From strugglers to cup winners – an incredible year for Town
TWELVE months ago Carmarthen Town were a club in crisis.
Rooted to the bottom of the Welsh Premier League, the prospect of relegation loomed even before the mid-season split.
Tomi Morgan's second spell as manager ended in late November with Neil Smothers being brought in as a stop-gap.
By New Year's Day the Old Gold had lost 16 of their 20 league matches. There was a gloom hanging over Richmond Park. Players were frustrated and the club's chef was registered so he could sit on the bench as reserve goalkeeper.
Then in came Mark Aizlewood.
The former Welsh international had previously been involved with the club but had left to pursue his business interests. Now he was in charge in his own right.
He appointed Smothers as his coach and right-hand man, and then added the experienced Kevin Morris to his staff as general manager.
And last week the transformation was complete.
Carmarthen Town lifted the Word Cup after a thrilling penalty shootout win over The New Saints. It was their first silverware since the 2007 Welsh Cup.
Aizlewood made his first moves towards lifting Town during last January's transfer window by bringing in veteran striker Julian Alsop as well as Jonathan Hood and various loan signings.
Soon it became obvious that there was not only a change of attitude within the team but that their tactical awareness was improving.
There were still more defeats than victories, but slowly the club moved off the bottom on the table.
However, when all the fixtures had been completed Carmarthen were 11th and still in a relegation position.
The season might have been over on the pitch, but there were still twists and turns as a number of applicants for a Welsh Premier League licence had failed at the first time of asking. They were going to appeal to an independent panel.
Should one of the current top-flight clubs fail to meet the criteria, then the Old Gold were saved from relegation.
Another twist concerned the Welsh League.
Haverfordwest County had gained the necessary licence qualification and should they finish in one of the top two promotion spots, then Carmarthen would suffer.
Haverfordwest's final league game was at Bryntirion Athletic.
Before the match, Aizlewood said: "I feel that it would be an absolute tragedy if we were to go down.
"I could not have asked for more from everybody concerned with the club both on and off the field. We have played ten league games, won six, drawn one and lost three. which has yielded 19 points.
"The results and facts speak for themselves."
Haverfordwest won the game by a single goal, but three days later Neath were denied a domestic licence.
Aizlewood posted his thoughts on the club website. He said how delighted he was to escape relegation, but also how his joy was tinged with regret for the fate of the full-time players at Neath.
"Football has a habit of giving you great highs and terrible lows in your career," he said. "I have played in World Cup matches for my country, FA Cup semi-finals, play-off finals for the Premiership and won championships.
"But I can honestly say that when I got the text from my chairman it was the best feeling of all and I am not too proud to admit I shed a tear.
"There is a big rebuilding job to do and we are already talking to existing and new players to ensure that the club never finds itself in this position again."
The summer months were a busy time for the management trio.
A number of players left the club and in their place came virtually a new team.
Only Tim Hicks, Corey Thomas and Nicky Palmer remained from the side which had started the previous season.
Five wins and a draw in pre-season games, with 19 goals scored augured well. Then, after the first two league matches the Old Gold stood proudly at the top of the table.
But it was followed by a horrendous run which saw one point gained from a possible 18.
"My brief for the season is to take the club forward," said Aizlewood after the home defeat to Connah's Quay.
"So please judge me and my team at the end of the season, when I guarantee that the club will have moved forward after years of being in the doldrums.
"After fantastic wins in the first two games we have suffered with injuries to key players.
"For instance, not once have I been able to pick the same back four. But I will work hard to rectify things. This will be considerably easier for me if our injury list clears up sooner rather than later."
Aizlewood and Smothers then wielded the axe, with fringe players departing for Welsh League clubs and academy players promoted to the first-team squad.
The turnaround was immediate. Four wins and a draw preceded a visit to Oswestry and a match against league leaders The New Saints.
Since 2008, the Saints had scored 28 goals and conceded none against Carmarthen.
But on a dull late November afternoon, the leaders were thrashed. Everyone watching the game could see the massive improvements Aizlewood had made.
After the game he said: "I am delighted. The players have put together seven very high-standard performances on the trot. With consistency of selection and player availability comes consistency of performance.
"This all looks promising for the forthcoming weeks."
Two draws and a victory followed. "I am struggling to find enough adjectives to describe the top-class performances of my players," said the manager following the win over Port Talbot Town.
With this victory the Old Gold moved into the top half of the table, a position consolidated with a Boxing Day triumph over Llanelli.
After the match Aizlewood was interviewed for television. He expressed his pride and was asked why this had come about.
As modest as always, he replied: "Why? Because I'm a genius, that's why."