With nine fast and furious matchdays already in the bag in the JD Cymru South, Pontypridd Town sit top of the tree with 23 points from an undefeated start, boasting seven wins in the process.
A man who knows a thing or two about promotion-winning teams is James Saddler, having achieved the feat twice with Barry Town United and Penybont, and we caught up with him recently to discuss the team’s start to the season.
“We can only take it one game at a time. We’re very lucky to be in the position we are, but we know it is very early days and there is a lot of growth still to come for us as we’re still bedding a lot of new players into the group, and as we build that chemistry we’ll improve even more.
“After everything that has happened, we’re just so happy to be back playing, to be honest, and whilst I’d love to say we’d be up there at the end of the year, we’re just approaching things day-by-day and seeing where it takes us. We’re unbeaten in 16 home games, which is key for us, and we’ve got big tests ahead of us but keeping that record going is certainly our aim.”
“Everybody knows just how unpredictable this league is.”
With six points covering the top five teams in the JD Cymru South and two games a week to contend with at times this season, a week can drastically change a team’s outlook and position in the standings as the field is so closely matched.
That’s why Saddler is very keen to see his team keep a level head, as he details his assessment on the season’s open handful of games, and his excitement to be out there competing again.
“We’re pleased with how things have gone to start the season, but we’re very aware of how early it is with only nine games played so far and plenty of football still left to play.
“There’s only a handful of points separating the top five teams, but even beneath that there are some fantastic teams that are more than capable of climbing the table and challenging at the top, such as Llanelli who are a former Premier team, Ammanford with Trundle and Britton, and so on, and everybody who has been involved in this league knows just how unpredictable it is.
“This season is definitely shaping up to be a really competitive, and it is great to be a part of it. There are very good squads, lots of Cymru Premier experience, former league winners, and lots of exciting youngsters too so it is brilliant to watch and be a part of.”
“I’ve been lucky to play for two teams that have won this league.”
Not many can compare with Saddler’s resume of success at this level, being promoted twice with two different teams and looking to make it a third promotion with a third club this term.
The 29-year-old discussed that experience further, and how it is helping him improve this Pontypridd side, but also how the collective experience of the group is helping him grow as a player as well.
“If you put a good run of results together in this league then you can jump from mid-table to the top in a matter of weeks, such is the competitiveness, so I don’t think we’ve seen a favourite yet and nor will we for some time.
“I’ve been lucky enough to play for two teams that have won the league, such as Barry who I was with for a long time and then I did the same with Penybont recently when we went undefeated, so I’m very lucky to have had those experiences and to share what I learnt with this squad to help them.
“Being a part of those two teams and having those experiences, I certainly learnt about the nous you need to pick up results in those scrappy games, and I’m very keen to share any experience I have with them, but also to learn from the great players we have here because our squad has a lot to offer in that sense.”
“Futsal can help improve the game across the board.”
A Cymru Futsal international, as are the likes of Newtown’s Naim Arsan and Barry Town United’s Chris Hugh, Saddler has a proven track record in the small-sided game as well, and he spoke passionately about how the skillset he developed there helped him grow as a player, and why he’s encouraged to see more clubs adopting futsal in their environments.
“Futsal teaches you a different sort of skillset, giving you a lot more confidence on the ball as you play in a smaller, condensed area, and it certainly improves players. You look at Naim Arsan and Chris Hugh in the Cymru Premier, both are very prominent in their teams and I’m sure futsal has helped breed that confidence.
“They’re two that are known as attacking full-backs, and that probably does stem from where they’ve been with futsal, because it gives you all those skills in terms of carrying the ball, manipulating the ball and moving off the ball, so it has certainly helped develop them and myself a lot.
“It is great to see the game growing in Wales, definitely, with Premier, North and South clubs incorporating futsal in their own settings – whether that be by setting up teams or using some of the drills in training and so on to improve those skills I mentioned earlier – and I definitely think that it can help improve the game across the board.”
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