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Preview: The National League playoffs

The play-offs are on. Finally, the National League gave the go ahead for them and the chance for one of six teams to win promotion to League Two for the 2020-21 season.

The season was eventually decided on a PPG basis which meant most clubs kept their original position in the final standings bar a few changes.

The biggest change of them all coming with Barnet moving from 11th to 7th and a play-off date with Yeovil. The stoppage of the league meant The Bees climbed above Stockport, Solihull, Woking, and Hartlepool due to points-per game.

The format for the play-off will be in its third year. The winner of 4th vs 7th will 3rd and the winner of 5th vs 6th will play 2nd. Winner of the semi-finals goes to Wembley.

Tranmere and Salford have prevailed over the past two seasons with them finishing 2nd and 3rd respectively.

So, with the dates and fixtures sorted, let’s go through the runners and riders and see where they stand.

Harrogate Town

Position: 2nd

Top scorer: Jack Muldoon (13)

This will be Harrogate’s second season in the National League play-offs and with most of the squad still at Wetherby Road from last season, they will know what’s needed to get over the line.

Unlike last season, they will not need to go through the play-off quarter-finals as they finished runners-up behind Barrow, meaning they will compete in the semi-finals and will have to win one game to get to the final instead of two.

Town will feel they could have caught Barrow having been only four points behind The Bluebirds before the season was cancelled with the two still having to play each other at Wetherby Road.

Harrogate will have home advantage for the play-off and the stats are in their favour, having picked up 40 points from 19 games at home. 61% of Town’s points came at home and they will be looking to use that to their advantage when they host either Boreham Wood or Halifax Town on July 25th. In fact, Harrogate have only lost one home game since the start of September.

Jack Muldoon was top scorer for Simon Weaver’s side with 13. He has usually been partnered with one of Jon Stead or Mark Beck. The ever-dangerous Brendon Kiernan hit 7 goals during the campaign and was ever present throughout the season on the wing. Midfield pairing Jack Emmett and club captain Josh Falkingham were also regulars during the season and will most likely keep their partnership for the play-offs.

They have also been able to retain loan trio Alex Bradley, Jack Diamond and Kian Harriott. Scott Brown returns from Warrington Town.

Connor Hall and Will Smith formed an effective central partnership, even if they did end up conceding more than Notts, Boreham Wood and Barnet. Smith himself, played more minutes in the league than any other Harrogate player.

Their expansive style has helped them no end this season and they have done brilliantly, but with a squad short on numbers, do they have the depth needed? They recently had to say no to a friendly against Celtic due to risk of injuries as they only manager Simon Weaver said the squad only had four defenders.

Harrogate’s record against the rest of the play-off teams

Notts: L
Yeovil: WW
Wood: DL
Halifax: WD
Barnet: W
Record is W4 D2 L2. 14 points from a possible 24.

Notts County

Position: 3rd

Top scorer: Kyle Wootton (13)

Notts’ first season in non-league in football has been built on steady progress and stability on and off the pitch. Financial troubles over the summer meant players and staff were paid late until, in late July, Christoffer and Alexander Reedtz bought the club. Within days, wages had been paid and the transfer embargo lifted. Notts only started signing players 3 days before the season began, meaning they were pretty much a month and a half behind everyone. After an expected slow start, due to the number of signings and time needed for the playing style to get going, Neal Ardley’s side picked up form in September and ascended into an assault on the National League play-offs.

A blip of form in November was turned around and from December onwards, Notts were statistically the best team in the league, picking up more points than any other team. They also kept the most clean sheets and conceded the least goals during that time too. Top scorer Kyle Wootton signed permanently in January and Notts also captured Blyth Spartans ace Cal Roberts who would go on to become a fan favourite very quickly.

Kristian Dennis and Wes Thomas also hit double figures whilst Enzio Boldewijn (who scored 7) and the experienced Michael Doyle were both key parts in Notts’ push for promotion. Doyle himself has already been through five play-off campaigns with other clubs (3 with Sheffield United and 1 each with Portsmouth and Coventry City). Another part of Notts’ good season was a solid defensive record. Alex Lacey and Connell Rawlinson formed a solid defensive partnership. In the 10 games they started together from December onwards, Notts only conceded 5 goals, with 7 clean sheets being kept during that time.

Before the main part of the season was cancelled, Notts were on the best run of form of any team in the last six games, and they will hope to pick up where they left off.

Notts’ record against the rest of the play-off teams

Harrogate: W
Yeovil: L
Wood: WD
Halifax: WW
Barnet: L
Record is W4 D1 L2. 13 points from a possible 21

Yeovil Town

Position: 4th

Top scorer: Rhys Murphy (17)

Yeovil, like Notts, had takeover issues to sort out, but they also got their problems sorted out behind the scenes and the feel good factor from that translated to on pitch performances with The Glovers hovering in the top three for a chunk of the season.

Sarll’s side started slowly but soon burst into life with seven wins in a row that took them into the top three and they were hot on the heels of Bromley and then Barrow but, when presented with a chance to take top spot, they didn’t take it. They were ever-present in the top 7 all season, but their inconsistency from the Christmas period onwards caught up to them and they finished in 4th. They won only 3 of their last 10 games, drawing and losing four.

Rhys Murphy was the standout player for Darren Sarll’s side, netting 17 goals whilst strike partner Courtney Duffus scored 13. Lee Collins and Luke Wilkinson were regulars in central defence as was the experienced Carl Dickinson at left-back. Charlie Lee led The Glovers in midfield and played more minutes in the league than any other Yeovil player (2,569 minutes played). Myles Hippolyte was a dangerous source of attacking intent from the wing, contributing five goals and being ever present during the campaign.

Sarll’s side play a pressing style and they attack in numbers which can leave them exposed at the back on occasions. Murphy is a devious goal poacher and can be hard to mark. Duffus also popped up with his share of goals, meaning the pair were responsible for almost half of Yeovil’s goals.

Yeovil’s record against the rest of the play-off teams

Harrogate: LL
Notts: W
Wood: DL
Halifax: WW
Barnet: L
Record is W3, D1, L4. 10 points from a possible 21

Boreham Wood

Position: 5th

Top scorer: Kabongo Tshimanga (18)

This is Boreham Wood’s second appearance in three seasons in the National League play-offs, having fallen at the final hurdle in their last appearance, losing 2-1 to Tranmere at Wembley in 2018. They will have to go through the quarter finals again, as they did in 2018.

Luke Garrard should be praised for the job done with a limited budget. Wood recruited smartly and steadily progressed throughout the season, being very well drilled and organised but being intelligent in possession as well.

Wood started slowly, winning only two of their first nine games and after 18 games they were 14th, although only 4 points off a play-off place. After this however, Luke Garrard’s side didn’t look back and lost only one of their last 19 games which included a 15-match unbeaten run between late October and late February.

Kabongo Tshimanga and Tyrone Marsh formed a superb partnership up front scoring 32 goals between them (18 for Tshimanga and 14 for Marsh). This accounted for 58 percent of Boreham Wood’s goals. Femi Ilesanmi, Tom Champion and Kane Smith were all regulars in defence and Ilesanmi was only second in minutes played behind Tshimanga. Sorba Thomas also shone showing his potential.

Boreham Wood’s record against the rest of the play-off teams
Harrogate: DW
Notts: LD
Yeovil: DW
Halifax: W
Barnet: DD
Record is W3 D5 L1. 14 points from a possible 27

Halifax Town

Position: 6th

Top scorer: Liam McAlinden (10)

Halifax were pre-season relegation favourites but with a small budget and small squad, they defied the odds and Pete Wild guided The Shaymen into the play-offs, which they were a constant part of throughout the campaign.

Throughout the first month of the season, they would trade the lead of the National League with Woking and Bromley and they would win 7 of their first 9 games. They would stay in the promotion race from then on but hit a bad patch of form between early October and late December where they would win only 1 game in 11, losing six and going winless at home in 6 games (five home games in the winless run and 1 game in September).

Pete Wild’s side turned this around in the new year with an unbeaten run of 7 games and moving them up to 3rd but 3 defeats in their last 4 meant they finished 6th before seasons end.

Liam McAlinden would be top scorer with 10 goals but would leave for Stockport in January. Devante Rodney would be another key asset for Town with his pace and agility and would score four goals in eight appearances in his loan spell in the second half of the season. However, Rodney recently joined Port Vale and will not be available for the play-offs. Cameron King was a creative spark in midfield during the season and scored 6 goals in 31 appearances. Nathan Clarke, Matty Brown, Josh Staunton and Niall Maher form the backbone of the team with Clarke and Brown in central defence and Staunton and Maher in central midfield.

In the 2019-20 season, Halifax’s away form was the worst out of the play-off contenders and that is something they will have to get right quickly as they will need to win two away games to reach Wembley. Pete Wild has done a good job to get The Shaymen into the play-offs. Can they do it despite being unfancied?

Halifax’s record against the rest of the play-off teams

Harrogate: LD
Notts: LL
Yeovil: LL
Wood: L
Barnet: WD
Record is W1 D2 L6. 5 points from a possible 27


Position: 11th (7th on PPG)

Top scorer: Simeon Akinola (15)

Barnet snuck into the National League play-offs on points-per-game. The Bees were originally 11th when the season was curtailed but had played 4 less games than 7th placed Stockport, and so jumped above The Hatters, Solihull, Hartlepool, and Woking.

Darren Currie’s side started relatively strongly, picking up 19 points from the opening 10 games. However, between September 21st and November 23rd, a run of 2 wins in 12 which included 7 losses left them in 16th place. They would turn this around through the Winter and New Year and The Bees would lose only 1 of their last 13 games, winning seven. They were left with several games in hand after string of postponements but their good end to the season kept them in play-off contention.

Simeon Akinola top scored with 15 and was a constant menace to 5th tier defences. Ephron Mason-Clark and Josh Walker showed their potential through the season, with the former scoring four and the latter scoring eight goals.

Ricardo Santos and Callum Reynolds were the regular starting pairing in central defence whilst Scott Loach played more minutes than other Bees player. Wesley Fonguck was a key player in Barnet’s season, making runs from midfield to support the attack and showing good agility and footwork to retain possession of the ball when Barnet were pressing.

Barnet’s record against the rest of the play-off teams

Harrogate: L
Notts: W
Yeovil: W
Wood: DD
Halifax: LD

Record is W2 D3 L2. 9 points from a possible 21

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