Can Yeovil Town win instant promotion back to League Two?
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An immediate return following relegation from the Football League is notoriously difficult. Since the early 90s, only a handful of clubs managed the feat, the last being Cheltenham Town in 2016. Now Yeovil Town are poised to update the list. Can the Gloveers push their instant promotion hopes over the line?
Up and down history
With just over three months to go, promotion races across the country are hotting up, none more so than in the National League. All the top sides hunt one automatic promotion spot to League Two.
Traditionally a non-league FA Cup giant-killer, Yeovil Town raised their profile in the early noughties. In 2003, under the experienced Gary Johnson, they earned a place in the Football League for the first time. Two years later, the Glovers celebrated another promotion, this time to the third tier after becoming League Two champions. Yeovil spent one season in the Championship after a playoff final victory in 2013 before back-to-back relegations returned them to League Two. They scratched and clawed at the cliff's edge for three seasons before finally falling into the non-league abyss last term.
To some surprise, they're still in with a great chance for promotion entering the season's second half. it didn't begin well. Three successive defeats in August piled on the pressure. Darren Sarll's squad responded. Seven straight league wins moved them back into the promotion picture where they've remained.
While the National League champions achieve direct promotion to League Two, the sides finishing second through seventh vie for the other three places. Yeovil are second, three points behind surprise leaders Barrow who also claim two games in hand. The promotion picture is very tight but the top four, comprising Barrow, Yeovil, Harrogate and Bromley enjoy breathing space over the chasing pack.
The man in the hot seat
Following relegation, Huish Park endured a massive turnover in personnel, including Darren Sarll's appointment as manager. While boasting extensive coaching experience in the Football League, Sarll's only previous managerial experience was a two-year spell at Stevenage Borough. Widely praised after a tough early start, he's shown a deft hand with young talent.
As well, he enjoys attacking football. Second top scorers in the league, the Glovers line is led by Rhys Murphy. A non-league veteran who's never quite cracked non-league's glass ceiling, Murphy scored 25 with Chelmsford City in the National South last term. He's bagged 17 in the National Premier in 2019/20.
Over the Christmas period, Yeovil muddled through with mixed results. Their last league game was a goalless draw with fellow promotion hopefuls Solihull Moors. Their victory over Hampton and Richmond on Saturday puts them in the FA Trophy's final 16 with a juicy tie against Notts County. They'll see the Magpies again on the campaign's final day, following a penultimate clash with leaders Barrow. Those two matches may determine their fate.
Experience is on the Glovers' side. Barrow haven’t been in this position for decades. Harrogate and Bromley never tasted Football League action in their histories. Yeovil are certainly well placed to win the title despite Barrow's two-game cushion. Sarll is a young, hungry manager who has them doing the right things at both ends of the pitch. Upon inheriting a club that's only been going one way since their lone season in the Championship, Sarll turned things around remarkably well. With 16 rounds to go, it's on him and Yeovil to put the pressure on the unaccustomed leaders.