The Town’s Teams: November

WITH the University Digs, BUCS and other sports leagues now in full swing, it is worth remembering that beyond the confines of campus there is a wide range of sporting activity for the discerning sports fan to sample in Aberystwyth. Here is a brief mid-term review of the campaigns of the town’s football and rugby teams to get you in the mood for the rest of the season.

Aberystwyth Town FC

ATFC Pana The bittersweet conclusion to Aberystwyth’s campaign last season, which combined the agony of a 3-2 defeat to TNS in the Welsh Cup final (thus prolonging the club’s 114 year wait for a major trophy) with the ecstasy of securing European football for the very first time in their history, meant that those in the business of predictions must have had a rather interesting time plotting the trajectory of the Welsh Premier League’s perennial underachievers for the upcoming 2014/15 season.

Would the trauma of the cup defeat continue to have a psychologically detrimental impact upon the team, or could the promise of a European adventure embolden the Seasiders’ spirits for the year ahead?

As ever with Aberystwyth, the answers to these questions displayed little in the form of reason or logic, as instances of extreme farce were followed by a pleasing run of success. Having drawn against Irish club Derry City in the First Qualifying Round of the Europa League, there was a great deal of expectation surrounding Aberystwyth’s first foray into European competition, however the inexperience of the Seasiders’ was ultimately exposed in a rather ignominious manner.

A bruising 4-0 first-leg defeat away in Northern Ireland put paid to any slim hopes of progression, and Aberystwyth were unable to claw back any form of respectability in the return leg, as Derry romped to a 5-0 win, sealing an emphatic 9-0 aggregate score-line.

While Aberystwyth’s travails were hardly the first instance of a Welsh Premier side succumbing to a chastening defeat against European opposition, the nature of their capitulation, particularly during the home leg, raised doubts concerning the mental fortitude of the squad, and as a result the forecasts were almost universally gloomy for the Seasiders as the new league season kicked off. Demonstrating once again their uncanny knack for confounding expectations, however, Aberystwyth showed no signs of a European hangover in their domestic campaign, as they cruised to a 5-0 away win in their opening fixture against Cefn Druids, before embarking on an impressive seven match unbeaten run, which propelled Ian Hughes’ side into second place in the table.

This momentum has stalled somewhat in recent weeks, as their last outing, a 4-0 defeat against surprise package Bala Town, testifies, however Aberystwyth remain in a respectable 5th place in the league, well within reach of the last automatic European qualification spot.

Much of Aberystwyth’s early season successes can be attributed to the blistering form of Chris Venables, who started his season with a hat-trick against Cefn Druids, while Ian Hughes’ decision to re-sign fan favourite Geoff Kellaway, an experienced number 10, seems to have reaped dividends. At the time of writing, the Seasiders are warming-up to face their fierce rivals Newtown in the Mid-Wales Derby, and with a record crowd expected at Park Avenue, it is clear that a refreshing sense of optimism is apparent amongst the Aberystwyth Town faithful.

Ian Hughes sensibly retained a level-headed approach in his post-match interview at Bala, reminding the fans that Aberystwyth had already silenced their critics, regardless of how the rest of the season would pan out, however expectations at Park Avenue are undoubtedly rather loftier now than they were back in August.

At the very least, a top half finish and a place in the end of season European play-off rounds remains an eminently achievable goal, while the runner’s up spot is still within sight. Aberystwyth were made to wait 130 years to host their first European fixture; it may not be long at all before they are able to contest their second.

Aberystwyth Rugby Club

It has been a similarly pleasing start to the season for the town’s rugby club. Now a firmly established side in Division Two West of the Welsh Rugby Pyramid, Aberystwyth RFC currently sit, just like their footballing counterparts, in fifth place, having recorded 4 wins and 2 defeats from their opening six games, including a thumping 78-12 win over Cardigan.

It is in the SWALEC Plate however, that Aberystwyth’s most notable results have occurred, as they were able to upset the odds by defeating two First Division clubs in succession to reach the third round. As thoughts inevitably drift towards the draw for the last 32 therefore, it will be interesting to see whether Aberystwyth can retain their focus in the meantime and build upon their impressive league form.