We caught up with the man occupying the Park Hall hotseat, Scott Ruscoe, regarding his side’s season so far and the hopes for Phase Two ahead of what is sure to be a fascinating run-in for the title.
Read on to hear more from Scott below.
“I think it is fair to say that before the split we were starting to find our best form, definitely. We had a tricky November, where we lost a couple of points and teams around us were edging away, but since then we’ve put together a run of results and performances that have been excellent.
“The momentum was with us, we weren’t changing the team a lot, and that team was going into each game and taking it by the scruff of the neck, scoring goals and conceding very few, and it was unfortunate that the split came when it did, but on the flipside the lads have had a good break, a bit of a rest, and we go again now in the last 10 games.
“I think there have many factors, really. We’ve had discussions and meetings within the group about what is expected of us and what is needed from TNS FC players, and we’ll be setting targets now for the ten games that are coming up.
“It’s a matter of always working as hard as we can in training, putting sessions on that will allow that, balancing working on fitness with keeping players fresh, making sure that we’re in peak condition, and that players who need a rest get one, but not tinkering too much, so it is a fine balance, and we’ve found form at the right time really.”
You’d have to go back a long time, we’d imagine, to find a season before this one where TNS didn’t occupy top spot for the majority of the term, but that has been the case this year as the champions have faced significant title-challengers in the form of Barry Town United and Connah’s Quay Nomads.
Ruscoe elaborated on the mentality his side have had to adopt in facing a title challenge, whilst also making the case for his side having raised their standards this year, but others having stepped up too.
“I think mentality has been something that has come into this, definitely. Winning seven titles on the bounce, there comes a point where other teams do improve, coaches improve, with excellent squads – just look at Barry and Connah’s Quay! – but that means we can’t be in a position where TNS just win the league by double figures every year because other teams are raising their games.
“Other teams this year have really stepped up and decided they want to give us a run for our money. It is not as simple as turning up, winning games and lifting trophies. Players and staff have had to realise that, because our success in previous years means we are there to be shot at.
“If you look at our record, we’ve actually scored more goals and conceded fewer than we did this time last season, and if we get another 20 goals in 10 games – which we’re more than capable of doing – we’ll break our record for goal-scoring, and in terms of conceding goals, we had 30 against us last year and we’re only on 12 at this point.
“Our standards have lifted, you could say, but it’s the other teams in the league that have improved as well and that has been the defining factor – they’ve rolled their sleeves up and shown how much they want to give it a good go, but we’ve also had to get that mentality within everyone that this is a challenge that we’re only going to be better having gone through and overcome.”
With teams more willing to try and expose any weaknesses in the TNS armour this season, we find ourselves approaching Phase Two with the champions not occupying top spot for the first time in many seasons, as Barry Town United currently lead the league.
As a manager in only his second season, his second term has been quite different to his first as far as the JDWPL is concerned, so how has he found this challenge on a personal level?
“There is more of a challenge, of course, and that is really enjoyable. There’s certain things you have to deal with as a manager in a coaching capacity, because teams have confidence to go man-to-man against you, they don’t allow you any space, any freedom, where we’ve probably had that last year.
“You have to come up with solutions, because the players are all of good ability and are all used to winning, but I’ve found it challenging to get the group buying into the fact that teams can hurt us and teams can have a go at us – it is strange to say, but some of the players aren’t used to it, and it’s possibly effected some members of the squad.
“We also had a high turnover of players in the summer with eight going out and seven coming in, losing two very experienced defenders to the Scottish Premiership and the English Football League, so that’s the standard of players who left, bringing in some younger, inexperienced players, but everyone that has come in has done well and I’ve enjoyed the challenge hugely.
“We’ll be a much better side and a better club for having gone through this experience.”
It hasn’t escaped the TNS manager’s attention that with other sides having led the standings for the majority of the season to date, there has been real excitement from fans of those clubs that their team could be the next JDWPL winners.
The 41-year-old manager confessed that he completely understands those feelings, that he sees those posts from fans and pundits alike on Facebook, but that it only makes him more driven to go on and win an eighth consecutive title for the Park Hall club.
“It makes us want to do better, it makes us want to set the benchmark even higher than we already have been, and of course we all see it, the players all see it, and it is our job to react to that and step up to the challenge.
“We’re obviously aware of the nature of football fans and they’ll favour their teams and would like a new winner of the JD Welsh Premier League, but I have the best squad in the league and I know that – the players we have in there, any team in the league would want them in their squad, and that’s not arrogance, but I know this league and I know the quality of my players.
“Andy Morrison, Craig Harrison, Gavin Chesterfield, Richard Williams, they’re all very experienced, they all want a new winner of the JDWPL, not just the pundits, not just the fans, everyone wants a change in the guard, but it gives me a greater challenge to then go and say we’re stepping up to the mark and we’re going to do better and hold on to our title.”
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