Returning to the League of Wales as champions of the Cymru Alliance, Caernarfon Town provided Nomads with their opening game of the new season on a balmy Friday evening. The Canaries had scored over 100 goals in their championship season and were eager to banish the memories of a disastrous campaign at this higher level two years earlier. With former Nomads Darren Wynne and Danny McGoona in their squad they proved to be stern opposition winning 2-1.
That was not the start we had envisaged but a 2-0 success away to Port Talbot Town a week later, with goals from Paul Mazzarella and Jon Kenworthy, brought back the smiles. In the League Cup competition Connah's Quay had been paired with Flexsys Cefn Druids and Oswestry Town in a mini-league format but the league fixtures also pitted Nomads against the same teams around the same time. This had the effect of us opposing one or the other for six of the next seven games! The cup performances were moderate but in the league Connah's Quay were unstoppable winning five games on the bounce.
Following the win at Port Talbot, Nomads defeated Cefn Druids (2-1), Oswestry Town (5-1), Caersws (2-1) and Cwmbran Town (4-2) so that by the end of October the team stood second in the league just a point behind unbeaten Bangor City and seven ahead of the reigning champions Barry Town. Drawn games followed at Carmarthen Town and at home against Haverfordwest County, but after winning 2-0 at Afan Lido we went into the 'top of the table' battle with Bangor City on 10th November 2001 full of confidence.
By now Nomads led the league three points clear of Rhyl in second place, Bangor having slipped to fourth after losing at Aberystwyth. Nine previous LoW games against Bangor City on Deeside had produced a solitary home win, in March 1994, but Nomads were up for this one. It was a hugely entertaining match in front of a crowd of 429. With the home side leading 2-1, Bangor were awarded a penalty but Jason Turner saved Marc Lloyd-Williams' spot-kick and Nomads went up the other end to increase their lead before going on to win 4-2 and then boosting title hopes with a 4-0 victory over Rhayader Town that sent us five points clear at the top of the league.
Needless to say, TNS (Total Network Solutions to give them their full title and today's New Saints) were hard on our heels but that five point cushion was comforting. Just as well for, had we known, a crazy few weeks were about to develop. Our next game was away to TNS and as confident as the players were it mattered little. The Mid-Walians thumped five goals past Turner with a solitary reply from Stuart Rain to follow his third hat-trick of the campaign against Rhayader three nights earlier. A disappointing 2-2 home draw with Newtown followed ahead of a trip to Barry Town. George Horan, sent off at TNS, would miss the Barry game and with both Paul Whitfield and Jason Turner unavailable, Neville Powell had to scout around for a new goalkeeper.
Barry Town had quietly slipped into fourth place in the league by the beginning of December, six points behind the Nomads who were now a point behind TNS. After the Barry Town game we faced lowly Llanelli at home then a trip to Rhyl. In previous cup games we had proved to be a thorn in Barry Town's side but league results had rarely gone our way. Not this time though for Lloyd Roberts' 25th-minute strike from an acute angle was enough to give us all three points, helped by the home team's goalkeeper being sent off at half-time for fighting with one of his own teammates!
That victory took us top of the league once again and with a visit from Llanelli to follow on the Saturday before Christmas. The Reds were next to bottom having scored just eight goals in 13 games, only three of them away from home. The match programme notes stated "No doubt Neville Powell has instilled in his players' minds the fact that Llanelli are now a better side than their lowly league position would indicate." Nomads dominated much of the first-half but conceded a breakaway goal to Mark Dickeson. With 30 minutes remaining we continued to attack but could not find a way through. Then, in a 'mad half-hour' Llanelli scored five more goals! It was as if the match ball was inextricably drawn towards (and past) Andy Mulliner making his home debut between the posts. Afterwards, nobody could explain how it came about, least of all the Llanelli players.
Boxing Day was spent at Rhyl and the horrors of the previous game were quickly put to bed with Nomads hammering the Lilywhites 4-0. It was only Rhyl's second home defeat of the season and was orchestrated by Rain and Kenworthy as the Quay scored three times in a spell of just 12 minutes.
Previous seasons had seen the club's fortunes improve as the campaign drew towards its close. In the Welsh Cup we had beaten Penrhyncoch and Newtown to earn a fourth round tie away to Carmarthen Town in February 2002 but the winter weather had set in causing postponements. Between Christmas and early February Nomads played only two league games, losing at Caernarfon and sharing the points in a goalless draw with Port Talbot in which we squandered many opportunities to score.
Defeat in the Welsh Cup at Carmarthen was followed by a similar loss (2-1) at the hands of Aberystwyth Town so that Nomads' season had turned in a way nobody had thought possible three months earlier. When Carmarthen played out a draw (0-0) on Deeside in mid-February we found ourselves down to seventh in the league ten points behind a resurgent Barry Town and five behind Rhyl - the team we had comprehensively beaten at Christmas.
A mini-revival followed with successive wins away to Haverfordwest County (3-0) and at home to Afan Lido (2-0) but they only papered over the cracks despite those six points pushing the team back into contention with games in hand - five of them on Rhyl who remained in second place but only five points ahead of Connah's Quay. It was a strange situation. The team had done very well for five months before confidence seemed to drain as things went against them.
Following those two victories, the rot set in and the remaining dozen league games produced only two successes, both by 2-1 and both at home against Flexsys Cefn Druids and Rhyl. Away form disappeared altogether with seven matches producing two points from draws against two of the bottom four sides, the season ending with a 1-1 scoreline at relegated Rhayader Town.
Nomads finished a respectable 8th in the table and that despite taking only 18 points from 17 games in the second half of the campaign. A top four finish seemed as far away as it had ever been.