National Premier Playoff Preview
With the league campaign now over, attention turns to the playoffs in the three National Leagues and the new format's debut. Macclesfield Town secured the one automatic promotion place to the Football League this season. Which of the six sides in the mix will join them in League Two for the 2018/19 campaign? Here is a look at all six candidates.
National Premier winners Macclesfield Town are promoted. So are the National North and South winners. The next six sides in each division compete in the playoffs for the right to move up one tier.
The new format sees 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 sides playing off to face them.
Tranmere Rovers – 2nd
The preseason favourites have been there or thereabouts all season but fell just short to the surprise package in this campaign, Macclesfield Town. Rovers lost their final two games but had won eight of their previous nine. Like Stockport County in the National North, they have a huge following for this level of football. That could be the difference maker.
In this format, finishing second or third is doubly important, as it guarantees home advantage in the one-off semifinal for the right to go to Wembley. Rovers also finished second in the division last year before losing the playoff final at Wembley 3-1 to Forest Green.
In Andy Cook, they have the league's top scorer. His 26 goals make Tranmere the bookies' favourite to join League Two.
Sutton United – 3rd
Sutton made the headlines last season when they reached the FA Cup fifth round before losing at home 2-0 to Arsenal. This was their second campaign at this level. Fair to say they have made an impact.
In early April, the Yellows were in the mix for the automatic promotion place before a five-game winless streak dropped them off the pace. When it mattered most, they picked up crucial wins in their last two games against Ebbsfleet and Aldershot, securing third place. As fate would have it, their victims are paired off in one quarterfinal.
Sutton play on an artificial pitch, which will give them a huge advantage in the semifinal. It may cause them problems if they do win promotion. In the Football League, 3G pitches are outlawed. It will cost the club a pretty penny to convert to natural turf.
(3) Boreham Wood v AFC Fylde (7)
The division finished very tight. Only two points separated fourth from eighth. Boreham Wood have been on the up this season, finishing just above that cluster. It was their highest finish in the football ladder. This season also was the first time they have beaten a Football League side in the FA Cup. Blackpool were the victims.
Fylde are also improving. They won the National North last season. The Coasters have everything in place for the Football League. They've done well to secure a playoff spot in their first season at this level but owner David Haythornthwaite's eyes are much higher. The team must fancy its chances for back-to-back promotions.
The clubs played both league fixtures before the new year. Boreham came away with four points.
(5) Aldershot v Ebbsfleet (6)
Aldershot would have finished third if they had won at Sutton on Saturday. Defeat forces them to win an extra game to earn promotion back to League Two. Their six-year spell in the division ended in 2013. They have remained in non-league's top flight since. The Shots competed in the playoffs last season, also after finishing fifth, but lost to Tranmere.
Like Fylde, Ebbsfleet are hoping for back-to-back promotions. They won National South playoffs 12 months ago. The Fleet have never sailed Football League waters. Like many of the historical smaller sides in the division they are a club on the up, and there's a first time for everything.
That said, Ebbsfleet failed to score against Aldershot in their two matches this season, picking up just a point.
All the money will be on Tranmere Rovers. They were in this position last year but couldn't get over the line. The rest other clubs are all on the rise. They have momentum on their side. Fylde are the top scorers in the division but anyone can win in the playoffs.