the title this year, and in Jay Gibbs, Darren Thomas, Darren Brookwell and Jamie Breese there is plenty of firepower within their ranks, and Nathan Craig’s set-piece expertise will be another huge asset throughout the campaign.
Pen have it all to do against one of the division’s heavyweights and I expect the Cofis to get off to kick-off with a convincing win.
Prediction: Penrhyncoch 0-4 Caernarfon Town.
Porthmadog vs Gresford Athletic:
The Port pair of Joe Chaplin and Meilir Williams will be counted on to provide goals after having their striking corps decimated during last season’s January transfer window, and in Richard Harvey they boast one of the most gifted shot stoppers operating outside of the top division.
Ceri James will also be a hugely influential figure in the middle of the park, but they come up against a Gresford side that emerged as one of the frontrunners last season in what was a standout campaign.
Skipper Max Peate provides incredible leadership from the centre half position, and with Simon Smith, Jack Challenor and the gifted David McIntyre pulling the strings in midfield, another big year is expected from the group.
Prediction: Porthmadog 1-1 Gresford Athletic.
Rhyl vs Guilsfield:
The Lilywhites are amongst the favourites to return to the WPL after their demotion, and Niall McGuinness has completely overhauled his squad in the hope of making this a reality.
Getting off to a good start will be essential for this squad to give them the right foundation on which to build, and the arrival of Mark Connolly will give the younger members of the squad a calming presence when times are tough.
Although the talented Guils outfit cannot be counted off, a big crowd at the Corbett Sports Stadium should be enough to get them off on the right foot, albeit by the narrowest of margins.
Prediction: Rhyl 2-1 Guilsfield.