10 April ~ As Stevenage Borough host Forest Green Rovers this afternoon both sides have a considerable amount to play for. The Conference season draws to a close in only two weeks' time, a full fortnight before the Football League. Within that time, and with several teams only having two games to play, the title and two relegation places are still to be decided.  In previous years the league title has been something of a one-horse race, with Dagenham and Aldershot running away with things and Burton leading by 19 points at one stage before almost monumentally choking last year.

Roll back only a few months and nobody could be blamed for thinking the same would happen this time around as Oxford held a six point lead but, as the campaign comes to its climax, two other sides have hit the front. The safe betting would be on current leaders Stevenage, who head the pack by two points and have a game in hand, while Luton are the team on form with nine consecutive wins and 25 goals scored in just five matches. Their run looks set to continue with three bottom-half sides to come in their last five outings as they attempt to return to League Two at the first attempt and justify their pre-season favourites tag, should Stevenage stumble.

While battle to go up is in full flow, any two of nine sides could join already-doomed Grays in the regional leagues next year. Barrow and Forest Green have improved in recent weeks but are still far from safe, while the poor runs of Histon and Tamworth could yet see them slip into the clutches of the sides below. Ebbsfleet have just three matches to go and sit two points from safety, though they have their fate in their own hands with clashes against Tamworth and Gateshead still to come. A 2-0 win against Cambridge United last weekend may be enough to propel Gateshead themselves to safety despite a tough run-in. Eastbourne are also disadvantaged by having less games to play, though their prospects seem much worse given that they have to take on York, Kettering and Oxford.

All this precedes the play-offs which conclude the campaign. The list of clubs who will join the runners-up seems almost decided, as Oxford, York and Rushden have opened up a ten-point gap on the nearest contender. Observers were able to follow Conference football like never before in the past two seasons before Setanta's demise. While the 2009-10 season hasn't received comparable attention from a national broadcaster, Sky Sports have at least picked up the rights for the promotion final on May 16. Matt Ramsay

Comments (5)
Comment by making_progress 2010-04-10 11:22:56

You're forgetting the AGM Cup.

Last season was the first time in eight years that all the teams in the relegation spots actually, er, got relegated. And even then there were all sorts of final-month financial collapses and points deductions at work.

Chester jumped the gun and managed to get out before the annual get-together at Nene Park. A shame, really.

The Football Conference is a horrendously mismanaged and mismatched league - which other competition might have Grays v Hayes & Yeading in front of 200, followed by Oxford v Luton in front of 12,000 with many more locked out.

Comment by Grimmer 2010-04-10 14:44:51

Whilst I can accept that it's mismanaged, the idea that the conference is particularly mismatched seems a little unfair - especially if this is taken as a criticism of the division.

For starters Grays and Hayes both have average attendance of over 600 and Oxford vs Luton may have attracted that many fans but their average is around the 6,000 to 7,000 mark. This is still quite a disparity bt not quite as bad as suggested.

Meanwhile in the Championship we see similar differences in crowds (40,000 at Newcastle and 6,000 odd at Scunny).

The Conference is a great division whilst admittedly being a little bit crazy. It is after all where the full time and part time teams in this country actually meet in the same division. I find there is something romantic about "down and out" York City playing an overachieving Histon.

Bearing in mind how many businesses go bust every year - even when there is no recession - it's amazing more clubs don't go to the wall. Sometimes I'd like to see people give England's 5th division a break. Frankly things have got a lot better since automatic promotion and relegation as introduced.

Think I'll stop rambling now ..............

Comment by Steve Jinman 2010-04-11 13:53:48

Grays may not even be playing regional league football next season:

Making progress - can you clarify your point about a mismanaged and mismatched league? Are you saying clubs should be denied promotion on the basis of having too small support?

Comment by Monty 2010-04-11 17:36:10

The difference in attendences at the Conference is huge and incomparible to anything in the Football League. I have lost count the amount of times this season Luton have outnumbered home fans at away games this year(this includes our game at champions elect Stevenage last week). We aren't the only club this happens to either. Its a very rare occurence in the actual league, its commonplace in the BSP.

The gap footballingwise between the top teams and the bottom teams is nowhere near as big. There are far instance less mismatches in the Blue Square Premier than the 2 more well known Premier Leagues. That I think is to the credit of the teams operating on small budgets.

Comment by madmickyf 2010-04-12 05:16:08

Steve, not only should teams be denied promotion on the basis of having too small support but teams should actually be promoted for having the biggest crowds! Does League 2 really need another club of ex-non league 'hoofers' who get sub 2K crowds every week? Surely the likes of Dagenham, Morecambe, Barnet, Macclesfield, Accrington etc is more than enough for one division? I'm all for giving the little guys a chance but it's getting out of control now - there's so many of them!

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