Harrison at the Helm

The New Saints are the current Welsh Premier League Champions and are the most successful club in Welsh Football.

Craig Harrison joined The Saints on December the 30th 2011 and the former Barclays Premier League defender has guided TNS to three consecutive league titles in his three years at Park Hall Stadium.

Having left Airbus UK in order to return to professional football, the Gateshead born Harrison, has ensured that TNS have continued to dominate Welsh football in modern times and have now eclipsed Barry Town’s record of seven Welsh Premier League titles.

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The dynamic duo.

By joining The Saints, the former Middlesbrough defender once again linked up with Carl Darlington, having worked with the Technical Programmes Manager for the Welsh Football Trust whilst at The Airfield.

On the second of January, 2012, Harrison began his reign at Park Hall Stadium and got off to a perfect start. A fantastic hat-trick from Greg Draper and a brilliant brace from Alex Darlington sealed a comprehensive five nil victory against Newtown.

The win kept The Saints in second place in the table, but after a memorable away victory against rivals, Bangor City in March 2012, TNS regained the top spot, having been placed second since boxing day.

The Oswestry based side didn’t look back and continued to improve and ended up winning the League by five points.

Overall, Harrison had guided his team to nine wins in eleven league games, which worked out as an excellent 81% win rate.

The side also triumphed in the FAW Welsh Cup, after beating Cefn Druids two nil in the final, thanks to goals from Greg Draper and Alex Darlington.

Harrison’s first full season started with a UEFA Champions League tie against Swedish treble winning Champions, Helsingborgs IF.

The Saints were excellent during the home leg and were unlucky not to travel to Scandinavia with a lead. However, the Swedes were impressive at their Olympia Stadium and won by three goals to nil.

The 2012/2013 campaign was a season to remember for everyone involved with the football club. TNS won the Corbett Sports Welsh Premier League by a record 22 points. The Saints won 24 of the 32 games. 86 goals were scored and only 22 were conceded, meaning that TNS finished the season with an incredible goal difference of plus 64. Harrison’s win rate for the year worked out as a magnificent 75%.

Last season The Saints were drawn against Polish giants, Legia Warsaw in the UEFA Champions League. With the home leg taking place at Wrexham’s Racecourse Stadium, Ryan Fraughan gave Harrison’s side a surprise lead and in a half that the Welsh Champions controlled, Alex Darlington came within an inch of making it two but had to cruelly watch his shot bounce back off the post.

Legia Warsaw fans cheer TNS off the pitch.
Legia Warsaw fans cheer TNS off the pitch.

The Legionnaires, a team full of internationals, rallied in the second half and scored three away goals to ensure that they went back to their Pepsi Arena Stadium in control of the tie.

Despite losing the second leg by one goal to nil, The Saints were cheered off the pitch by the ten thousand strong Legia fans in the stands after what they and the whole of Europe too, had deemed a wonderfully spirited performance by Harrison’s side.

Legia went onto compete in the UEFA Champions League play-off round but lost to Romanian Champions, Steaua Bucharest on away goals.

The following season Legia Warsaw were famously chucked out of the UEFA Champions League after fielding an ineligible player against Celtic. Despite beating the Scottish Champions six one on aggregate as well as an appeal to UEFA, the Polish side were ejected from the competition. A four one victory had been secured in Poland and was then followed by a two nil victory in the away tie.

The result against Celtic was testament to how well the Oswestry based side had played against Legia a season earlier.

After the trip to Warsaw, TNS prepared themselves for the Welsh Premier League and were set to be pushed harder than ever during the 2013/2014 season after Airbus UK had strengthened their playing squad.

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TNS lift the FAW Welsh Cup in May 2014.

With The Wingmakers hoping to close the gap, TNS stormed to a record eighth WPL title and were unbeaten at home. The Saints secured 22 victories out of the 32 games and only suffered three defeats to ensure another title, with the gap to the second placed Airbus being a sizeable 14 points. Harrison’s win percentage for the season worked out as 68%.

As well as the defence of their title, The New Saints triumphed in the FAW Welsh Cup. However, with half an hour left to play, in what was a memorable final, the trophy appeared as though it would be heading to Aberystwyth Town but three goals in the last half an hour, ensured that Harrison picked up another trophy, taking his haul to five.

The 2014/2015 season began with a trip to the Slovakian Capital, Bratislava. SK Slovan Bratislava were The Saints’ opponents in the UEFA Champions League Second Round, a side that had famously beaten FC Barcelona in the 1969 UEFA Cup Winners Cup Final.

The first leg was played at Slovan’s Pasienky Stadium and TNS went down one nil after a deflected goal from Erik Cikos in the second half. The Welsh Premier League side had once again won the respect of Europe with another fine display and were unlucky not to have gone into the second leg level.

A week later, the second leg was played at Rhyl’s Corbett Sports Stadium and after dominating the first half, Slovan scored two late goals to knock TNS out of Europe for another season.

‘The Kings of Bratislava’ went on to compete in the UEFA Champions League play-off round but lost to the Belarussian outfit, FC Bate Borisov, which once again proved how well The Saints had done against teams on the continent.

Overall, since Harrison joined TNS in the winter of 2011, he has guided The Saints to three Corbett Sports Welsh Premier League titles and two FAW Welsh Cups as well as an appearance in the Word Cup Final. A very impressive 73% win record in the Welsh Premier League and an unbeaten home league record that has been running since November 2012.