CRAIG Harrison keeps finding new ways to break records.

In his first stint in charge of The New Saints, in Wales, the former Middlesbrough defender won six successive titles, seven cups and celebrated the small matter of breaking Ajax's world record for the most consecutive wins.

A troubled stint at Hartlepool United followed before a return to TNS where history quickly repeated itself.

In his first full season back in charge, the Gateshead-born boss led TNS to another Welsh Premier title, with his side losing just once in 32 games.

How do you build on that?

Well, you don't lose at all.

TNS have followed in the footsteps of the Arsenal Invincibles. Remarkably, they won 30 of 32 league games this term, drawing the other two, smashing in 117 goals in the process - surpassing their previous record of 112 - and conceding only 18. They finished the season 33 points ahead of their nearest rivals Connah's Quay.

They couldn't cap the perfect domestic season by adding a Welsh Cup title to their league and League Cup crowns - being edged out 2-1 by the league runners-up in last month's final - but all things considered it's been a rather satisfying campaign for Harrison, who very nearly led TNS to Scottish Challenge Cup success as well, only to see his side beaten 2-1 by Airdrie in the final.

"It's been remarkable," he said.

"This is the first time we've gone unbeaten and to win 30 of 32 games is really quite special."

More than two-and-a-half decades ago, Harrison broke through into the Boro first team, winning promotion to the Premier League in 1997/98 and playing in the top flight for Bryan Robson's side. But when he was at Crystal Palace he suffered a brutal double leg break and was forced to retire when he was just 24 - eventually moving into coaching.

Harrison's glorious TNS success led to him becoming Hartlepool boss in 2017 but on the back of relegation from League Two, it was a troubled time and he was fighting against a backdrop of financial chaos as Pools struggled for survival.

He would, he admits, love to get the chance to right those wrongs in England in the future, if the opportunity presents itself.

"Don't get me wrong, that was a tough time at Hartlepool," he says.

"Everyone is judged on results. Like I've said before, there are things I didn't get right and mistakes I made. You live and learn.

"I think I had a bit of a chip on my shoulder previously. I was desperate to get over to England. It had been six or seven years of real success. I was a bit younger then. You mature and learn as you go along.

"I've still not lost my drive or ambition but I'm a bit more mature now about how and if and when I get there. Don't get me wrong, I'd love to have an opportunity to manage in the EFL at some point. It's a huge ambition. But it's not something I'm not going to be knocking doors down for. If it doesn't happen it doesn't happen, I'm comfortable in my own skin and enjoying this job.

"I probably got one step ahead of myself in the past with where I wanted to be. Now I still want to be there but I'm really happy with where I am. I love the job, I love working with Mike Harris, the owner. I'm really happy but I don't want people to get that confused with me being content and having no ambition. I have a lot of ambition.

"I think I would be disappointed if I got to 60 and hadn't managed in the football league. I would have a tinge of disappointment. I think I'm good enough, I'm confident in my own ability but it doesn't matter what I think."


There'd be more than a tinge of disappointment if Harrison never led TNS into the group stage of a European competition. That's the dream. They'll enter Champions League qualification at the earliest phase but it's the UEFA Europa Conference League that will present TNS with a realistic opportunity to compete in a continental competition next term. 

First, TNS need to get there. Last season, their dream was ended by Luxembourgian outfit Swift Hesperange. This year, Harrison is desperate to lead his side beyond the qualification stage for the first time.

He said: "We have a real challenge now to try and get into the group stages. It's going to be tough but it's not a ridiculous unrealistic challenge. We have to play well and get good draws but it's doable to become the first Welsh club to make the group stages of European football.

"I think we can say we're not going to qualify for the Champions League. The Europa League is a really big ask. Don't get me wrong, if everything aligned we can possibly make the Europa League but the Conference League is the one where teams of our level have got into.

"We underachieved in Europe last year but we're in a stronger position now. That's the next aim."

Given all Harrison and his side have achieved over the years, it would be brave to dismiss their chances of writing another chapter in the club's history books.