THIS season’s Spar Mid Wales League One title race is expected to be one of the most open in years.
The return of Llanfair United upon their relegation from the Huws Gray Alliance, coupled with the ambitions of Carno and Berriew, have set the stage for an enthralling campaign.
Llanfair’s relegation despite ending fourth from bottom last season was made all the more disappointing after Rhayader Town’s withdrawal from next season’s Alliance.
With several key players already departing, including top scorer James Davies to Welsh Premier side Cefn Druids, it proved an extra bitter pill for United.
Manager Rhys Stephens has looked to youth in his bid to maintain a title challenge with teenager Llyr Griffiths arriving at Mount Field following his decision to leave the Wrexham academy,
Griffiths is the grandson of Everton legend Dixie Griffiths, a star of the Merseyside club’s 1939 English First Division title winning squad.
Stephens has also welcomed the return of defender Gethin Stephens and midfielder Rob Bumford following spells with Abermule and Llanidloes Town while also signing Phil Hughes from Montgomeryshire League side Meifod.
“The aim for the season has to be to try and win the league, a decent run in the Welsh Cup and win at least one cup for the seventh season on the trot,” said Stephens
“We are under no illusion how tough an ask this will be as the league will be very competitive this season and at least six teams will start with the same objective.”
Among the challengers will be Carno who have underlined their ambitions with a number of major signings in the summer.
Defender Tom Richards and midfielder Scott Williams join from Huws Gray Alliance side Caersws while Adam Williams arrives after a player of the year campaign at Abermule.
Defender Dan Goodman and midfielder Jordan McFadden also arrives from Rhayader Town with goalkeeper Steffan Jones also arriving at Ty Brith.
Manager Chris Davies was confident his summer business had left the Greens capable of a title challenge despite the loss of a Richie Evans, Drew Reynolds and Ashley Owen to local rivals Llanidloes Town.
“We've been up there for a few years now but we need to take the step forward and win it,” said Davies. “We have brought in a lot of players to help boost the squad and we have added real quality.
“We feel overall we have stronger squad and we are ready to challenge again. The new additions have settled and there's a better atmosphere around the team which will hopefully help us be successful this season.”
Berriew will also look to mount a challenge this season with top scorer Richard Davies and playmaker Karl Seliaerts once again expected to be key.
The Rhiewsiders have welcomed the return of defender Marc Jones with goalkeeper Dave Jones also arriving at Talbot Field while also signing teenage prospects Sam Bowers and Dewi Hughes.
Manager Dave Jones said: “Our aim is to be challenging at the top. While we have a squad capable of challenging for honours I think this season will be even tougher than last with at least five clubs in contention.
“I can’t see there being easy games and everyone is capable of beating one another so it will make for an interesting season. Our aim remains to hopefully achieve promotion to the Huws Gray Alliance and the club is continuing to prepare for that both on and of the pitch.”
Llanrhaeadr will also look to mount a sustained challenge having offset the loss of top scorer Iwan Griffiths with the capture of Dan Graham from FC Oswestry and Kyham Wytton from Llanfyllin Town to support Iain Edmunds in attack.
Meanwhile Joe Vaughan has returned to his home village club after two seasons at Llanfair United as the Tanant Valley side go into the season in good shape.
Manager Marc Griffiths said: “We had the best home record in the league last season and this year the squad has more quality and bigger so we know our target of winning the league is reachable if we get things right.”
Knighton Town look set to lead the challenge from Radnorshire with player-manager Adam Worton snapping up the James brothers, Matt and Tom, from Hay St Marys, midfielder Matt Venables from Radnor Valley and goalkeeper Joe Prosser from Rhayader Town.
The Robins have also signed ex-Newtown midfielder Zak Evans as the Bryn-Y-Castell club target the title.
“We have strengthened really well and attract some quality signings,” said Worton. “ With a bit of luck and by remaining injury free we could have a good season and we are pleased the early season fixture schedule is a lot kinder to us than last.”