The Division 1 title race....

Fixtures for tonight (Wednesday), April 24th, 6pm:

Monkton Swifts v Merlins Bridge; Hakin United v Carew.

Saturday, April 27th, 2:30pm:

Monkton Swifts v Goodwick United; Hakin United v Merlins Bridge.

Where we stand?

Let’s get the simple bit out the way first.

If Monkton Swifts beat Merlins Bridge tonight, they are Division One champions for the first time since the 2006/07 season.

That’s because they are a point ahead of the Wizards already, and three more would leave the final game for both sides on Saturday irrelevant in terms of the title race.

Any other scenario will have Pembrokeshire League officials on their phones throughout Saturday afternoon, with the silverware probably based in some lay-by half way between Monkton Lane and The Obs.

A draw tonight would mean Bridge would simply have to win at Hakin on Saturday and at the same time, hope that Goodwick get a draw (or win) at Monkton Lane.

If Bridge win tonight, they will go into the weekend two points ahead. But because Monkton have a vastly superior goal difference, Matthew D’Ivry’s team would still need to beat The Vikings to be sure of the title. A draw or defeat there would mean Joe Lewis’ side would still nick it if they were to beat Goodwick.

Hakin also play tonight against Carew. The Rooks can still technically finish second and their hosts can rise to third depending on how the next few days pan out.

Monkton v Merlins Bridge – round four:

One thing is for sure, these two teams are now familiar with each other.

Back in December, Bridge beat Monkton 3-0 in the West Wales Cup – but that one can perhaps be discarded in relation to tonight. Both sides had players missing that day and the wind was such at The Racecourse that standing up straight was as big an achievement as scoring.

I feel the last two meetings have been far more telling.

In January, Monkton made a major statement about their title ambitions by winning 5-1 at the same venue. That day they got in a 2-0 lead by half time and although Bridge poured forward thereafter, eventually the Swifts picked them off on the break and Ben Steele in particular revelled with a hat trick in a 5-1 win.

In March, the two met again on the Meadow in the Senior Cup semi-final. That night, Bridge got in the ascendancy early and were dominant in a deserved 3-0 win.

On the basis of both those games, the opening stages (and the first goal) will be crucial tonight. The Swifts are a dangerous team to chase against, and this season their football has been clinical going forward. Like in that mentioned semi-final, the visitors will be looking to control the tempo from the outset.

Form guide going in:

It was March 19th when Monkton lost that semi-final clash, and in their next league game they were beaten 3-2 at Carew. You wondered then if the wheels were loosening.

But they re-gathered themselves to win 4-2 at Hakin, and an overall Division 1 record of won 19, drawn once, and lost just twice speaks for itself.

What’s more, their record at Monkton Lane this season? League and cup games played - 13. Games won - 13.

Bridge meanwhile, have been relentless since that heavy home defeat to tonight’s opponents on January 26th.

If you count their penalty shoot out victory over Hakin in the West Wales Cup semi-final, then in all competitions it’s 16 wins on the bounce, capped by Saturday’s Senior Cup final win over Carew.

The fatigue factor:

Tonight is Monkton’s first game for 18 days. In that period, Bridge have played four times.

That could work one of two ways.

Fatigue should not be a factor for Monkton, and I dare say players with niggles following their win at Hakin (April 6th) have had time to rest up. What will be difficult after no football for nearly three weeks, is hitting the ground running in such a pivotal game.

Their visitors must overcome the opposite. Their schedule has been packed of late and Saturday’s final with Carew was not only boiling hot, but a mentally draining affair. And their players afterwards looked noticeably spent.

Bridge are a fit side and have proved their physical and mental resolve of late. These next four days they’ll have to prove it again.

Do or die:

For all the above points, what matters most tonight for both sides is delivering under pressure.

To the credit of Joe Lewis, at no point has he got carried away this season. Even when his side seemed to be pulling clear, he kept stressing it was a case of one game at a time.

At the start of the season few people tipped Monkton to be in the title race, but their campaign has been no fluke. They’ve won at The Racecourse, The Obs, and were seconds away from three points at Goodwick. You don’t get results like that if you lack the mettle to be up there.

But tonight they will have to stay composed as well as committed. It’s a different psychology and pressure when you’re just one win from the title.

They have boys who work away so their starting XI may be dictated by that. Keeper Michael Murray was missing from the Hakin win but aside from that, I expect few changes from their squad last time out at The Obs.

Monkton Swifts squad (last game at Hakin): Thomas Doyle, Jake Seaton, Shaun Jones, Ben Nicholas, Martyn Carroll, Chris Richards, Tom Powell, Blake James, Ben Steele, Dylan Davies, James Russell, Paul Miller, Rhodri Davies, Ryan Griffiths.

At one point Bridge trailed Monkton by 16 points and although they always had games in hand, it looked a long way back.

But what they have done superbly in recent weeks is find a way to win.

Clarbeston Road in the league at home, Hakin in the West Wales Cup, and then Joe Leahy’s late show against Carew on Saturday. All were results that could have gone either way, and it’s no coincidence when a team consistently comes through matches like that.

They are still chasing an historic treble and while some pressure would have been lifted by getting one trophy in the bag, D’Ivry and co will badly want a first league title since 2011/2012.

Whether the player manager opts for fresh legs after Saturday remains to be seen. If so, Peter Thomas, Leon Pemberthy and Joe Haworth will all be contenders to come into the 14.

Merlins Bridge squad (from Saturday): Gary Thomas, Chris Ormond, Richard Hughes, Matthew D’Ivry, Andrew John, Adam Hawkins, David Davies, Ashley Beck, Laurie Haworth, Joe Leahy, Nathan Greene, Jordan Thomas, Gethin Roberts, Will Haworth.