Southern League the place for thrills

Photo: Peter Else
Photo: Peter Else

AS the Southern League Premier Division enters its final few weeks, the battle for the title and play-off places is more intense than ever. This makes for some very tense and edgy games. Last weekend, current leaders Poole Town had two men sent off as they earned a 0-0 draw at Hitchin. The Canaries manager, Mark Burke, told the Hertfordshire Mercury that he felt Poole would now win the title, but they face four games in 12 days, one fewer than Kettering, who have three home games in five days as they catch up on the rest of the division.

Kettering are unbeaten in 10 games and face Leamington this evening at home in a real six-pointer. Their manager, Marcus Law, insists that the pressure is on Leamington and believes his team have surprised a few people this season with their impressive sequence of results. “I am not sure many would have expected us to have an outside shot at the title and a good chance of reaching the play-offs,” he told the local media.

The play-off places will almost certainly be undecided until the final round of matches. Until then, the pecking order is likely to change almost daily.

The remaining fixtures for the contenders are:

Poole Town (P 42, Pts 81):  April 12 – Stratford Town – Away; April 16 – Dunstable  – Home; April 19 – Bideford  – Home; April 23 – Cambridge City – Away

Hitchin Town (P44, Pts 78): April 16 – Biggleswade – Away; April 23 – St. Neots – Home

Redditch United (P43, Pts 77): April 16 – Chippenham – Home; April 18 – Kettering – Home; April 23 – Frome – Away

Leamington (P43, Pts 76): April 12 – Kettering  – Away; April 16: Cirencester – Away; April 23 – Hungerford – Home

Kettering (P41, Pts 73): April 12 – Leamington – Home; April 14 – Bedworth – Home; April 16 – Bideford  – Home; April 18 – Redditch – Away; April 23 – Dorchester – Away

Hungerford (P42, Pts 73): April 12 – Kings Lynn – Away; April 16: Frome  – Home; April 19: Histon – Away; April 23: Leamington  – Away

Weymouth (P43, Pts 71): April 16 – Merthyr – Home ; April 19 – Cirencester – Home; April 23 – Chesham – Away

Chippenham (P43, Pts 70) April 14 – Cambridge C – Away; April 16: Redditch – Away; April 23 – Paulton – Home

The front-runners this season reflect, largely, the performance of the clubs in 2014-15. Poole finished runners-up in 2014-15, while Hungerford (4th), Redditch (6th), Weymouth (7th), Hitchin (9th) and Chippenham (11th) filled relatively top positions. Kettering were promoted from a lower division.

The open nature of this season’s Southern League could end with the lowest title-winning points total for some years. The past five years’ record, including the details of play-offs are:

Season Champions Points Play-off range Promoted
2014-15 Corby 94 91-76 Truro – 3rd – 86 points
2013-14 Hemel Hempstd 102 92-84 St. Albans – 4th – 84 points
2012-13 Leamington 95 83-70 Gosport – 5th – 70 points
2011-12 Brackley Town 85 77-72 Oxford City – 2nd – 77 points
2010-11 Truro City 87 83-78 Salisbury – 3rd – 79 points

The exciting finale is starting to draw the crowds, but interestingly, before last weekend, almost all clubs were showing declines in their attendances year-on-year.

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