Having scored 25 and conceded zero goals in their opening six games of the 2020/21 season, it’s hard to disagree with Greg Draper when he says he and his TNS teammates are at their strongest as a squad for some time.
The former JD Cymru Premier champions have been in dominant form to start the new season, and this evening face their toughest test yet against the reigning champions Connah’s Quay Nomads.
Andy Morrison’s side took the title from the Park Hall club last season and this is the first meeting between the two sides since then, set to be shown live on Sgorio’s Facebook and YouTube channels.
“We’re at the strongest we’ve been for a good few years.” Draper said. “Competition in the squad creates that intensity in training where everybody wants to impress and fight for their place, and we’re taking that intensity into the games as well.
“Teams haven’t been able to live with us because of that, so if we take that into this game we’ll be fine. We’re playing a slightly different formation which helps our strikers be less isolated and we’re creating a lot more chances too.
“I’ve only played three games this season, but I feel every time we go forward we’re going to create a good chance, so that fills forwards with confidence knowing that opportunities will come, and I think we’ve just improved things that we lacked last year, really.”
“We don’t want to give them any chance of retaining the title.”
Both the Nomads and The New Saints have been battling it out hammer-and-tong for the title for a number of years now, so Draper is well aware of the qualities of Morrison’s men and confesses he has significant respect for the champions.
The forward feels the way his side have started the season will stand them in good stead for their Park Hall showdown, but admits their opponents are very good at what they do on the pitch.
“They’ve kept the same philosophy that they’ve had for the last few seasons as a very direct, strong, physical team, but why wouldn’t they do that because they’re very good at it and very difficult to play against? They’d be silly to go away from it.
“This is the biggest game of the season so far. We don’t want to give them any chance of retaining the title so we’ve got to make sure we take nothing less than three points from the fixture – anything less than that would be disappointing, really.
“The way we’ve played to start the season has been chalk and cheese to how we were playing last season, in terms of the way we’ve started games, the way we’ve defended and the way we’ve created chances, so as long as we bring that to this game everything else will take care of itself.
“We’ve got huge respect for them. It is very difficult to win any league, but they did that last year fair and square. They’re very good at what they do, and it would be rude not to respect them for it, but we don’t fear them and we can pass them off the park this week if we’re on our game.”
“I want to get to 200 as soon as possible.”
The former New Zealand international broke the all-time goal-scoring record for The New Saints recently, surpassing former Saints and current Nomads forward and all-round Cymru Leagues legend Mike Wilde.
200 TNS goals is the next target for Draper and, although he is delighted to have surpassed a player who he feels is the best forward ever to play for the Park Hall club, he confesses he has huge respect for Wilde and what he’s achieved.
“It was nice to finally get there! I know I’ve now scored more goals than him, but Mike Wilde for me will always be the best striker TNS have ever had.
“You just have to look at all the important goals he scored for the club during his time – he’s scored far more important goals than I have done! – and when he was here, I really struggled to get in the team ahead of him.
“There was no doubt when we were together he was number one, and if he was still here now he’d still be ahead of me, but in all honesty I haven’t thought about the record too much – it was nice to achieve it, but I’m just wanting to kick on and get to 200 as soon as possible.”
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