With the league campaign now over, four teams enter the playoffs this week hoping to join league champions Curzon Ashton in the Evo Stik Premier next season. Below I’ve just got a quick rundown of the four sides before the two semi-finals on Tuesday and Wednesday. The odds given are from BetVictor
Warrington Town v Bamber Bridge
Darlington v Ramsbottom United
Darlington – Second place, Promotion odds – 10/11
Before the season started myself and the majority of Darlington fans would have settled for a place in the playoffs, in a division which was virtually unknown to any of us. A couple of months ago we still had faint hopes of catching Curzon Ashton, but I am more than happy to see us finish second and guarantee home advance in the playoffs.
We have had good and bad spells throughout the season, but have finished strongly winning six games in a row before the weekends defeat at home to Burscough in which the majority of the first team were rested. For virtually the whole campaign we have been in a playoff spot without ever really threatening to win the league.
The majority of players in the squad have been involved in high pressure games for us before, which should stand them in good stead. Having had a small squad for a lot of the season we have been able to strengthen in recent months and will have options on the bench for the playoffs if we are struggling. As much as we do rely on Stephen Thompson at times, he has proved time and time again he can turn it on when we need him to and I think how we will do, could well boil down to if he has one of his on/off days.
Our record against the other top sides is ok, but not great. We were able to beat both Warrington Town and Bamber Bridge home and away. However the side we meet in the semi-final, Ramsbottom United, beat us home and away, 3-0 and 1-0. The game at Heritage Park saw them play us off the park for the majority of the game, although it was in the middle of our worst run of the season.
Hopefully for the Quakers anyway, manager Martin Gray will get his tactics right on Wednesday and we can progress to the final.
Warrington Town – Third Place, Promotion odds – 5/2
Warrington are known for having a physical presence and it has proved very effective for them. They have been in the top three for the whole campaign and until the final month or so looked like they could stop Curzon Ashton from winning the league.
They went on a long unbeaten run in the first half of the season which lasted for seventeen games and they have recently regained some form, winning four of their five games in April, the one defeat coming at Ramsbottom.
In Ciaran Kilheeney and Ben Wharton they have two threats, who have scored 36 league goals between them.
Their two games against their semi-final opponents Bamber Bridge , saw them pick up four points as they won 3-0 away from home before drawing 1-1, however both games were before Christmas.
I did not attend either of Darlo’s games with Warrington, however they saw two good wins for the Quakers, 2-0 at Heritage Park and a 4-1 win in the reverse fixture.
Bamber Bridge – Fourth Place, Promotion odds – 9/2
Bamber Bridge have been in and around the playoffs for the majority of the league campaign and a good final few months saw them seal a playoff spot with a game to spare. In their last eleven league games they only lost once, a defeat away to Northwich Victoria and earlier in the campaign they had an eleven game unbeaten run which spread from October to December.
They have scored the fewest goals and have the worst goal difference of the sides in the playoffs, but still managed to scored 81 goals. 22 of those came from club top scorer Alistair Waddecar who will have to be on form for Bamber to win promotion.
Darlo’s trip to Bamber early in the season saw us win 3-0, before a 1-0 victory at home just before Christmas.
Ramsbottom United – Fifth Place, Promotion odds – 9/1
Ramsbottom story is arguably the most intriguing of the four playoff sides. They started the campaign in awful form as they only picked up four points from their opening seven games which saw them in the relegation zone. Their eighth game was the 3-0 victory over Darlington and this sparked them into life as they went on a fantastic run to push them into promotion contention. From October to January, Rammy only lost one league game, a 2-1 defeat to Bamber Bridge and in the whole of the campaign since October they have only lost four times in the league.
They were able to make the playoffs despite a three point deduction in the second half of the season for fielding an ineligible player.
Rammy are the league’s top scorers with a quite incredible 112 goals from their 42 games, but at same time they have conceded 57 goals, more than any of the other top five sides. They have the league’s top scorer, Lee Gaskell, who has netted 29 times this season, as well as Phillip Dean who has scored 19 goals.
As always with the playoffs it is a bit of a lottery and the odds given by the bookies aren’t that accurate in my opinion. However through my black and white tinted glasses, I think Darlington will gain promotion.
I expect Wednesday to be a very tough game against one of the most impressive sides we have seen at Heritage Park this season. However now in much better form I am confident we can get through.
The first semi should also be a tight affair, but I fancy Warrington to be too strong for Bamber Bridge.