In previous seasons, apart from a brief excursion in Europe that has involved an ‘easier’ tie followed by a much tougher one, there hasn’t been any external football beyond Wales for The New Saints.
Going into games against the likes of the Faroe Islands and San Marino champions, TNS have been strong favourites to progress. Then, in the next round, the boot is on the other foot, as ties against Apoel and Rijeka have proved to be a step too far.
However, since the reinvention of the Scottish Challenge Cup as the Irn-Bru Cup and the involvement of TNS, the opportunity to play football beyond the Welsh border has been an invaluable exercise for the club.
Having won the domestic league for seven seasons on the bounce – and I’m not being disrespectful to anyone by saying this, so please don’t read it out of context – the chance to play other sides is important.
Taking on Scottish opposition, both competitively and in friendlies, has presented a litmus test situation so that the club’s progress can be viewed on a wider scale.
With seven Irn-Bru Cup games to date resulting in five wins (including penalty shoot-outs) and two defeats, that’s a decent return. In addition, numerous friendly games have also indicated that TNS’ level, hypothetically translated north of the English border, is certainly up there with the best.
The game on Friday against Falkirk, who themselves play in the Championship, proved how comfortable the team is when engaging with sides in the Scottish system.
A litmus test indeed and one that we have certainly come through with flying colours to date.
Rev’s Ramblings is a weekly blog entry, following my adventures with the champions of Wales from a personal perspective. Read previous ones HERE
Lead image: With Steve Saunders at a previous Irn-Bru Cup draw in Glasgow.