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News From Nowhere – Non League Review, April 2024

Despite the fact is doesn’t seem two minutes since the Christmas decorations were put away, it is, as Flight of the Conchords would say, business time for our non league sides as the season reaches its climax.

Lets just say, as ever, there is plenty to write about.

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We have to start with GATESHEAD, don’t we ? Robbed of one of the best managers in their history in December, they have gathered themselves and arguably improved as the season has gone on. A win over champions Chesterfield this week confirmed a place in the playoffs for the first time in a decade.

A lot of sewage has flown under the bridge since then (hello Cala and Varghese), but a terrific side, with one of the smallest budgets in the league, would grace the Football League. A long way to go before that, especially after a marathon end to the season which has seen 13 games since the start of March, but no one will want to play Rob Elliott’s side in the playoffs.

They are, of course, heading to Wembley already by virtue of a second magnificent FA Trophy run in as many years. The semi final win over Macclesfield won’t be forgotten in a hurry. They head south to meet Solihull Moors on May 11. Good luck from True Faith.

In the NATIONAL LEAGUE, HARTLEPOOL can put a poor season out of its misery this weekend. They have flirted with both the play offs and relegation at various points in the season but will end up close to neither in the lower mid table.

They suffered probably the worst defeat in their history as they were beaten 7-1 by Gateshead, conceding six second-half goals and though that was only a second defeat in the last eight games, Pools fans can’t wait for the relegation hangover to end… a year later.

New Financial Rules – Same Crooked Game

This weekend sees the last round of the NATIONAL LEAGUE NORTH season, and as ever with our clubs, it’s all up in the air, while one sits it out with the cigars.

For BLYTH SPARTANS fans, needing to win on the last day of the season to stay up has become an annual event. They always seem to scrape through, but could this be the year it all catches up with them? They need to equal Farsley Celtic’s result and hope that the goal difference which is keeping them out of the drop zone comes into play. Normally Blyth have been in and around all year, but it’s a late slump (ironically after the takeover hullabaloo) which has dragged them in. They have a tough game against third-placed Brackley, but it’s at Croft park. The Great Escape number 350?

The play off chase will go down to the wire as well. SPENNYMOOR have had a magnificent run of late and their record of one defeat in 15 has put them right in the mix, but a damaging defeat to Aflreton last weekend means it’s out of their hands. They are a point off with a winnable home game to come. SOUTH SHIELDS have a similar scenario. Like Moors they are a point off the play-offs having slid out in midweek. They both have to now hope Boston United slips up.

Six wins from eight should have been enough but the defeat to champions Tamworth left them squirming. Like Moors, they should win at home v Southport.

Good luck and quick recovery to the Shields fans seriously injured when their minibus crashed on the way back from Tamworth. I’m sure the club would happily swap a play-off place for everyone to get well soon.

DARLINGTON have already done their bit with a spectacular turnaround bringing survival, confirmed after a win over Farsley. They looked dead and buried before Steve Watson and Terry Mitchell arrived and since then they have gained 30 points, more than enough to avoid any last day drama.

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BERWICK RANGERS end a disappointing LOWLAND LEAGUE season on Saturday against another ex SPFL league side Albion Rovers. Berwick have known for some time they would finish in lower mid-table and despite giving fans something to smile about with a win over rivals Cowdenbeath, they’ve since lost twice and the season can’t end soon enough in reality.

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In the NORTHERN PREMIER LEAGUE PREMIER DIVISION, MORPETH TOWN have a few games left, but it will be a mid-table finish for the Highwaymen. That’s not to be sniffed at in a tough league. However the season has been ruined by poor away form and it’s six defeats in a row away from Northumberland now. They did hammer play-off chasing Worksop last time out at home, though.

In the EAST DIVISION it’s all to play for with a couple of weeks to go. STOCKTON looked to have run away with the league for most points of the season, but they have got the jitters and it’s now firmly in HEBBURN’s hands.

They still have three games left, with Stockton two. Hebburn lead by a point but with two out of the three at home it’s now hard to see the South Tynesiders slipping up despite the volume of games. Stockton’s undoing could be a shock defeat to bottom of the league Winterton last week which handed promotion on a plate.

DUNSTON will have to settle for a place in the play-offs barring a miracle. They looked like they could have won the league around a month ago, but a combination of the incessant bad weather meant they had to play away from home for months and the harsh fixture list sees them set in third. You can see them being a big danger for whoever loses out in the title race.

For a while, NEWTON AYCLIFFE looked like gaining a fairytale play-off place despite being bottom in October. However, they look like falling at the last hurdle after a couple of damaging defeats, including a heavy one to Dunston. They are a place off the play-off places, but will need a ten goal swing in the one game they have left. It’s unlikely isn’t it?

CONSETT have had a terrible run, and a season which promised much has petered out into mid table obscurity. They’ve only won once since January and that was when an opposition player blasted it off a Consett attacker and it flew in from 30 yards. The luck obviously ended there and then.

ASHINGTON are safe and with ground improvements sorted, they are ok for next year. They are limping over the line with no wins in five, but it’s been up and down all year and the Northumberland Senior Cup semi-final against NUFC now is the priority.

THRU BLACK & WHITE EYES – In The Hunt – 15/Apr/2024

In the NORTHERN LEAGUE DIVISION ONE, we have a couple of weeks to go, and SHILDON going to BISHOP AUCKLAND on Easter Monday and winning blew the title race wide open. However, in the next game, the Railwaymen lost to Guisborough to hand the advantage back, and on Wednesday a win for Bishops at Crook and a defeat for Shildon at Heaton Stannington means it’s a matter of time now before a two blue ribbon is fitted on the trophy.

If Shildon do drop into the play-offs they will do so having scored 120 goals and amassed over 85 points, but it will count for nothing in the season extension. West Auckland, Birtley, and Heaton Stannington all look set for the playoffs, with the last few games a battle to see who gets the home semi final.

This Saturday sees the bottom two face off, as TOW LAW play RCA. The two sides have a combined goal difference of minus 250 but only one goes down, so the Ironworks this weekend may see a desperate battle. Could be tasty. Take a big coat, Sou’wester, and gloves is my advice.

In DIVISION TWO, BLYTH TOWN were confirmed champions last weekend. Thoroughly deserved after a fantastic season when they will almost certainly hit the 100 point and goal barrier. A late season return to form has meant NEWCASTLE BLUE STAR will likely take second and the home semi final in the playoffs. However BEDLINGTON could sneak that and are probably favourites when the play offs do get underway.

EASINGTON should get in, but it’s one from four for the last place. Only two points separate HORDEN, BILLINGHAM SYNTHONIA, CHESTER LE STREET TOWN and YARM AND EAGLESCLIFFE. BRANDON remains rooted to the bottom and a three-point deduction, given this week, will not have helped the situation whatsoever.

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In the NORTHERN ALLIANCE PREMIER DIVISION, which has at least another month to run yet, WALLINGTON have pulled away in the last few weeks and have one hand on the trophy with an 11 point lead with two games in hand. The Scots Gap based side can’t take promotion though, and ALNWICK, with games in hand, should take runners up and the Northern League spot. NORTH SHIELDS ATHLETIC and HEATON STANNINGTON ‘A’ are romping to the titles in DIVISION ONE and TWO but the THIRD DIVISION at least has a title race.

I always like the Northern Alliance for a good players name, and WESTERHOPE lad Zeferino Da Costa Cumbassa Junior certainly provides that, as does FOREST HALL CELTIC’S Prince Daikwo, but taking the prize this month is NEWCASTLE INDEPENDENT’S excellent goalkeeper Udochukwu Ugochukwu.

Look out to see if that name will be beaten and what happens at the season’s end in a bumper end of season review in the summer when we can all calm down, take a breath and probably put sprinklers on bone hard pictures. Yes, people, you couldn’t make it up.

Scott Robson

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