HOPES that the Wingmakers could mount a challenge for the Welsh Premier title were virtually ended as The New Saints extended their lead at the top to 10 points with a 2-1 win at the Hollingsworth Group Stadium.
The S4C cameras were again a jinx for Airbus who were nevertheless watched by their best-ever crowd of 625.
The early stages saw both teams keen to stamp their authority on the game and take control.
The Wingmakers were the first to find their feet and Jordan Johnson went close when curling a free-kick narrowly wide of the far-post on 10 minutes.
It was against the run of play when the visitors took the lead on 22 minutes. Ryan Fraughan nipped into the area and from a tight angle slipped the ball through goalkeeper Jamie Stephens to put TNS 1-0 up.
On 26 minutes the Wingmakers afternoon got even worse as Stephens caught Alex Darlington in the area and conceded a penalty. Darlington stepped up to take the spot-kick himself and coolly sent Stephens the wrong way, low to the left, to make it 2-0 to The New Saints.
The Wingmakers then proceeded to take the game to TNS but without finding a clear-cut opportunity that would pull them back into the game.
However, two minutes before the interval the Wingmakers got their opportunity when poor defending by the visitors saw Chris Budrys bundle home at the near-post to make it 2-1.
It was no less than Airbus deserved for a good performance which had somehow seen them behind at the break after a mad five minutes and only last-ditch defending from Simon Spender and Kai Edwards had prevented them from going in level.
Understandably the Wingmakers raced out of the blocks in the opening stages of the second-half and put the visitors under pressure. On 57 minutes Chris Jones picked up a booking for TNS for a late challenge as the Wingmakers pressure in the final-third mounted.
On 62 minutes the Wingmakers made a double change as Ryan Wade replaced Jordan Johnson and Jason Jarrett replaced Michael Roddy.
Airbus missed a golden opportunity to equalise when a mix-up in the TNS defence provided Wayne Riley with an open goal, but goalkeeper Paul Harrison put him off just enough to see his strike hit a post.
Phil Bolland was booked on 67 minutes for an innocuous foul but TNS failed to profit from a free-kick in a good area. The away side made their first change on 71 minutes as Sam Finley replaced Alex Darlington. At the same time Airbus introduced Steve Abbott in place of Chris Budrys.
Both teams were cancelling each other out as chances dried-up but the visitors tried to counter this by replacing Ryan Fraughan with Jamie Mullan on 79 minutes. The changes stretched the game slightly with both teams desperate for the next goal in an entertaining game living up to its hype.
Christian Seargeant lashed wildly off-target for The New Saints as the closing stages developed into even more of an end-to-end encounter. At the other end Ryan Wade was causing the visitors defence numerous problems. As the game moved into added-on time Stephens did well to block a Chris Jones attempt at his near-post. The final change for TNS saw Matty Williams on in place of Aeron Edwards.
Unfortunately the Wingmakers were unable to conjure up an equaliser as the game finished 2-1. TNS may well be about to take the title again, but the Wingmakers matched them in every department showing S4C viewers and pundits that they could match the league’s very best.
by Rory Sheehan
Below: TNS keeper Paul Harrison punches clear from a late Airbus attack.