Rhyl are down and out of the Welsh Premier League after four seasons.
The Lillywhites were relegated to the Huws Gray Alliance after a calamitous 4-0 defeat at Aberystwyth Town on Friday night. As has been the case many times this season, it was a Belle Vue graduate who did the damage as John Owen scored twice to keep the Seasiders up and condemn his former club to life out of the top flight.
The two-time WPL champions still have faint hopes of staying up if promotion hopefuls Barry Town United finish outside the top two in the Macwhirter Welsh League.
Despite Aber maintaining the upper hand going into the ‘ultimate six pointer’, Rhyl had been bolstered by last weekend’s victory over already relegated Airbus – with winning goalscorer Steve Lewis recovering in time to replace Josh Davies.
But after a fairly even start, the defence shackled as Luke Borrelli took the lead from a short corner on 26 minutes. It could have been 2-0 by the break had Malcolm Melvin’s effort not been ruled for offside – while Toby Jones offered the best hope of an equaliser when his shot hit the post.
The most important 45 minutes of the season again saw a let down in defence – Owen found it too easy to bury home underneath keeper Dan Lavercombe. A minute later, Rhyl were still recovering from their ex-teammate’s goal when Borrelli again intervened to get his brace.
The third goal – and the sinking realisation of relegation – triggered some crowd trouble. A group of Rhyl fans were thrown out of Park Avenue after blue flares were thrown onto the pitch. Social media footage caught the group fighting with stewards as they were led away.
Back on the pitch, Owen delivered the final blow, latching onto Geoff Kellaway’s left hand cross to secure Aberystwyth’s Welsh Premier status with six minutes to go.
So, what now…
There was no immediate post-match response from manager Niall McGuinness, who has now seen Rhyl finish in the drop zone twice since taking over from Gareth Owen last year. Among some, fresh questions have been raised about whether one of the youngest managers in Europe can still lead the Lillywhites, despite a contract which keeps him in charge until the end of next season.
If he stays on, perhaps his most difficult job will be to convince such bright sparks as Christian Langos, Steve Lewis and Kristian Pierce to not seek their futures elsewhere. Six players – including Rory Crowther, Oli Buckley and the Jones brothers – Alex and James – took the step of signing up again before the club’s fate was sealed.
The domestic licence issue came to Rhyl’s rescue last season. And another potential miracle – purely mathematical – could hand them another reprieve. Barry Town United remain top of Division One in the Welsh League despite a shock 1-0 defeat to Goytre United last Saturday.
Four games remain for United, who have risen from the ashes of the old Barry Town in remarkable fashion over the past four years. At least two wins should be enough to ensure a top two finish, promotion to the WPL – and for Rhyl, relegation to the HGA. Goytre and Penybont both still sit five points behind the Jenner Park club and could still overtake them to claim the top two and keep Rhyl up.
So, there is still a ‘maybe’ factor in play – but all expectations are that United will claim their place in the Super 12. And whatever the outcome, after two seasons of almost consistent freefall, the Lillywhites of present must rethink their future…haunted as they are by their past.