The Battle at the Bottom

It may not be of concern to us who goes down from this division, but as a football fan in general the race to avoid slipping into the National League North or South is really heating up. Southport have gone and barring a miracle North Ferriby will be joining them.

From there it is any two from six teams, and out of interest (and because my missus has commandeered the TV) I have decided to have a look at the most likely candidates to survive. Working from the bottom up we have:

Torquay 22nd on 44 points

The Gulls are four points away from safety with just three matches left to play. They desperately needed something from their game with us, especially as most of their relegation rivals managed to win games. They were unlucky not to come away with at least a point, but sadly when you’re down there it is notoriously hard to make your own luck.

There is some hope for them, their remaining fixtures are Braintree (H), Dover (A) and North Ferriby (H). I think they can kiss goodbye to any notion of getting points next Saturday against Dover, especially as the Rabble from Crabble are closing in on a play-off spot themselves. However, Braintree are just one place above them in the table, and North Ferriby will be relegated by the time they visit Plainmoor.

The clash tomorrow with Braintree is an absolute must win for Kevin Nicholson’s side. It’s a six-pointer if ever there was one, but both teams know they need to improve on recent results. I thought Torquay looked a decent side, and if they reach those levels tomorrow they might give themselves a fighting chance of survival. I fully expect them to take three points from North Ferriby on the final weekend of the season too.

Adam Marriott has played an unwitting role in compounding Torquay’s misery

Braintree: 21st on 48 points

Hakan Hayrettin seemed to have done a decent job in turning around Braintree’s fortunes, but their recent form has been concerning and they’ve slipped to within a whisker of a return to the Conference South. They’ve really struggled for wins, although an impressive 2-0 victory over Guiseley on Friday has given them a glimmer of hope. Prior to that they’ve only managed two other wins in two months, 5-0 against the nine men of Bromley and the customary victory everyone seems to get over Southport. They’ve lost to York and Woking recently which has resulted in them being dragged into the relegation race, and with Barrow and Aldershot to come as well as Torquay I think they’re in dire straights. I can perhaps see a point coming against Barrow, but a loss to Torquay will set them up for a bottom three finish.

Solihull Moors: 20th on 48 points

Up until a few weeks ago Solihull were tucked in mid table, hovering around 14th with indifferent form, but certainly not looking like relegation candidates. Their slide down the table has been alarming, they’ve now lost six games on the spin with both Torquay and York claiming crucial wins. The recent 9-0 thrashing at the hands of Tranmere only highlighted how frail they are at the back, and with one goal in the last four games they don’t look like scoring their way to safety either.

They have Macclesfield and Eastleigh tomorrow and next Saturday, and I don’t expect them to get anything from either of those games. That leaves a massive relegation clash with Guiseley on the final day of the season. If I’m right they’ll go into that game still on 48 points and winless in eight games. Could it be a surprise return to the National League North, relegation plucked from the safety of mid table obscurity by a succession of lily-livered displays?

An angry man who should still be in the National League next season

Woking: 19th on 48 points

After Aldershot and Tranmere I thought Woking were the best side we’ve seen at Sincil Bank this season. They were fluid moving forward, and despite obvious frailties at the back I thought they’d have enough to steer themselves clear of the drop. They beat Macclesfield on Friday to climb clear of the bottom four, and I think they’ll have enough to ensure they stay out of the drop zone.

They’ve won three of the last five games and have a trip to Chester to look forward to tomorrow. Chester aren’t entirely clear of the drop just yet, although on 52 points I think they’ll be safe come April 29th. In Gozie Ugwu and Delano Sam-Yorke they do have a goal threat, and after three points from Chester they face a visit from York City. That might be a tough fixture, as will the trip to Dagenham on the final day. I suspect they’ll end up four points better off than they are now, and that will be enough for Garry Hill to fight another day at this level.

York City: 18th on 48 points

York always had the tools to move away from the drop zone, but at the end of February things looked very bleak. They were six points from safety having played two more games than Braintree and Woking at the time. Since then they’ve won six of their ten league matches, and have only suffered defeat twice at the hands of Dagenham and Bromley. I’m quite confident when I say that they won’t be relegated now, they are far too strong and resolute to get sucked back into the bottom four. Vadaine Oliver has come back and scored some vital goals (seven in eleven games), and we saw first hand how dangerous Jon Parkin still is. In Bencherif and Newton they have experienced players who have ability, and with their play-off quality form they heading in one direction only.

They play Woking, Forest Green and Macclesfield before the end of the season, and I can see them collecting five points from those games. They’ll be around next season with Gary Mills at the helm, and I doubt very much they’ll be battling it out at the bottom of the table again.

A packed Sincil Bank witnessed a resurgent York pip us to a Wembley spot

Guiseley: 17th on 49 pts

Another side that at one point looked nailed on to be relegated, they’ve turned their strong home form into just about enough points to stay out of the bottom four. Remember they lost their first seven games, and it wasn’t until October 4th they picked up their first win. Now they’ve won as many home games as Gateshead and Macclesfield, and although they travel badly it is that home form that will see them retain their National League status next season. Nethermoor Park isn’t a nice place to have to go and play your football, and a dazed Tranmere might find it challenging tomorrow. Having said that they’ve lost their last two home games to Forest Green (1-0) and Dover (4-0) so we might have to put the champagne on ice for a week.

A trip to Bromley next Saturday should bring them a point which will be enough to see them to safety, and the visit of Solihull Moors on the final day will give the home fans something to cheer about, as they not only seal their place in the non-leagues top flight, but also relegate a shockingly poor Moors side.

Final Table

I haven’t worked out goal difference, but if my predictions are correct (which they rarely are) I see the final relegation spots looking something like this:

Guiseley 53 pts (safe)

York 52 pts (safe)

Woking 52 pts (safe)

Torquay 50 pts (safe)

Braintree 49 pts (relegated)

Solihull Moors 48 pts (relegated)

North Ferriby (relegated)

Southport (relegated)

Much rests on that massive Braintree and Torquay clash tomorrow, and in an ideal world both would survive. I’d feel for Braintree after such a great season last time out, and given that we took their best players and their manager I’d feel a (really) small amount of guilt at their plight. I also don’t want to see Torquay go down either, I never like to see an ex-league club slip even further down the pyramid, especially given that they have a good set of fans that travel well. They’ve endured a rotten couple of years both financially and on the pitch, and perhaps a ‘great escape’ is what they need to kick start their recovery.

Unfortunately they were forced to accept investment from Clark Osbourne, the owner of a company called Gaming International that has a track record of knocking down stadiums. he’s been behind the eviction of Bristol Rovers from Eastville as well as the loss of greyhound and speedway tracks in places such as Milton Keynes and Reading. I’m afraid they’ll need much more than a few words of hope from an amateur blogger to brighten up their future, and even a great escape will only briefly paper over the humongous cracks appearing all around the foundations of their once proud football club.