National North Playoff Preview
With the regular league campaign now over, attention turns to the playoffs in the three National Leagues; and the new format for the end of season matches. Here we preview the sides in playoff action in the National North.
Salford City secured the one automatic promotion place to the National Premier this season, but which of the six sides in the mix will join them in the top level of non-league football?
After the league winners, the next six sides will compete in the playoffs, across the National Premier, North and South.
The new format will see all ties take place over a single leg format with the highest placed team in the league having home advantage.
Clubs finishing 2nd and 3rd go straight into the semi-finals with 4th v 7th and 5th v 6th playing off.
2nd place Harrogate
Harrogate Town pushed Salford City all the way into the final weeks. However, they came up just short. With the new format, they certainly have a big advantage missing out on the first set of games - knowing their opponents will only have had a couple of days rest in between.
Whatever your opinions on Harrogate’s 3G pitch, it certainly could play a part for them. The semi-final, and if they get through, the final will be played on their home soil. They finished second for a reason. They are also full time, whereas most teams in the play-offs aren't. That gives them a significant advantage.
3rd place Brackley
Certainly amongst the surprise packages this season, Brackley have been fantastic in both league and cup. The FA Trophy final at Wembley awaits, but the priority, for now, has to be the playoffs. Despite falling away from the top two in the final months, this season has proved another huge step forward for the club. Last year they turned from a bottom half of the table side to playoff contenders and they have gone even better this year. They have the best defensive record in the league and until recently, they had not lost a home game.
Kidderminster 4th v 7th Bradford Park Avenue
In a repeat from the weekend, Harriers host Park Avenue, but the home side may look a lot different this time around. On Saturday Bradford scored two late goals, including a 94th-minute winner to send them into the playoffs at Spennymoor's expense. However, Harriers had nothing to play for. It is set to be a different ball game on Wednesday. Their form has dipped in the final two months, but on their day they are arguably the best footballing side in the league.
Bradford, who had a fantastic first half of the season, looked like they had fallen away as they went on a dreadful run at the start of 2018. However, they won their final five games, including victories against Harrogate and Brackley to seal their spot. They are definitely the form team going into the playoffs.
Stockport 5th v 6th Chorley
County broke the record for the biggest attendance ever in the National North on Saturday when over 6,000 fans watched them draw with Darlington despite nothing riding on the game for either team. They are the side who have come up from the pack after a poor start, with only Harrogate and Salford having picked up more points in the last 20 games. They have the leagues second top scorer in Jason Oswell and with their fans backing them, they should be able to create a fantastic atmosphere on Wednesday night.
Like Stockport and Bradford, Chorley have made a late charge for the playoffs after Spennymoor, York and Blyth fell away. Six wins from their last eight games did the trick. Despite scoring the fewest number of goals of any side in the top 12, they have the second-best defensive record, conceding 18 less than County.
Who will win promotion?
The National North playoffs are set to produce a fantastic end to the season. The new one leg knockout format is sure to add to the drama. Several sides are in fantastic form and a case can be made for all six sides earning promotion.
Harrogate have shown their quality over the season. Although the highest place team doesn’t always win the playoffs, they would be the side to put money on.