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Teams prepare for final stretch
Tuesday 3rd April 2018 @ 11:46 by Mark Phillip
Football Sports

With four more weekends left of the 2017/18 campaign, the season is unquestionably at the business end and for two of our local teams there are strong hopes, if not expectations, of promotion and for one of them a real aspiration of title honours.

Up at Hurst Cross, Ashton United are arguably over-achieving significantly. With only two Clubs in the Division having smaller average crowds, resources are not plentiful, yet with eight games to go the Robins are well placed for a play-off spot, and that for the fourth time in five seasons. Jody Banim has been in charge at Hurst Cross for the last 20 months, and after a start when he saw the squad vastly changed after the departure of Paul Phillips and Steve Halford to Stalybridge he has rebuilt the team and it’s now looking as though another five wins will see them extend their season. They will be looking to get back to the form of a month or so ago. The last couple of weeks have seen them pick up only four points from four games, and following the postponement of Monday’s derby at Stalybridge they have to fit in the eight games in a maximum of 26 days. Two of these are against their local rivals, with the game at Bower Fold, at the time of writing, having been re-arranged for Tuesday, (3/4). Added to these they have home encounters with Whitby; Stafford and Nantwich with trips scheduled to Halesowen; Matlock and Workington.

Monday’s programme was decimated by the weather although Warrington got a point and Grantham overcame Shaw Lane. After those games Warrington; Grantham; Ashton and Witton Albion were in the play off places. The title is Altrincham’s to lose, as they have a five point advantage, but their form in recent weeks has been patchy. In reality it is really only Warrington who will catch them but Grantham will still hold out hopes. The one thing is certain is that Ashton’s play-off hopes are in their own hands. It is difficult to set a target to aim for, other than to maximise the points haul, with every side at the top facing the same eight games in less than three weeks. History over the last three years says that around 80 points is required for the play-offs. If that is the case then Jody Banim will be looking for a minimum of five wins from the last eight games.

The other outcome on Monday in the Evostik Premier was the relegation for Sutton Coldfield meaning that Stalybridge can breathe easily knowing that they will stay in the Division.

Down in Evostik Division 1 North it has been three horse race all year with Hyde; South Shields and Scarborough leading the way almost since Day 1. The Tigers have had a great season which has built on the consolidation in 2016/17, following a dismal three years which saw relegation each time. Hyde, playing Droylsden, saw the only action in the whole Division on Monday, proving yet again that 3G surfaces are the future for non league teams, not only to get games on but act as a community asset and generate revenue. Hyde came into the game on the back of a draw at Bamber Bridge and a disappointing loss at Trafford. The 2-1 victory over the Bloods left the Tigers 2nd in the table, equal on points with leaders South Shields, but realistically the one point from two games last week means that the they now hoping that Scarborough slip up. The Seadogs are five points adrift of Hyde but with two games in hand.

Normally, only one side is promoted automatically with another one going up through the play-offs. However, with the shake-up of the pyramid from 2018/19, and the creation of another division at Step 3, (Evostik Premier equivalent), there are two automatic places, plus a play off place. The interesting thing here is that another automatic place goes to the team with the best ‘points per game’ ratio from the 6 Divisions at Step 4. These are Evostik North and South, (the Northern Premier League); Evostik East and West, (the Southern League) and the Bostik North and South, (the Isthmian League). As of Monday evening Hyde’s ‘point per games’ ratio was 2.17. Of the 3rd placed clubs in the other divisions, only Beaconsfield, (2.09), from the Evostik East and Greenwich Borough, (2.02), from the Bostik South even approached the Tigers record.

The one thing that is certain is that Hyde are now in the play-offs as a bare minimum. No side below 6th place can match their current 78 points. South Shields may look the favourites for the title with a three game advantage over Hyde, and 5 points and a game better off then Scarborough. However, the title race is not over yet – South Shields have nine games in 24 days starting on Thursday and Scarborough have eight matches in the same time. Hyde only have the six games so this may be a telling factor. Darren Kelly will know that winning all six will bring them very close to the title. If that proves to be impossible then another 9 points will see them no lower than third. They will obviously be hoping for more! As runners-up automatic promotion is theirs. Finishing 3rd means that the ‘points per game’ calculation will come into play – and given where the Tigers stood on Monday evening with regard to that they can have great hopes of achieving an automatic return to Step 3, and with it not only the return of the traditional Christmas and Easter derbies with Stalybridge but also the beginning of a climb back up the league ladder.

By Martin Frost