Title Race: Cambridge United and Luton Town are now in a two-way fight for the Skrill Premier title, after consecutive defeats for third place Kidderminster Harriers left them well adrift of the runaway leaders.
The U’s returned to league action for the first time in over two weeks – due to FA Cup and Trophy commitments – with a comfortable 3-0 victory over Macclesfield Town. Kwesi Appiah scored twice as Richard Money’s side maintained their 100% home record, before Josh Gillies grabbed a late third.
Meanwhile, the Hatters made it three straight league victories, as they thumped playoff chasing Alfreton Town 5-0, in what was only the Reds second home league defeat of the season.
Andre Gray (2), Paul Benson and Luke Guttridge gave the visitors a four goal advantage within 18 minutes, and although Alex Lawless’ strike mid-way through the second-half proved the only further score, the game was in truth over after a little over a quarter of an hour.
The Harriers have now picked up just seven points out of a possible fifteen, in a run that can be dated back to manager Steve Burr being given permission to speak to Forest Green Rovers in late October.
While Burr turned down the opportunity of becoming FGR’s new boss, the saga has clearly left a mark on his team who, despite a couple of impressive FA Cup performances, have struggled in the league ever since.
Both Woking and Alfreton have taken advantage in recent weeks. Scott Rendell scored the only goal as the Harriers fell to a 1-0 defeat at Kingfield, before Nicky Law’s side scored a 3-1 win at Aggborough Stadium.
Nuneaton Town’s four consecutive victories has them sitting in fourth place, level on points with third place Kidderminster, and nine adrift of league leaders Cambridge.
In a run that has also included three clean sheets, the Borough’s twelve points out of twelve has propelled them back into the top five after a mid-season dip in form.
Two points further back and still with two games in hand on their rivals are Grimsby Town, who despite only being in the playoff places on goal difference, will likely move into third place once caught up on fixtures. They were however, held last time out, when they drew 1-1 with Welling United.
Alfreton’s bizarrely inconsistent season continued as they responded to a 3-0 defeat to Nuneaton and a 5-0 loss to Luton by beating Kidderminster.
Only Cambridge have won more league games than the Reds this season, but with just one draw and ten losses to their name, they really are an all or nothing team. Only four teams (Luton, Kidderminster, Halifax and Forest Green) have scored more league goals than Alfreton while only Dartford and Hyde have conceded more.
Conversely, seventh place Barnet may have lost fewer games than three of the current playoff teams, but nine draws has prevented them from pushing on further. Edgar Davids’ side have lost just one of their last ten, but have only won four of the remaining nine games, including the last two, home and away against Dartford.
Braintree Town, Gateshead and Halifax are also within one win of the top five. All three are perhaps exceeding expectations at this stage of the season, with some of the more favoured side’s at the start of the season, such as Wrexham, Forest Green and Lincoln, all below them.
Thankfully for Hyde, they’ve had a break from league action – not playing since mid-November – and have perhaps been able to focus elsewhere, rather than on their terrible run of form. Eighteen defeats from 21 games and no victories have left the Tigers 17 points adrift of safety.
Dartford (18 points), Chester (19), Aldershot Town (19), Tamworth (20) and Southport (21) are the other teams currently most in danger. Of those teams, only the Shots have managed victory since the 12th November, with Woking – who had been amongst that mix until recently – winning four games out of five to move up to 17th place.
Only three non-league teams are still standing in the FA Cup: Kidderminster Harriers, who will host League One Peterborough in round three, Macclesfield Town, who will entertain Championship side Sheffield Wednesday, and Grimsby Town, who will also welcome Championship opposition in the form of Huddersfield Town.
In round two, Kidderminster defeated last year’s Skrill Premier playoff winners: Newport County, by four goals to two, Macclesfield saw off Skrill North high-flyers Brackley Town 3-2, in the only all non-league match-up, and Grimsby beat League Two strugglers Northampton Town 2-0.
Elsewhere, the competition’s lowest ranked side still remaining – Stourbridge – were beaten 4-0 by Stevenage Borough, while none of the four TV sides produced the shocks that were hoped for, with Cambridge United, Tamworth, Wrexham and Salisbury City losing out to Sheffield United (2-0), Bristol City (2-1), Oxford United (2-1) and Port Vale (4-1).
The draw for the last 16 of the competition has been made. It’s thrown up one particularly intriguing tie: Cambridge against Luton, as the two top ranked sides in the competition clash, while other stand-out matches include Aldershot against Guiseley and Lincoln against North Ferriby United, who dispatched Woking 4-0 in the last round.
Elsewhere in Non-League
Bromley continue to brush aside all opposition in the Skrill South, and the minnows now have a shock ten point lead over heavy favourites Eastleigh, admittedly having played two games more.
The Lillywhites, who finished four points clear of the relegation places last season, have won their last seven matches – the latest of which was a 1-0 victory over Basingstoke Town. They have also scored a commendable 42 goals in just 18 games, while conceding only 12.
Eastbourne Borough, Sutton United and Ebbsfleet United currently occupy the three remaining playoff places, although seventh places Bishop’s Stortford can move up to third if they win their games in hand. However, they are without a win in their last three outings.
At the bottom, Dorchester Town, Maidenhead United, Gosport Borough and Boreham Wood have all accumulated just 15 points from their games so far, with newly promoted Whitehawk just a point better off. Gosport also has two games in hand.
North Ferriby United remain atop the Skrill North, but only on scored goals, with second placed Brackley Town breathing down their necks. It’s also worth noting that third place Hednesford Town, just a point further back, have a game in hand on their rivals. Solihull Moors and Telford occupy the two remaining playoff places at this stage, with both within a win of top spot.
Barrow, relegated from the Skrill Premier last season, are now rock bottom of their new division – with just two wins from their seventeen games. Workington and Worcester City sit in the two remaining relegation spots.
In step three, Hemel Hempstead currently lead the Southern Premier, a point clear of Chesham, AFC Hornchurch, relegated from Skrill South last season, top the Ryman Isthmian Premier, with Wealdstone and Kingstonian in close pursuit, and in the Evo-Stik Premier, Skelmersdale United are in first place, but they are likely to be overtaken by Chorley, who have three games in hand.
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