The New Saints 3
Connah’s Quay Nomads 0
First v third, a 3-0 win – it all sounds rather comfortable...
But last night’s JD Welsh Premiership clash at The Venue was anything but for The New Saints of Oswestry.
Saints needed to win to ease four points clear at the top of an unusually-competitive league table, while Connah’s Quay Nomads knew a victory would give their own title hopes a real shot in the arm.
If there were any nerves, then Saints refused to show them.
They were ahead inside two minutes with their first forage forward, when keeper John Danby failed to hold on to a shot and Jamie Mullan was on hand to roll the ball into the net.
It was just the start Saints wanted and they were able to relax and start to knock the ball about.
Nomads showed their league position was no fluke, though, with some neat possession play of their own and they were quick to snap into tackles to deny Saints time.
And they almost levelled after 10 minutes when Blaine Hudson swung a boot at a cross and succeeded only in slicing the ball goalwards, but Paul Harrison was positioned perfectly to save.
After 13 minutes it was two, when Ryan Brobbel worked himself some space in the crowded penalty area and fired the ball low into the net.
Saints could never relax, though, especially with Nathan Woolfe showing some lovely touches down the left flank for Nomads.
But mostly Saints were comfortable in possession, knocking the ball about at will, building patiently from the back and then springing forward at pace when opportunities presented themselves.
Just before the interval it could have even three, when Hudson, staying up following a corner, found space in the box but couldn’t control the ball.
Then a flowing move cut holes in the Nomads defence but as the ball was rolled home, an offside flag ended things.
And to prove the 2-0 lead was too slender to allow Saints to relax, Woolfe rattled the Saints bar with a long-range effort.
It certainly wasn’t edge-of-the-seat entertainment but for Saints the three points were everything – they wanted that cushion at the top of the table and it wasn’t in their interests to make the game open and free-flowing.
But that’s exactly what happened after the interval as Nomads pusahed forward a new desire and seemed to fancy their chances – and when Saints made heavy weather of clearing a corner, Woolfe’s deflected shot was headed off the line by Connell Rawlinson.
Play quickly switched to the other end at Brobbel worked himself a shooting opportunity only to see the ball bounce back into play off the foot of the post.
Saints needed that third goal to put the game to bed – and that was underlined in the 76th minute when Sean Smith worked himself some space to create an opportunity only to see Harrison beat away his shot.
A minute after and that third goal finally arrived, as Routledge kept his cool in the box to fire low into the net.
And almost immediately it could have been four as Tom Holland fired just past the post.
After that it was a case of Saints running the clock down and reflecting on a job very professionally done. Nomads will play a lot worse this season and win games; Saints took a huge step towards retaining their title.
They showed a real hunger and enjoyed pinging the ball around – and against teams not so well marshalled, they will be able to show more abandon.
But three goals, another clean sheet and a rival comprehensively beaten – manager Scott Ruscoe will settle for that.