Welsh Premier League

The New Saints 1

Connah’s Quay Nomads 0

The New Saints boss Scott Ruscoe admitted he was delighted to wrap up his side’s successful defence of their Welsh Premier League title with a win over cup final opponents Connah’s Quay Nomads on Friday.

Greg Draper’s penalty proved to be the difference between the two sides in an evenly-contested clash at Park Hall, meaning that Saints finished 12 points head of their rivals at the end of a devastating run of form since November.

Ruscoe stayed true to his promise of fielding his strongest side ahead of Sunday’s cup final but admitted he was surprised by a switch-up of tactics by Nomads, though is not sure that Craig Harrison, his predecessor in the Park Hall hotseat, is making his presence felt in Deeside.

“I was very happy with that win,” said Ruscoe.

“You don’t want to give your opponents an edge going into a massive game like the cup final and I certainly felt that we continued the run we’ve been on.

“That said, it wasn’t a dominant display.

“We had lots of possession in the game but they also did too, which surprised me too as they didn’t go as forward as early as they usually do.

“They made a number of changes as well, so maybe they’re protecting their cup final team, whereas we went strong and got the three points, and it was nice to have a 12-point gap at the end.

“You can see Craig telling players they want to play more, whereas you can see Andy Morrison [the manager] saying we want it to go longer more.

“They’re on the same wavelength in terms of how they’re going to set the team up because it’s not going to change while Andy is the manager.

“You just know that because the players are suited to that style of play.

“Craig would probably want to change things, he has his own thoughts but it’s whether or not he gets that chance.”

Ruscoe insisted he is not surprised that Saints won an eighth straight Welsh title with a sizeable gap, despite suffering a drop in form during the mid part of the season.

He added: “If someone came back to me in winter in a machine and said ‘don’t worry, you’ll win it by 12 points’, I would have thought they were ‘off their heads’.

“It’s only two points fewer than last season, and while everyone thought we had a really good first season in charge, this year was only two behind.

“We scored 99 goals, 20 clean sheets with only 16 conceded; overall it’s a very good season that we’re very pleased about but it’s also taught a few lessons as well.

“It’s made us stronger, more resolute and it made the players dig their heels in and become worthy champions.

“I think this is the best run I’ve been directly involved in with my time at the club as a player or a manager.

“The standard of training, the feeling of not having one team where we felt we were worried against them, and when you’re in that mindset, the momentum really goes with you and that’s why I didn’t want to change too many things.

“We did against Caernarfon, and while we did well, it was disjointed, but I feel that run was as good as any squad has had here, including the record-breaking start of 2016/17.”

It was a game of few chances as the Saints took on Nomads, but it was Ruscoe’s men who took the three points to gain a mental advantage ahead of Sunday’s cup final.

A few early chances for both sides failed to break the deadlock, however Draper’s 27th league goal from the penalty spot separated the sides and eventually proved to be the only goal of the afternoon.

A late headed chance for Michael Bakare was the closest the visitors came to grabbing an equaliser, but the win went to TNS, who finish the season 12 points clear at the top of the table.