Spotlight on the title run-ins
We are nigh on three quarter’s of the way through the season now and the runners and riders are becoming clear across the three NWCFL divisions. As we hit this key marker, we take a look at the three clubs leading the way at the moment and what their respective run-ins are like.
City of Liverpool still lead the way in the Premier Division and at the time of writing are eight points clear of a resurgent Bootle and twelve clear of Congleton, whom after a great start seem to be dropping back a bit.
The Purps’ at one point were fourteen clear of the pack, however with multiple cup appearances and a heavy fixture load, that lead has been pegged back a wee bit. Recent league defeats in succession to Silsden at home and away at Runcorn Town haven’t helped, but with the top spot comes a certain amount of pressure and the Purps seem perfectly capable to deal with it.
With ten games remaining, four of those are at home which includes games against Ashton Athletic on 23/2, Barnoldswick 16/3, Hanley 23/3 and Padiham 20/04. They away fixtures though look particularly tough with Charnock Richard and Remyca on successive weekends in early March. April looks just as tough with games at Whitchurch Alport, Irlam and what could be a title decider “away” at Bootle! To be fair, Bootle are leading the charge after a disappointing start and that game would easily be a decider for Bootle to win it. At Counties Podcast we have discussed a late runner, there always seems go be one teammate the end that goes on a run but we just cannot see it at the moment.
Looking at Division One North, there are two clear front-runners in the form of Longridge Town who have 69 points from 28 games and Avro who have 60 points from 25 games. The best of the rest are Lower Breck (55 pts from 28) and AFC Liverpool (53 pts from 27) and any late challenge is likely to come from the Liverpool based clubs.
Longridge have been solid all season, a +71 goal difference tells a tale in itself, they have had some great scoring games, an 8-1 win at home to Daisy Hill in January springs to mind, as does a 7-2 win over Ashton Town in October and of course they thumped Holker on their own pitch 11-2. They know where the goal is and looking at their run-in they face Carlisle City and Avro in successive games at the end of this month with a game against AFC Liverpool a week later. They then have games against Lower Breck and Garstang to follow in April so the stage is set for a dramatic finale.
Avro, like Longridge Town have been consistent all season. They have had plenty of good solid wins netting seven in the process but they have just been one step behind Longridge by way of an odd defeat here and there and a few draws. Their run-in is arguably a bit easier than their fellow title challengers, trips to Garstang and Longridge seem to be the toughest asks for them and that in our reckoning will likely take the title run -in down to the last fortnight.
Exciting stuff, and an interesting footnote at Step 5, the bottom two sides will be relegated to Step 6, if there are any spaces available in Step 5 after this then the remaining Step 6 runner-up will be promoted. 28 promotion places in total mean s that the nine best runners up with the best points-per-game averages across the 19 step 6 divisions will be promoted. Longridge stands at 2.500 and Avro’s is 2.375 meaning that from Division One North there is a strong possibility of seeing two sides promoted if current form stays the same.
Division One South is a complete melting pot of promotion candidates. In our opinion anyone from Rylands in top on 60 points from 27 games to 5th place Abbey Hulton on 53 points from 28 games could be classed as title contenders and a good argument can be made for the next 3-4 clubs to be outsiders but still in with a shout.
It will be interesting to see how D1 South pans out, it really is too close to call as all of the clubs challenging largely face each other in the run-in. Vauxhall Motors have been solid of late and Mick McGraa’s team seem to have found their feet at just the right time, topping the form table with some eye catching results. Rylands have six of their nine remaining league games at home so they are also likely to finish really strong as they have been solid at Gorsey Lane.
As a result of the division being so tight, the benefits Avro and Longridge Town have with the potential additional promotion place is unlikely to apply as the points per game average of the leading clubs put them out of the leading nine bracket by affair distance.
It’s all go in all of the divisions, even though a couple look set for a couple horse race, they’re all there to be won and with the temperatures starting to mellow the stage is set for a big finish.
As for the potential relegation situations, we will look at that in another article.