Is The National League Relegation Battle Going Down To The Wire? – Opinion

The battle to survive in the National League is beginning to heat up. With just under two months of the season remaining and around 10 games to play for, it promises to be a thrilling race for those watching on from a neutral point of view but little left on the fingernails for those at the sharp end.

Getting to 50 points has always been considered the benchmark total to staying up. However, this year that figure appears to be too small with 10 games the average for most still to play. Just six points separates Southend United in 12th place down to Kidderminster Harriers in 22nd spot.

While Oxford City look like they have too much to do, currently 10 points behind the next nearest club and running out of games, the other three spots are wide open. It’s not unfeasible to think that Hartlepool United in 10th place on 47 points could still get dragged into the fight.

Only Maidenhead United and Dorking Wanderers have yet to gamble on a managerial change within the bottom seven clubs, neither you could actually see happening before the summer.

Woking looked to be heading to the National League South but four points from their last two matches have pulled themselves to within reach of those closest. However, Michael Doyle’s team probably need a minimum of five wins to give themselves a chance of surviving, a tall order from 10 games and a struggle to find the net averaging a shade over one goal per game.

Before Phil Brown arrived at Aggborough Stadium, Kidderminster looked like joining Oxford City in an immediate return to Step 2. Four wins in a row have suddenly put the bounce back into the Harriers and in turn set the alarm bells ringing around other clubs. A setback of two games without a win has turned around again with successive victories and put them back on course.

The latest club to try and engineer a new manager bounce are York City. Having dispensed with the services of Neal Ardley a week ago and appointing Worthing FC boss Adam Hinshelwood some 48 hours later, City are one of three clubs in that bottom area in need of some fast results.

Four games without a win under Ardley was extended to five at the weekend, Hinshelwood’s first game in charge resulting in a 3-2 defeat to fellow strugglers Wealdstone.

That win was the Stones first under David Noble, a new manager bounce which hasn’t gotten off the floor yet and the second of the three clubs who need to fast change their form. Wealdstone are, however, the only side with multiple games in hand on the others with most coming at their Grosvenor Vale home. That could be the difference in them retaining their National League status if the amount of games to play don’t catch up on their part-time status.

The other side in need of sharp results are Maidenhead United. One win in their last five games has seen them plummet down the table while others pick up the results they need. Every year the Magpies are one of the favourites to go down, mostly based on being one of the very few clubs that aren’t full time. <any cite their ‘luck’ has to run out at some point but Alan Devonshire finds a way every season to keep them in this division, another avenue needs to sought out fast.

AFC Fylde, like Kidderminster, were another club who look dead and buried until a change of fortunes under new manager Chris Beech saw them rattle off five wins in a row, including a stunning 5-0 win at play-off chasing Aldershot Town three weeks ago. While a three game streak without a win saw them slip a little, they were back to winning ways at the weekend against fellow strugglers Maidenhead, keeping their heads above the water line.

So far, the club to really reap the rewards of getting a new man in the dugout are Ebbsfleet United. Under Danny Searle they are unbeaten under his charge. Four wins and two draws have lifted a side, who many thought would be the division’s dark horses, but have flattered to deceive for a majority of the year.

However, they are only five points off the bottom four and can’t let up with their form. One loss could send them back down into bigger trouble, it’s a relentless time.

Southend United were in danger a few weeks ago but a four match unbeaten run has lifted them a little clear. Like Ebbsfleet, they have to keep picking up points to stay away from trouble and are seven points away from that 52 point marker.

In between those two clubs are three others who also need to keep winning. Rochdale, Dagenham & Redbridge, and Boreham Wood will still have an eye looking over their shoulder but the knowledge that three more wins should be enough for them to relax and be assured of the place in the National League for next season.

Even Hartlepool and Eastleigh will acknowledge that they still have more to do without being dragged back down into the mire. Both clubs have also changed managers during the course of the season and like those just below them, three more wins from their nine remaining games would see both clubs in the safe zone.

With most of these sides capable of beating each other, it’s set for a thrilling last few weeks for those who watch from afar. Some will feel they have a better run in than others, some will feel they have to make the most of their home games to survive.

Writer’s View

There is too much for Oxford City to do to claw their way back and it’s an instant return for the Hoops to Step 2. Just two weeks ago, Woking looked nailed on to join them, and while they’ve shown some signs of recovery, I can’t see them getting away with it.

The last two places are harder to call, it’s going to be all about who holds their nerve. There is so little room for error, almost as little as less then 1% and with a lot of the teams needing to pick up points from each other, it really is squeaky-bum time.

Momentum is with Ebbsfleet and Southend United, those two are likely to pull clear. Games in hand for Dorking and Wealdstone should see them ok, although it’s a step too far for AFC Fylde, Maidenhead and Woking. Kidderminster to survive by the skin of their teeth.

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