York could drop to the sixth tier for the first time, while Maidenhead eye the South title and Salford and Halifax challenge for the North play-offs
28 April ~ We have not yet reached the May Day bank holiday but the National League is preparing for a final day of drama. Danny Cowley’s Lincoln City side have already sealed the title, ending six seasons in non-League and capping a season in which they reached the FA Cup quarter-finals. Barring a win for Dover, defeat for Aldershot Town and a six-goal swing, the Shots will play Tranmere in the play-offs while pre-season favourites Forest Green take on Dagenham & Redbridge.
That means the intrigue on Saturday will come at the bottom. North Ferriby United are already set for an immediate return to National League North and Southport’s seven-year stint at this level is finally over after several heavy flirtations with relegation in recent seasons. Two of five teams will take the remaining places.
Braintree Town are currently worst-placed, two points from safety. Under the Cowley brothers they finished third last year but now they need to beat Aldershot away and hope for favours elsewhere. York City’s marketing department are predicting a bumper crowd at Bootham Crescent for the game against Forest Green, describing it as one of the most important in the team’s history. Sadly it could be historic for the wrong reason.
A draw for York combined with Braintree dropping points and a Guiseley defeat would see the Minstermen survive on goal difference, but barring that anything short of a win and at least one other favourable result will see Gary Mills’ team achieve back-to-back relegations and play in the sixth tier for the first time.
Torquay are also hoping to avoid such ignominy but, having scrambled clear last season, they have again hit form at the right time and will be hopeful of completing the salvage job at home to already doomed North Ferriby.
Guiseley survived on the final day last year and need a repeat. Winless after ten games they looked certainties to go down, but a 6-1 demolition of York sparked a run that took them to mid table. They have hit rotten form at the wrong time and need a win at home to Solihull Moors to ensure safety. Woking have the hardest fixture on paper, away at Dagenham. But with 52 points in the bag they would need to lose and three other teams win to go down with a record high total.
In National League South a crowd of 3,377 packed into York Road last Saturday in expectation of Maidenhead United claiming a title and a first promotion to the top level of non-League. But nearest rivals Ebbsfleet United spoiled the party with a 2-1 win and the race will head to the final day.
Alan Devonshire’s side, on 95 points, will still be hopeful away at already relegated Margate. It may well be a swansong for their prolific frontman Dave Tarpey who has scored a record 43 goals. His contract expires in the summer and has attracted plenty of interest from League clubs.
Ebbsfleet will have 96 points if they beat Oxford City but may well have to settle for the play-offs. They would be playing either Poole Town or Hungerford Town, but those two teams, along with Darlington in the North division, have been blocked from the play-offs. Seventh-place Hampton & Richmond are the ones who benefit. Bishop’s Stortford and Gosport Borough have been relegated with Margate.
AFC Fylde have sewn up the National League North title. The contest to go up with them is tightly contested. Ambitious Salford City, backed by the "Class of ’92”, are among five teams that could occupy the four play-off spots.
Halifax Town lie third and travel to sixth-place Chorley but are guaranteed a place after Darlington were refused entry. Stockport are making a long job of resuming their 100-season League tenure but could sneak into the play-offs if they beat Gloucester City at home and one of Salford and Chorley lose.
It is simpler maths at the bottom where Gainsborough must match Worcester City’s result to avoid being relegated with Altrincham and Stalybridge Celtic. Greg Norman