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Gaffer looks back on the season

Chris Hughes on an up and down 12 months for the Robins

There has been highs, lows, and a bit in between.

It has been another exciting and at times, unpredictable season at Latham Park which almost ended in glory.

However it wasn't to be last weekend as we lost out in the play-off semi-final.

This season has been a strange one, with high optimism, shortly followed by despair and then a return to form, in quite brilliant fashion.

It all began back in August, and after a successful pre-season and a raft of summer additions, things were looking positive.

A draw to Bala and a win over Carmarthen looked to have set the tone, before a sodden run left Newtown five points adrift at the foot of the table.

Chris Hughes sat down this week to reflect on the 2016/17 Dafabet Welsh Premier League campaign.

He said: "Back in August we prepared for a tough start really, we had three European sides in our first four or five games, and it was a really tough one.

"We got off to a good start, and then after that we went on a really disappointing run.

"From September we lost about five games on the bounce, and there were games where we drew, Rhyl and Druids, where we should have won, and things weren't going for us.

"We picked up a few sporadic wins, against Airbus and other sides.

"Airbus away was massive, had we lost there we would have been seven points adrift of second bottom."

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The Robins win over Carmarthen got them off to a flyer 

Throughout the season, various people in the media, who now hold Newtown in high esteem and as a top six favourite, had written Newtown off.

Some had them relegated in November.

However people had to remember, four years ago the Robins were scrapping for their league survival.

Hughes said in a way, being told his side were under performing was a compliment. 

"I think we can take it as a compliment, because before I was here Newtown were down the bottom, and fighting to stay in the league," the boss said.

"We had three top six finishes on the bounce, and now people expected it.

"When we down there, it was really hard to put a finger on what was going wrong because like I said all season, we were really not that far away at all.

"Performance wise, apart from a couple it was good.

"Airbus and Connah's Quay were massive wins for us to turn things around.

"People said we were in a false position, and I would agree really when people said we were the victims of our own success.

"But we knew we weren't a million miles away."

Despite pressure seeming to mount after a run of bad results, Hughes said he and his players never felt it.

He added: "The only pressure we had was the pressure we put on ourselves.

"We have a good squad, good qualified staff here and we had pressure and still do, on ourselves to do well.

"We've good lads, and I think the disappointment of that first phase is what has driven us on to do so well in the second half of the season.

"We know we didn't reach our standards in that first phase."

He has also praised people on and off the field for not panicked in the tough times.

"Our message was not to panic, and no one did that.

"The players didn't, and the board, who I've had a good relationship with backed us and didn't panic." 

A theme in a lot of Hughes' interviews after disappointing results, was his belief one result would change things.

And he has pinpointed that change, but it isn't an obvious result that people would think of.

"I believe Aber at home on New Year's Eve was our turning point," Hughes added.

"People would say coming back from 3-1 down against TNS, but I wouldn't, simply because TNS is a freebie.

"Aber at home, we had 11 lads out there, no fit subs on the bench, lads out there were injured but they were fantastic on the day.

"It changed things I think, and allowed us to kick on in the bottom six."

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Despite conceding a last minute leveller, hughes said this was the turning point 

Things then changed and since the split, the Robins lost just once, and that was last week's play off semi-final with Bangor.

Hughes said the attitude of 'one game at a time' helped the players galvanize their season.

He added: "I think that is what we looked at, one game at a time, and see where we go.

"We did that in the second phase, and went on a great run.

"We played Llandudno, fresh out of Europe first game and beat them and it just kept going from then.

"The January signings have helped, they gave the lads a bit of a lift and were vital for us going forward."

Hughes also touched on the unfortunate injuries that saw three key summer signings missing for large parts.

But also in the same breathe praised the youngsters in the side for stepping up to the plate, especially in the second phase.

Hughes said: "It was unfortunate as three experience lads, Craig Williams, Ross Stephens and Andy Jones all got injured shortly after we signed them, it was a blow.

"But it allowed younger lads, Jordan Wells, Alex Fletcher and Ryan Kershaw to step up, and in the second phase, especially Ryan and Alex have done that exceptionally well.

"Also things have gone for us recent years, a late Tom Goodwin goal to get into the top six, a win at Aber on the final day.

"Things didn't really go for us this time, but in the second phase are luck almost seemed to change.

"One moment, we were level with Rhyl and a shot re-bounds back off the post to Jason and goes in and we go on to win the game."

One positive aspect Hughes took away from the season is the time the younger players from the clubs youth system were given.

Will Evans made a debut late in the season, Jordan Jones was also part of match day squads, and Jack Perry produced a string of fine displays in goal.

Hughes added: "Without sounding like a broken record, when we've got a smaller budget than others we have to dip into our academy, and look elsewhere.

"We've been able to give lads 15 and 20 minutes, which has been great and we will continue to do that."

Talks have taken place already for next season and Hughes is aware of the budget he will have to play with.

He is hoping to retain the majority of his squad in the coming weeks, and believes despite the fact the club aren't big spenders, they have other attractions that will help them bring further quality to the club.

He added: "We've had talks and know what we are working with.

"We now want to get the squad retained, and then look at other targets, we will be bringing some players in.

"They have to fit with the DNA of this club though, be young and energetic and fit with the side on and off the pitch.

"In the past the club have struggled to recruit, but now it is different, it is a more attractive proposition for playres to come to.

"We've got a fantastic close knit group, which people want to be part of, and that character is what has helped us through." 

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The robins score a sixth first half goal against Airbus. Things had changed by this point 

After reviewing the season, Hughes took time to thank all the staff around the club, and volunteers for the huge team effort this campaign.

"On behalf of all the playing and management staff at the club, I want to thank all the volunteers and staff for all their hardwork all season.

"We look forward to celebrating the season with you tomorrow evening."