Non-League: Round-Up

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Title Race

Luton Town, unbeaten since mid-September are now top the Skrill Premier table by five points, although long-term leaders Cambridge United do have three games in hand.

The Hatters extended their unbeaten league run to 19 matches earlier this month, although their run of seven straight victories did come to an end with a 0-0 draw at Lincoln City.

John Still’s team were in fearsome form over the holiday period, a factor particularly evident as they dispatched playoff chasing Kidderminster Harriers 6-0 at Kenilworth Road, with Luke Guttridge and Jake Howells both netting two goals apiece.

Due to the various postponements and cancellations common over this period of the season, the U’s are yet to kick a ball in the Skrill Premier in 2014. Nonetheless, they will be disappointed to have lost top spot for the first time since late August.

Playoff Places

A run of five straight victories saw Alfreton Town climb into third place, three points adrift of Cambridge having played four games more.

The Reds fine run came to an end last time out when they were beaten 1-0 by Barnet. However, victories home and away against last year’s FA Trophy winners, Wrexham, and further successes against Kidderminster, Dartford and Southport have given cause for Nicky Law’s side to be revered as serious playoff contenders.

Grimsby Town remain fourth, despite only having managed to complete as many fixtures as Cambridge. Their sole taste of league action in 2014 brought about a 1-1 draw with Lincoln City. In fact, the Mariners have only won two of their last five games, having also been held to a draw by Welling and lost against Macclesfield.

They currently sit five points behind Alfreton. Two points further back, three teams set level on 42, with only goal difference determining the occupier of the final playoff place as things stand.

That team is FC Halifax who, despite having played more games than their nearest challengers – Barnet and Kidderminster – have deeply impressed in their first season in this division.

Perhaps crucially, they have been inconsistent of late, winning just won of their last four games, and losing last time out against relegation threatened Tamworth.

Playoff Chasers

Both Barnet and Kidderminster Harriers have been in and around the playoff places for much of the season, but neither has been able to produce the form necessary to keep pace with the likes of Luton and Cambridge.

In fact, neither side has managed more than six points from their last five league fixtures. The Bees suffered three straight defeats: home and away against league leaders Luton and against Salisbury (all by the score of 2-1), sandwiched between victories over Hyde and Alfreton.

Steve Burr has been able to do little to address his Harriers’ miserable league form, which can be traced back to Burr turning down the manager’s job at Forest Green Rovers in November.

Kidderminster has lost four of their last five league matches, including that 6-0 mauling against Luton. Further defeats preceded that against Woking, Alfreton and Grimsby – with a 2-1 victory over Hereford acting as their sole success since mid-November.

The poor form of those above them has opened the door for the likes of Gateshead, Nuneaton Town, Salisbury City, Braintree Town and Macclesfield Town, who are all within four points of the top five. Of those, the Silkmen have perhaps been the most impressive, with four straight victories propelling them from a relegation battle into a promotion chase.

Relegation Battle

Bottom of the table Hyde have fared little better in 2014 than they did in 2013, losing both their first two matches of the year, against Macclesfield (3-0), and Gateshead (4-0), taking their tally to 23 defeats for the year.

Second bottom Dartford are faring little better, having lost their last ten games. Although they remain 15 points ahead of the Tigers, they are now seven points adrift of safety.

Perennial strugglers Chester also remain stranded in the bottom four. While they continue to pick up points – having lost only two of their last nine games – they are still struggling to convert draws into wins. The last of their four victories thus far this season came back in early November.

Tamworth completes the relegation places, although they ended a run of five games without a win last time out, when they defeated Halifax 2-0.

Aldershot Town and Southport are only one and two points respectively outside of the bottom four, however both are in decent form. The Shots have won four of their last six games, while the Sandgrounders have only lost one of their last four matches.

FA Cup

Kidderminster Harriers and Macclesfield Town ensured there would be a non-league presence in the fourth round of the FA Cup draw, although both will have to emerge victorious from their respective replays if they are to earn their spots in the final 32 of the competition.

Harriers put their struggling league form to one side as they held League One Peterborough United to a highly respectable goalless draw at Aggborough. If Steve Burr’s side can find a way past the Posh at London Road, they know the reward will be a trip to the Stadium of Light and Premier League Sunderland.

Macclesfield are no strangers to the fourth round, and will reach it for a third year in succession if they can pull of a surprise at Hillsborough and defeat Championship strugglers Sheffield Wednesday.

The first match between the two sides ended 1-1 at Moss Rose, with Steve Williams cancelling out Reda Johnson’s opener for the Owls. If the non-league side do advance they will face a winnable tie at Rochdale in round four. 

It’s been a week of good news for the Silkmen, who have endured well-publicised financial troubles since their fall out of the football league a little over 18 months ago. In addition to the funds generated by their cup run, Macclesfield are now in talks with potential buyers about a possible takeover.

Associate director Andy Scott said: "We've had two or three tentative inquiries, one of which looks quite promising."

He added that despite their cup success the club was in "serious trouble financially" and it was a "miracle" it had survived this long, as it had £500,000 of debt back in May.

Back to matters on the field however, and the final non-league side in the third round, Grimsby Town were unfortunately not so lucky, as they suffered late heartbreak against Wednesday’s fellow Championship side, Huddersfield Town.

The Mariners led twice, first through Ross Hannah, and then thanks to Craig Disley, who cancelled out Oliver Norwood’s equaliser. But the Terriers levelled for a second time when Martin Paterson netted from close range, before a stoppage time own goal from Aswad Thomas proved the difference.

Elsewhere in Non-League

Bromley remain top of Skrill South, with nine wins in their last ten games maintaining their ten point advantage over pre-season favourites Eastleigh, who do still have two games in hand.

It looks very much a two horse race for the title, with third place Ebbsfleet United and fourth place Bishop’s Stortford both a further nine points back. Sutton United complete the playoff places at this stage, although sixth place Eastbourne Borough are currently only missing out on goal difference, while both Bath City and Staines Town are within one win of the top five.

An ever-changing top five are still only separated by five points in Skrill North, with North Ferriby United currently leading the way from AFC Telford United on goal difference.

Altringham and Solihull Moors are both within one win of top spot, while Hednesford Town complete the playoff places. Both Brackley Town and Boston United are less than three points adrift of the top five, while a special mention goes to eighth place Colwyn Bay, only four points adrift of the playoffs after narrowly escaping relegation last season.

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