Northampton and Bristol Rovers pull clear
29 April ~ Northampton's Sixfields stadium has not been a happy place for most of this season. While much of the focus has been on the slow asphyxiation of tenants Coventry City, it's also been a thoroughly miserable season for home side Northampton Town. Rooted at the bottom Of League Two, the Cobblers have looked a certainty for relegation to the Conference for much of 2013-14. Yet such has been the poor quality of League Two this season that Northampton go into the final day of the season with their fate in their own hands.
Since replacing Aidy Boothroyd in December, manager Chris Wilder has coaxed enough from his squad to keep them in contention to preserve their Football League status. From appearing doomed a month ago, Wilder just needs a draw at home to former club Oxford to complete an impressive survival job.
Instead it's now Gareth Ainsworth's Wycombe Wanderers who will be relying on the failures of others to preserve their 21-year stay in the Football League. The Chairboys have struggled for consistency all season and have been left adrift after a 2-1 home loss to fellow relegation candidates Bristol Rovers at the weekend. To stay up, Wycombe now require a win at Torquay on Saturday while hoping either Rovers or Northampton lose.
Like two other sides that have spent the season at the wrong end of the table, Exeter and Portsmouth, Wycombe are fan owned and have struggled with the challenge of making a limited revenue stream translate into sustainability on the pitch. Both Pompey and Exeter have only recently secured their own League places, but it's been a depressing season for the supporters who've swapped the terraces for the boardroom and illustrates the stark reality of having to compete with private backers.
Not that having a rich fan in charge at the Memorial Stadium has made this season any easier for Bristol Rovers. Chairman Nick Higgs took over in 2008 after making his money in construction and, perhaps naturally, is currently focused on a new stadium for the Gas. However, he's also on his sixth manager in four years with the latest, Darrell Clarke, appointed with just eight games left. Rovers have been an ongoing slump since relegation from League One in 2011 and while Higgs has stated that the club's future is secure a loss of over £780,000 last year suggests Conference football could be a painful experience, especially with work yet to start on the new ground on the edge of Bristol.
Yet the team who will have a big say in the final day survival scrap are already relegated Torquay United. A late upturn in form and a 3-1 victory at Mansfield on Saturday wasn't enough to stop the Gulls dropping into the Conference five years after returning to the Football League through the playoffs.
Torquay's recent form means Plainmoor is a difficult fixture for Wycombe, whereas Northampton and Bristol Rovers host Oxford and Mansfield respectively, two teams with nothing left to play for. Once one of non-League's most celebrated names, there's a high probability that next Saturday will see Wycombe make an unwanted reacquaintance with a division they left in spectacular fashion under Martin O'Neill back in 1993. Gary Andrews