It’s all on the line on Sunday for Cefn Druids and Cardiff Met. Two sides that have had very good seasons to date meet in the European Playoff Final at The Rock, with one of them set to embark on a campaign in the UEFA Europa League. Before they do, we take a look back at past playoff campaigns, starting with the first three years.
The playoffs were first introduced into the League in 2010/11, the first season which the League ran with twelve teams. Aberystwyth hosted the first ever playoff game, a quarter-final clash which they won 2-1 against Airbus UK Broughton. They travelled to The Gnoll to meet third-placed Neath in the semis, while Prestatyn hosted Port Talbot in the other. Two 2-1 home wins set up a final clash, again at the Gnoll, which Neath won 3-2 to become the first side to qualify for Europe through the playoffs.
Aber and Airbus met again in the quarter-final the following season, this time on Deeside but with the same outcome, the Seasiders progressing to a semi away at Llanelli. An extra time goal from Jordan Follows was enough to seal the home side’s progress into the Final, where they would host Bala Town, 2-1 victors over Prestatyn in their semi thanks to strikes from Ian Sheridan and Lee Hunt.
Hunt would get on the scoresheet in the final for the Lakesiders, but first half goals from Rhys Griffiths and Lloyd Grist had set Llanelli on their way, and although Hunt’s goal fourteen minutes from time set up a nervy finish, the Reds held on to seal a European spot.
2012/13 once again saw five teams compete in the Playoffs, with newly-promoted Connah’s Quay Noamds earning a spot thanks to Prestatyn’s Welsh Cup win. They travelled to Bala, in a repeat of the final day of the season a week previously. The Lakesiders had won that clash 1-0, and the same result courtesy of a Lee Hunt strike was enough to send them into the semis.
A sterner test was expected for Colin Caton’s side at third placed Bangor, but an incredible four goals in eighteen minutes either side of the break had Bala in dreamland. Despite pulling two back, the Citizens couldn’t find a way to level and the Lakesiders were one game away from Europe.
To do that, they faced a long trip to Port Talbot, who had overcome local rivals Carmarthen in the semi thanks to a David Brooks strike. With the final still goalless and heading to extra time, the ball fell to Lee Hunt in the Port Talbot box. The forward’s turning shot was well saved by Steven Hall, but John Irving was on hand to lash in the rebound and send Bala into the Europa League for the first time.
Tomorrow: Derby delights for City, Robins and Nomads.