It could be a big year for Penybont if they secure the points Rhys Griffiths expects that they can and achieve JD Cymru Premier status for the 2020/21 season.
Sitting just above the relegation zone after battling their way through the first twenty games of the season, impressing many along the way and perhaps not getting the results they deserve on occasions, Griffiths is hoping his side can bag points on a consistent basis in the Playoff Conference after the split.
But what expectations did he have at the start of the season?
“I didn’t know where we would be in the league, to be honest with you. I knew that the top few teams would be a level above us, but other than I didn’t really know where to position us, but I wasn’t setting unrealistic or high expectations.
“What I did know was that by the time of the split I wanted to be within a result of safety, whether that be one, two or three points away from tenth place, and at the moment we’re there.
“I expected us to have a few more points, but I expected everyone around us to have a few more points as well, and perhaps I expected to have been beaten more heavily a few more times than we have as well, but that’s not happened, and also that we’d have a few more days where we turn it on and beat teams two or three nil, but that hasn’t happened either.
“Bala have been not necessarily our toughest opponents, but they’re certainly the ones who have put us to the sort. We’ve done exceptionally well against TNS twice and probably deserved more from both of those games, and obviously we did get a result against Connah’s Quay, so it hasn’t gone exactly as I expected, but we are probably not far away from where I expected.”
Over the festive double-header against Carmarthen, Griffiths' side came away with just the one point from two games, but could possibly have felt unlucky to not have come away with three or even four points from both fixtures.
Griffiths added that it has been a challenge for him and his players so far to deal with the setbacks they’ve faced this term, but that it is important for them to remember the context of their season.
“It is a challenge for me, as well as the players, not to get too downhearted when you feel like things are going against you. You go back to the Newtown game on December 21st, where we had a blood injury and the referee rightly insisted he went off to be treated. In that period Newtown have won a corner and the injured player’s man scored, so little things we do feel are going against us.
“At the same time, it can’t all be bad luck. I’m not really one that believes in luck at all to be honest with you, and I’ve just got an honest approach with the players and tell them the way I see it. We’ve just got to keep fighting and this is all part of the process.
“It is difficult not to have a big post-mortem every time we have a bad result, because it drags everyone down, but actually we’ve got to realise we’re in a league we’re not familiar with against players and teams who are more experienced than us, so we’ve just got to keep picking ourselves up. The players have been brilliant so far!”
A team that powered to the Welsh League Division 1 title last season playing a pure footballing style, Penybont have certainly caught the eye at times this season in bringing that style of play to the top flight.
However, as other teams have in previous seasons, Penybont have had to go back to basics somewhat and adapt their style to the demands of the JD Cymru Premier, learning many lessons along the way.
“We’ve learnt so much. We won the title last season in probably the worst way in preparation for the Cymru Premier, domination possession in every game with free-flowing football, both full-backs bombing forward, playing out from the back, and we’ve come into this league with that kind of ethos and if you do that against the likes of Bala and Connah’s Quay and they’ll destroy you.
“That process that took us to winning the title was a three-year plan from being a team that didn’t play much football to being a pure footballing side, and now we’ve had to start that again a little bit as we’ve learnt quite quickly that if we play too open we’ll come unstuck.
“The last couple of games, and Connah’s Quay at home, have probably been the tightest games defensively since I’ve been at the club, but we’ve got three draws. There’s so many lessons we’ve learnt, I wouldn’t know where to start, and we’re learning game by game and showing that development.”
So what do the final ten games of the season hold for Penybont? Regular hauls of points are what is on the manager's mind.
“For me, the second half of the season started on Boxing Day, because we’d played all of the top teams already by then. Caernarfon are a top team, no doubt about it, but because they were coming to us it swung that game in our favour slightly, but otherwise all of our remaining games are going to be against teams in and around us.
“We’re playing teams every week now I feel we can get a result against. We need to put a run of results together – like teams who used to be in and around us such as Cefn Druids have done earlier in the season. If we can put a little run of positive results together, it’ll propel us clear of this position.
“Every team we’re facing from now on I feel we can get at least a point against home or away. We’ve got to be targeting at least that, and possibly three in quite a few of them too. The main thing is we’re fighting all the time for everything we get and it’d be nice to play a game that we didn’t deserve to win and we did, because we’ve deserved every point we’ve had so far.”
Penybont's next game is away at Cefn Druids on Saturday 11 January, 14:30 kick-off.