Thomas Kelly – @tommyktufc
Tom looks at the clubs who could headed to the National League for 22-23
This article could be completely irrelevant in the next few months should the Gulls manage to find themselves back into the Football League via an unlikely but still achievable play-off finish at the end of the season, however in the event that this season doesn’t end in promotion and Wembley delight, let’s have a look at the state of play currently in League 2 and both the National League North & South Divisions, and investigate potential opponents in the National League for 2022-23.
Clubs involved in the relegation battle – Scunthorpe United, Stevenage FC, Oldham Athletic, Barrow FC.
The situation at the bottom of League 2 looks bleak for Scunthorpe United. Without a win since January, it seems almost certain that “The Iron” will be playing their trade in the National League next season. With six games to go, the Lincolnshire based club are thirteen points from safety with the worst GD in the division. It would be one of the greatest escape stories if they can somehow guide themselves to safety. Set the sat-navs to Glandford Park!
The other dreaded relegation spot will be battled over by Stevenage, Oldham & Barrow with just three points separating Stevenage in 23rd to Barrow (21st) & Oldham (22nd).
Under the leadership of Steve Evans (enough cause in my opinion to be relegated in any instance!), it’s been a difficult season for Reidy (come home sweet prince!) and the rest of the Boro squad. Their form hasn’t improved since Evan’s managerial appointment, and has seen them drop the wrong side of the safety line. Oldham have improved greatly recently, going from looking dead and buried only a few months ago to now finding themselves out of the drop zone albeit playing a game more than Stevenage.
Despite a good FA Cup run, Phil Brown’s Bluebirds have had a difficult season in League 2 and although with a better goal difference compared to the others below them, Barrow will need to rediscover some form if they want to avoid a potential return to the National League. Having been crowned National League champions in 2019/20, they will want to make it a third year in the EFL next season.
Should we remain a National League side next season, I think many will not be relishing a trip to Cumbria (unless you live up North of course!) and having seen Torquay play at Barrow twice (a 4-0 & 2-1 defeat), that is plenty enough for me. Stevenage would represent a shorter journey and Oldham, although a good weekend in Manchester contender for the Yellow Army, would represent another overnight stay for Gary and the squad, whereas you would imagine Stevenage could be organised without the added cost of an overnight stay on the Friday night (every little helps!).
Scunthorpe and Stevenage for me please!
National League North:
Clubs involved for automatic promotion – Brackley Town, Gateshead FC.
In the National League North, having had to re-write this section due to fixtures the other night, the new leaders are Brackley Town, closely followed by Gateshead just a point behind the club based near the Silverstone Race circuit. The race for automatic promotion looks set to go down to the final day between the two “northern” sides, with so much still to play for for many sides in the NLN.
From a Gulls perspective, Brackley would definitely be a much better prospect fixture than the long 760 mile round trip to Gateshead and a new (nicer) ground for us to take in. Despite being placed in the Northern division of step two football, it would be the best result to have one of the most Southern sides from the North to join the National League next season. Expect plenty of twists and turns to come between these two, with 21 points still to play for from now until the end of the season.
Clubs involved for Play-Offs – AFC Fylde, Kidderminster Harriers, Chorley FC, York City, Southport FC. Darlington FC, Kettering Town, Boston United, Hereford FC, Spennymoor Town, Curzon Ashton, Alfreton Town.
The play-off race is almost certain to go to the final day, with clubs such as Curzon Ashton & Alfreton Town in 13th and 14th place respectively, still harbouring aspirations to finish in the play-off places come seasons end, with just six points separating Southport in 7th and Alfreton in 14th place.
With so many play-off contenders, it’s difficult to even gauge at this point who I would fancy playing next season should our play-off charge fall away in the next few games. I do have a soft spot for York City and Kiddy though. Both clubs deserve to be playing at least in the National League next season and I wouldn’t complain if either of those sides earned promotion through the play-offs. Although looking soulless, for those looking to tick a new ground off the list, York’s new ground will fill that void in your life, as well as being a wicked weekender for the Yellow Army. AFC Fylde can stay where they are as far as I’m concerned and I’m fairly certain that their bid to be a Football League side by the end of 2022 will not be achieved under the new management team!
National League South:
Clubs involved in automatic promotion – Maidstone United, Dorking Wanderers.
Finally, some southern representation! The battle for top spot in the National League South currently lies in favour of Kent side Maidstone United. The Stones have had to keep pace with Dorking Wanderers for the majority of the season with the Surrey side having had a very successful rise up the non-league football pyramid. We could have even been facing Dorking in the National League had the decision to void the 20/21 NLS season not been made, with Wanderers occupying top spot prior to curtailment.
However, some poor results have seen the Wanderers fall four points behind Maidstone, despite beating the Stones at home 1-0 at the end of February.
Being biased as a Sussex based Gull, Dorking Wanderers is only an hour from me and would represent a new ground for the Yellow Army and TUFC. Even Maidstone can be a bit of a trek from Devon and our recent history against the Stones is not particularly good! Sadly both sides play on 4G surfaces, a surface we do not play well on most times. With a lot of investment put into Dorking as well, they could challenge for promotion in the National League if they can get the right players in. Pros and cons to both I suppose.
Clubs involved for Play-Offs: Dartford, Eastbourne Borough, Ebbsfleet United, Oxford City, Hungerford Town, Dulwich Hamlet, Chippenham Town, St Albans City, Havant & Waterlooville, Hemel Hemstead Town, Hampton & Richmond Borough, Slough Town.
The battle for the play-offs is like the North, very tightly contested. Currently occupying the rest of the play-off spots lie Dartford, Eastbourne Borough, Ebbsfleet United, Oxford City and Hungerford Town. The race for the play-offs looks set to go all the way with clubs such as Hampton & Richmond Borough (13th) and Slough Town (14th) still close enough points-wise to believe that they can gate crash the end of season play-off fun.
With up to 6th place looking pretty secure, the race for 7th place currently being fought over by eight clubs! Eastbourne Borough have been on a rapid form and have won their last six league fixtures whilst Hungerford have lost their last four games. Hitting form at the right time will set the tone for who is able to finish in that final play-off spot. Like the North, it’s going to go all the way to the end!
As we discovered in our one season in the NLS, despite the league being regionalised, the Gulls still had to put the miles in and with clubs in the rest of the play-off picture currently based in Kent, East Sussex, Kent, Oxfordshire & Berkshire respectively, the likelihood is that the Gulls will be travelling a long way east next season!
I don’t really have a preference in all honesty as to which side goes up via the play-offs in the NLS, however I do have a soft spot for Hampton & Richmond Borough and I do hope that they somehow find their way up into the National League next season. I’m definitely not saying this because I have become close to a Beaver supporting friend in recent months, I promise!!!
Finally a big congratulations to Tim Sills and Hamworthy United on promotion into the Southern League. I was devastated to hear that they fell just short of a Wembley final in the Vase last weekend and on behalf of TorquayTalk, congratulations Tim on what has been a tremendous season for yourself and the club,