After a season of highs and lows, we take a look back at the last eight months which ultimately have seen the Lakesiders awaiting its next European adventure.
Our 2021/22 season began at Park Hall as we looked to progress in back-to-back European campaigns with the Lakesiders drawn against Northern Irish side Larne. We would face the team that finished 4th in the NIFL Premiership first at Park Hall in the home leg which Colin Caton's men would lose 1-0. David McDaid was the goalscorer that day as he pounced on a mistake by Anthony Stephens to give his side the advantage ahead of the second leg. Larne would successfully defend their aggregate lead and add to it late on at Inver Park. As much as Bala fought looking to bring the tie level, it was Ronan Hale who broke all hope with his wonder goal in Northern Ireland.
Our attention then turned to domestic ventures. We edged past Flint Town on penalties to start our season off. This was followed by a tough start in the league which saw the Lakesiders draw our first three opening games of the Cymru Premier. It was then at Park Avenue that our campaign really kicked into action. As we battled out a 1-0 victory over Aberystwyth that night to raise spirits ahead of a long season.
The Lakesiders make history at Maes Tegid in the Welsh Cup
The goals soon began to flow in at Maes Tegid. Over the course of a week, Bala managed to score an unbelievable sum of 23 goals in total across the Welsh Cup and Cymru Premier. First came the hammering of Brymbo at Maes Tegid as we ran out 17-1 winners over the Steelmen. A collection of stunners scored by Danny Walker-Rice, Chris Venables and Paul Rutherford was topped off by a halfway line effort by Steve Leslie in the final goal of an unforgettable game.
Then came another goal frenzy affair with the visit of Haverfordwest as Bala conquered the Bluebirds 6-2. Confidence was at an all-time high when we visited the home of the champions.
This was evident in a rare Lakesiders victory on Deeside thanks to summer signing Dave Edwards who placed an inch-perfect free-kick into the top corner helping us seal a 1-0 win against the Nomads. He would go on to win 'Player of the Month' in standout time for the former Wales international who was loving life at Maes Tegid.
Dave Edwards scores injury-time winner to complete comeback against high-flying Flint
Following progression in both domestic cups, the task of facing second-placed Flint Town was up next. With an opportunity to leapfrog our opponents with a win, motivation was key at the Essity Stadium. The Lakesiders never gave up having gone one-nil down to our opposition, as Bala completed a late comeback to defeat the Silkmen. Edwards scored a dramatic last gasp winner to send us second that night.
A rocky period of our season came three months in. A run of seven games without a win hit a low blow to a Lakesiders team that had just started to find its groove. This run of games included a draw to pointless Cefn Druids as well as conceding a hammering to Connah's Quay at Maes Tegid. Bala were able to toughen out the heavy period to shift focus to the New Year.
We entered the Christmas break in a disappointing 6th place position with work to do heading into 2022...
New Year, New Bala
At the turn of the year, the Lakesiders looked a side rejuvenated. A win over 2nd place Newtown in late January could be seen as a turning point in Bala's season. Evans scored in first-half added-time that night with a brilliant volley to motivate his side ahead of back-to-back Derby days.
Then came the signing of Dean Ebbe, the man that would strike fear into the eyes of our opponents. His first victim was Caernarfon Town. It took only 35 minutes for our new No9 to show exactly what he can do. His debut saw us thrash our Gwynedd rivals 3-0 with the help of an Ollie Shannon brace. We then closed out Phase One finishing in sixth position, securing our place in the Championship Conference.
The Championship Conference
The new-look Bala, with a striker pairing of the returning Venables and Ebbe, worked a treat for Caton. A confidence-boosting 2-0 win over Newtown to kick off the Championship Conference was exactly what Bala needed to give real hope of a successful season. That night we witnessed the Lakesiders manage the game to perfection to ensure a priceless three points.
Having crashed out of the Nathaniel MG Cup semi-finals to eventual winners Connah's Quay, the Lakesiders looked to seize the Welsh Cup instead. A cup final appeared on the horizon following our quarter-final win over Aberystwyth. However, we would be drawn against a side we had predominately struggled against this season in Penybont.
Luck remained against us in the semi-finals of another domestic cup competition as we would bow out on penalties. Bont made no mistakes from the spot to earn their place in the final that gloomy night at Park Avenue.
Attention turned back to the league for the Lakesiders and having given impressive back-to-back performances against TNS and Flint Town, it was time to take on the Cofis once more. Ebbe was back to haunt Caernarfon at Maes Tegid with his fourth goal against them this campaign while Shannon scored in injury-time to help Bala to another successful Derby day.
Will Evans the catalyst as he boosts Bala
If the Lakesiders were to achieve European qualification it was games such as at the SDM Glass Stadium that would really tell come the end of the season. There were doubts as to whether Caton's men could conquer what would be our 'boogie team' in the 2021/22 season having failed to beat the Bont all season. Up until now, Evans continued to shine following a successful week in the limelight. A period that started with him scoring a brace for his country, ended with him grabbing his first senior hat-trick for the Lakesiders. The winger in mesmerising form as scored three in our 5-0 thrashing of the Bont.
We followed up on that with an impressive point against the newly crowned champions. A rotated squad gave TNS a run for their money at Maes Tegid and could even have won on another night. Yet a point was enough to keep our hunt for European qualification well and truly alive.
A spanner was thrown into the works in a crucial away game in Flintshire when Bala were brought down to ten men to defend a lead against the Silkmen. A controversial sending-off which was later overturned the following week wasn't enough to stop the Lakesiders as we secured a vital victory at the Essity Stadium.
Venables scores stunner as the Lakesiders snatch second
A six-pointer against Newtown awaited the Lakesiders in a match that had huge implications involving European qualification. Both sides entered the match level on points, with only two games remaining to follow. With the Robins still having to face TNS, it appeared a must-win match for the visitors. While for Bala, we couldn't afford to allow Chris Hughes' team to have control in their hands entering the remaining couple of games.
Following a competitive first-half, the Lakesiders entered half-time all square. The game called for a moment of magic if either side was to leave Maes Tegid victorious, and that's when who came who else, but Chris Venables. Our legendary figure scoring a legendary goal as he pulled off a bicycle kick to break the deadlock and clinch us a gigantic win over our rivals. The three points took us within touching reach of European qualification knowing Newtown would have to match our result on bank holiday Monday if they were to keep their hopes alive.
Lakesiders secure Europe with Derby day victory
It was Caernarfon who Bala were up against in our penultimate game of the season. Knowing if Newtown dropped points and we won, then European qualification would be ours. It had to be the man who had already fond memories from The Oval this season who broke the deadlock. Evans heading home from close range to give us an essential lead. Not long after, Ebbe provided a trademark run as well as his usual clinical finish to double our advantage and set us on our way to a European tour with news of TNS beating Newtown starting to filter through.
When the full-time whistle came, celebrations followed. The Lakesiders had done it, following a whirlwind season, European qualification was ours for a third year running. Now our reward awaits, another European adventure to add to the passport, coming soon, Summer 2022.