Matt looks at the run-in for the National League title contenders
Hartlepool United (1st, Played 36, Points 67)
After a slightly shaky March when they lost points to King’s Lynn, Eastleigh, Altrincham and FC Halifax, Hartlepool have responded in April with three wins out of four matches. The most recent coming in the form of a 2-7 away thumping of Wealdstone, how much store we can set by that is unclear though, given that Wealdstone now appear to have virtually given up this season having lost by six goals in their previous game.
Hartlepool have been busy in the transfer market in recent days, signing three players. Zaine Francis-Angol has joined after being released by Boreham Wood earlier in the week. The left back is a familiar face to manager Dave Challinor, having worked with him in two previous playoff campaigns. Signing on loan from Fleetwood Town is forward Harvey Saunders, renowned for his “electric pace and calm finishing”. Backup goalkeeper Brad James has also signed on loan from Middlesborough.
With a few potentially tricky fixtures in the form of Chesterfield, who have been busy on the recruitment front themselves, and Sutton at home on the penultimate day of the season, as well as playoff chasing Bromley who have been on a good run lately, Hartlepool’s remaining games aren’t exactly straightforward. Combined with their having played more games than all other teams at the top, I’d favour the likes of Sutton and Torquay for the title at this point.
Manager: Dave Challinor
Richie Bennett: Arrived on loan from Stockport in a somewhat eyebrow-raising decision. Bennett has scored five goals in two games including a hat-trick in Hartlepool’s 7-2 demolition of Wealdstone. He can be recalled at any time though, leaving the Monkey Hanger’s vulnerable.
Gavan Holohan: A veritable goal-machine just lately scoring in four successive matches. He’s coming into form at just the right time.
Zaine Francis-Angol: A marauding left back who has a close understanding with boss Dave Challinor. He’s got bags of experience of end of season promotion pushes and is a powerful player with plenty of pace.
Aldershot Town (a)
Sutton United (h)
✍️We are delighted to announce the loan signing of Harvey Saunders
Despite their recent drop in form, including a rather abject performance against Torquay, Sutton are still well within the hunt for the top spot. They followed up that defeat with an emphatic away win against Altrincham, suggesting that the run of poor form might be over. With Sutton’s fixtures looking comparatively kinder next to Torquay’s, the U’s will need them to slip up still if the positions in the league are to be reversed.
Games against Notts County and Hartlepool jump out as the obvious ones to watch out for, although watch out for Eastleigh. The Spitfires beat Notts County by a goal to nil last time out in a close contest which will have boosted their chances of reaching the playoffs. Sutton travel to Eastleigh this Saturday.
Manager: Matt Gray
Harry Beautyman: Before their 4-0 last time out, Sutton were struggling for goals. As the club’s leading scorer this season with 11 goals in 33 appearances, a lot will be riding on Beautyman to help recapture the form of a few weeks ago.
Dean Bouzanis: One of Sutton’s best players when Torquay played them. The Australian made a series of good saves to prevent the Gulls from being out of sight.
David Ajiboye: He was their only real outlet in the Torquay game but Ajiboye couldn’t make it work with the long balls that were being sent his way. A lively and tricky number 7 who can cause defences real problems.
Just a few weeks ago you’d be forgiven for assuming Torquay’s title challenge had fizzled out. Injuries had taken their toll; the performances were poor, and the results had dried up. However, fortunes have changed dramatically with a series of impressive results and encouraging performances. The most notable being the away win at Sutton last week. With the gap to the top now down to just a point, we’re right back in it.
Can we stay in contention for the title? Our fixture list is the toughest of the top four with all but two remaining games against sides in the top half. A lot will depend on player fitness. In recent weeks we’ve seen the likes of Danny Wright, Kyle Cameron, Dean Moxey and Gary Warren return from injury, however, both Wright and Cameron are now injured again with no certainty over when they’ll be back fit, while Moxey went off against Woking.
What an occasion it’ll be on 22nd May, now less than a month away, if we’re still within touching distance of the title and with fans in the ground to urge the team on.
Manager: Gary Johnson
Ben Whitfield: If he’s back soon then his importance to our promotion push can’t be overstated. It’ll mean some difficult decisions in midfield but to even have the option of bringing him on for the final 20 minutes would be cruel blow to any opposing team in this division.
Danny Wright: It’s no surprise that our form rebounded when Wright returned. His eye for goal, knowledge and experience have proven invaluable. Hopefully the recurrence of his hamstring injury isn’t too bad and he’s back quickly.
Joe Lewis/Sam Sherring: The centre back unit have been rock solid for a while now and have displayed maturity far beyond their years. We’ll need them to be at their best in the face of tough opponents like Stockport, Chesterfield and Notts County.
Notts County (h)
Aldershot Town (h)
Stockport County (a)
🟡 Buy Your Livestream Passes for Notts County
With United facing Notts County in another huge clash at Plainmoor on Saturday, the Yellow Army will once again have access to the best seats in the house, thanks to the Club’s livestreaming service #tufc
Though the furthest from the summit of the table (at time of writing), the Hatters are still more than in with a shout of the title. With owners flushed with cash and obsessed with achieving promotion this season, Stockport are going hard in the final phase of the season. They’ve made eye-catching signings such as the capture of Paddy Madden from Fleetwood Town for a fee believed to be around £250,000, an outrageous sum in the fifth tier. Following him down the M6, young defender Ryan Rydel has also joined from the Cod Army on a permanent basis.
The Hatters face arguably the most generous of run-ins and they would surely be disappointed if they did not manage to pick up at least 15 points from the remaining fixtures. Many Stockport and Torquay fans will have picked out the clash on 15th May as potentially pivotal at the start of the season. The fixture could still prove to be massive as the games wind down. If they aren’t promoted this time, expect another injection of cash in 2021/22 as they look to secure a return to the Football League after a long spell away.
Manager: Simon Rusk
Paddy Madden: The Irishman scored 53 goals in 149 appearances for Fleetwood Town in League 1. Stockport have pushed the boat out for Madden and will be hoping he returns on the investment in the weeks ahead.
John Rooney and Alex Reid: With 15 goals in 31 and 37 appearances respectively, it’s clear why Stockport have been such a threat in front of goal recently. Rooney and Reid are the club’s top scorers. They’re playing King’s Lynn for the second time in two weeks next Tuesday. A repeat of their recent 4-0 victory would do the goal difference tally a power of good.
Boreham Wood (a)
Kings Lynn (a)
FC Halifax Town (a)
Dagenham & Redbridge (h)
Torquay United (h)
Yeovil Town (a)
🔜 It's a trip to Boreham Wood up next for The Hatters tomorrow afternoon…