Cambridge United defeated Gosport Borough 4-0 in the FA Trophy Final last Sunday, and the U’s manager Richard Money hopes that success at Wembley will inspire his team to go on and clinch promotion from the Skrill Premier.
A brace of goals from Ryan Donaldson, in addition to Ryan Bird’s opener and Luke Berry’s late penalty, allowed Cambridge to win the competition for the first time in their history at the expense of Skrill South strugglers Gosport.
Despite leading the standings for much of the season, Cambridge’s league form has been far from consistent since the turn of the year. After winning just two of their last ten matches the U’s are now 14 points behind table-toppers Luton Town, albeit with a game in hand.
However, they do still hold a six point cushion on sixth placed Barnet and the Cambridge boss is confident of retaining a place in the end of season play-offs and securing a second trip to Wembley come the end of the season.
“We will only know in May if this will act as a springboard but we certainly hope it will,” Money told BBC Sport. “Every experience can only be good. We have to feed off this experience and grow from here.
“We know there is a lot of work to do,” he added. “We do not think the play-off place is secured and know there is still a lot of hard work to do. We want to get in there as quickly as we can. If we can get in there and go to Wembley again, then this will only help.”
Skrill Premier: Top
Luton Town still sit comfortably atop the league table, despite seeing their 27-game unbeaten run come to a shock end at home to Woking last week.
It was a deserved victory for the Cards, who dominate long spells of the game – particularly in the first-half – before Giuseppe Sole’s late tap-in condemned the Hatters to just their third league defeat of the season.
John Still’s side returned to winning ways the following weekend, defeating relegation threatened Chester 3-0 to end a run of three matches without success. All the goals came in the final twenty minutes, but strikes from Matt Robinson, Andre Gray and Paul Benson eventually proved more than enough.
Luton’s current lead at the top of the table stands at 14 points, although second-place Cambridge United have got a game in hand. Regardless of other results, six wins from their final nine games will guarantee Town the title and a return to the football league.
Cambridge are hardly in inspiring form, having belatedly ended a run of one win in nine with a 2-1 victory over Welling earlier this month. In fact, they have only retained second place due to Alfreton Town being deducted three points for fielding an ineligible player at Kidderminster on 14th December.
The Reds, who have won their last three league games, remain third, two points behind Cambridge having played two games more. Nuneaton Town and Grimsby Town complete the top five at this stage, although games in hand are likely to play a huge part in determining the eventual play-off participants.
For example, only six points separates fourth place Nuneaton with twelfth place Braintree, who have five games in hand. In fact, seventeenth place Woking are only nine points off a play-off place, and it seems quite possible for anyone from the Cards upwards to still sneak into the top five with a strong finish to the season.
Realistically though, Cambridge, Alfreton and Grimsby – who have multiple games in hand on many of the teams around them – are likely to take three of those four slots. Barnet, Gateshead, Kidderminster Harriers and a resurgent Forest Green Rovers are all within two points of the top five at this stage, and it would be foolish to rule out the likes of Halifax, Salisbury City and Braintree Town who have all enjoyed excellent seasons thus far.
Skrill Premier: Bottom
Bottom of the table Hyde finally had their relegation to Skrill North confirmed earlier this month, following a 3-0 loss to Alfreton – their 30th league defeat of the season.
The Tigers, who were promoted from the division as Champions at the end of the 2011-12 season have still only managed ten points all year, and have so far conceded 101 goals in 39 fixtures. Their only remaining ambition for the remainder of the season is to avoid the record low points tally for the division – 18, set by Leigh RMI in 2004-05.
Barring a spectacular collapse from a side higher up the league table, it will then be three teams out of a possible six who will join Hyde in relegation, with the other seventeen teams all past the infamous ’50-point safety barrier’. Tamworth are currently propping up that list, eight points from safety, and look the most likely team to drop out of the division next. They have lost eight out of their last ten games, with a 1-0 win over Aldershot and a 1-1 draw with Welling providing their only respite.
Despite just two defeats in ten games, Dartford are still in the relegation zone and are three points from safety. A 2-0 win over Hyde ended a run of four games without success for Tony Burman’s side last weekend, and breathed new life into their survival chase.
Aldershot Town are just a point better off and complete the bottom four at this stage. A 2-0 win over Chester earlier this month is the only win for them in their last ten games.
Chester are the team just above the danger line at this stage, although they’ve picked up just one point in their last four games, after a run of five matches unbeaten. Hereford United are two points better off, but have managed just three draws and seven defeats since Martin Foyle won the January Manager of the Month award. The Bulls have replaced him with Peter Beadle, the former Newport County boss, until the end of the season.
Southport are level on points with Hereford, but are in the best form of any of the endangered teams having won four and drawn two of their last eight games. Defeats to in-form Woking and Forest Green Rovers represent there only blips in that run.
Elsewhere in Non-League
Four consecutive defeats have seemingly ended Bromley’s title aspirations. At the start of March the Lilywhites looked certainties for automatic promotion from Skrill South, but losses to Sutton United (4-2), Chelmsford (3-1), Dover (4-0) and Farnborough (2-1) have seen second-place Eastleigh close the gap at the top of the table to just a single point, while the Spitfires also still have two games in hand.
Third place Sutton United, who have won seven and drawn three of their last ten games, have also come into play as title outsiders – they are currently six points behind the leaders with a game in hand.
Ebbsfleet United and Dover Athletic currently complete the top five, with Bath City and Eastbourne Borough also in pursuit of a play-off place.
At the bottom of the table, FA Trophy finalists Gosport Borough have won three of their last five games to haul themselves back to within two points of safety. The relegation places are completed by Maidenhead United, who trail Gosport on goal difference, and Dorchester Town, who are two points further back.
AFC Telford currently top Skrill North, and look to be closing in on an instant return to the Skrill Premier. Telford have won their last seven games, overtaking second place North Ferriby United last weekend, after they suffered a surprise 1-0 defeat to Guiseley.
Hednesford Town, Altringham and Harrogate Town complete the play-off places at this stage, although only three points separates fifth place Harrogate with the four teams below them: Boston United, Solihull Moors, Brackley Town and Guiseley.
Workington and Oxford City remain deep in a relegation battle, having occupied two of the bottom three league positions for much of the season. They are currently joined in the bottom three by Histon, who are without a win in their last ten league games.
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