We are over half way in the 2017/18 National League season and it’s shaping up to be a very competitive end to the season; with just 6 points separating the top 8 teams as it stands in the top tier of non league football.
Based upon recent form I have calculated the projected end of season table and it looks as if the table is going to be even tighter come the season finale.
For me, I think Wrexham will be champions this year. It’s been a long time coming, they are a sleeping giant in this league and are currently undefeated in 8 league games. I can see it being Aldershot v Tranmere in the Playoff final. I’ll give credit to Macclesfield for challenging this season on the budget they have, but again, both Aldershot and Tranmere are Football League sides and it will take something special to stop them in pursuit of promotion.
I think that Bromley finishing second is slightly ambitious. Taking nothing away from the club, but prior to their recent run of form they only managed a single league victory in the whole month of December. They also have a packed schedule with the club competing in the quarter finals of the FA Trophy and still have to play the likes of Wrexham, Tranmere Rovers and Aldershot Town in their remaining fixtures.
In terms of relegation I expect Hartlepool United to escape the drop in the aftermath of the recent news story that their tax bill has been paid off by the fans. Additionally, Pools have a few winnable games coming up against bottom half opposition to get themselves back on track. On the other hand, Guiseley have been in a relegation battle each season since they were promoted to the division and it seems their decision to turn full time wasn’t a smart one as The Lions only have 4 wins to their name in the current campaign.
Team to watch: AFC Fylde
AFC Fylde didn’t make the top 7 in the projected table, but from the calculations they are not far off the Playoffs. They are newcomers to the top tier, having won the National League North last season. Danny Rowe plays up front for The Coasters, averages a goal every 176 minutes and is the league’s top goalscorer. He is a massive asset for the team and his goals win them games.
It’s out of character for the former Manchester United scholar to not hit the back of the net in a fixture; he hasn’t scored in 180 minutes and the team have consequently picked up a single point in their past 2 games. If Rowe can stay consistent until the rest of the season I would consider AFC Fylde a real dark horse if they make the Playoffs.
Salford City have always been firm favourites in my eye. The club just missed out in the Playoffs last year to FC Halifax Town and this summer signed a few players from the National League to make sure they fill that single automatic promotion spot.
The Playoffs are always a lottery, and any team can perform on the day. But when it comes to knockout competitions there is no better team than York City; The Minstermen won the FA Trophy last season and also won twice at Wembley in the space of 8 days in 2012 (just thought I’d remind everyone of that one). Jon Parkin scores goals for fun, and Martin Gray is slowly but surely building his team for a tense end to the season.
I was a little surprised at North Ferriby actually making it to the National League two years ago, they only get attendances of around 700 a game and are dwarfed by local Championship side Hull City. And it seems they are already preparing for the free-fall by singing a number of players from the NCEL league. Curzon are another small fish in a big pond who have done well to stay in the division following their 2015 NPL Premier Division Playoff win.
In contrast, Telford used to be a Conference side, and have yo-yoed between the fifth and sixth tier in recent years. But this season they seem to be struggling and the departure of former Premier League striker Sylvan Ebanks-Blake they will hope that other strikers can step up in the final stages and make use of their 3 games in hand.
Team to watch: Blyth Spartans
Spartans were just promoted from the NPL Premier Division last season and have been the the Playoff places for the majority of the season. It’s only down to the fact that they have picked up just 4 points in their last 5 games that they are not in the projected table.
The Green Army have National League/League Two quality in their side and with the return of Dan Maguire, who scored 37 goals last season, and the loan signing of Kieran Green and Macauley Langstaff from Gateshead. As they are a part time side they will be fighting against fitness but the North East side will no doubt be raring to get themselves back on track.
Team to watch: Chelmsford City
The Clarets made the National League South Playoffs last year where they were beat 2-1 in the final by big spending Ebbsfleet United. They regularly get high attendances for the division but lost last seasons top marksman Louie Theophanous to fellow Essex side Billericay Town. Currently there is no player who has filled his boots, but the team as a whole has managed 43 goals in in 28 games so aren’t struggling to score.
Header photo from Aldershot Town FC