Preview | Northern Premier League play-off race

By James Gordon

With just over three weeks left of the season in the Northern Premier League, the race for the play-offs is heating up.

With current leaders Radcliffe needing just four points from their final four games to confirm top spot and a place in the National League North, the question now is who will earn the opportunity to join them in the league above.

We've taken a closer look at each team battling for a top-five spot, and their run-in between now and the end of the season.

Warrington Rylands - Current Position: 2nd - P36 PTS 69

Warrington Rylands are one of only two sides that can still mathematically catch Radcliffe at the top, although it would require Boro to lose each of their last four (or draw one and hope for a 21 goal difference swing).

Whilst this remains unlikely, it puts them in the driving seat for home advantage in the play-offs, albeit they boast an impressive unbeaten record away from the Hive Arena in the league this season - picking up eight wins and 10 draws.

On paper, their remaining fixtures seem difficult. However, they’re unbeaten in their last six, including a 2-0 win on Easter Monday against fourth-placed Marine, so they’re hitting form at just the right time.

Remaining Fixtures:

Guiseley (A) - 6/4/24 (Current Position: 8th)
Lancaster City (H) - 13/4/24 (Current Position: 9th)
Worksop Town (A) - 20/4/24 (Current Position: 7th)
Ilkeston Town (H) - 27/4/24 (Current Position: 12th)

Macclesfield - Current Position: 3rd - P 35 PTS 68

Macclesfield have been busy with FA Trophy commitments throughout the season and have their semi-final at National League play-off chasers Gateshead this coming Saturday.

This ultimately leaves Michael Clegg's side with a busy schedule as the season comes to a close, with five games in 19 days.

With a seven-point gap on to sixth already, five straight league wins ahead of their FA Trophy semi and a run-in that sees them face teams in the bottom half, it should only be a matter of time before they confirm a place in the top five.

Remaining Fixtures:

Bamber Bridge (A) - 9/4/24 (Current Position: 16th)
Basford United (A) - 13/4/24 (Current Position: 18th)
Atherton Collieries (A) - 16/4/24 (Current Position: 21st)
Workington (H) - 20/4/24 (Current Position: 15th)
Whitby Town (A) - 27/4/24 (Current Position: 11th)

Marine - Current Position: 4th - P36 PTS 64

The race gets tighter from fourth downwards, with six points currently separating 4th-8th. As it stands, Marine hold fourth for now.

The Mariners haven’t had many problems dealing with sides below them. Their 2024 league record stands at nine wins, one draw and four losses, with three of those losses coming against the three sides directly above them, all away from home.

They’ll be eager to confirm a play-off place before the final day though, as they travel to Ashton United, one of the sides looking to overtake them.

Remaining Fixtures:

Morpeth Town (H) - 6/4/24 (Current Position: 13th)
Workington (A) - 13/4/24 (Current Position: 15th)
Atherton Collieries (H) - 20/4/24 (Current Position: 21st)
Ashton United (A) - 27/4/24 (Current Position: 6th)

Hyde United - Current Position: 5th - P37 PTS 61

Due to Marske United’s removal from the division, Hyde United finish their season a week before everyone else.

Whilst they currently occupy the final play-off position, the three teams immediately below could all leapfrog them if they collect four points across their two games in hand.

With no league wins in four, and two in their last nine, the Tigers will be hopeful that they can turn their form around and leave the chasing pack needing something from the final day on April 27.

Remaining Fixtures:

FC United of Manchester (H) - 6/4/24 (Current Position: 14th)
Gainsborough Trinity (A) - 13/4/24 (Current Position: 10th)
Matlock Town (H) - 20/4/24 (Current Position: 17th)

Ashton United - Current Position: 6th - P35 PTS 61

Ashton United are a side in great form, winning six of the last seven, and they put five past Radcliffe at the Neuven Stadium just a few weeks ago.

With a favourable fixture list up until a final-day clash with Marine, and games in hand, there’s no reason why the Robins can’t soar into the top five before the end of the season.

Remaining Fixtures:

Bamber Bridge (A) - 6/4/24 (Current Position: 16th)
Matlock Town (H) - 9/4/24 (Current Position: 17th)
Ilkeston Town (H) - 13/4/24 (Current Position: 12th)
Stafford Rangers (A) - 20/4/24 (Current Position: 19th)
Marine (H) - 27/4/24 (Current Position: 4th)

Worksop Town - Current Position: 7th - P35 PTS 58

Worksop Town have had a turbulent 2024 after heading into the new year third in the table.

They’ve shown their quality in patches during the second half of the season, defeating Macclesfield and Hyde United and drawing to Radcliffe, but defeats against the likes of Basford United and Bamber Bridge have slowed their promotion hopes down ever-so-slightly.

With a huge game next Tuesday against eighth-placed Guiseley, winning that would place them in good stead for the final two weeks of the season.

Remaining Fixtures:

Workington (H) - 6/4/24 (Current Position: 15th)
Guiseley (A) - 9/4/24 (Current Position: 8th)
Morpeth Town (A) - 13/4/24 (Current Position: 13th)
Warrington Rylands (H) - 20/4/24 (Current Position: 2nd)
Atherton Collieries (A) - 27/4/24 (Current Position: 21st)

Guiseley - Current Position: 8th - P35 PTS 58

Guiseley are looking to build momentum under club captain and caretaker manager Liam Tongue after Andy Welsh parted company with the Lions following their 3-2 defeat at home to Lancaster City last time out.

The next two fixtures could make or break their season, with two huge home games against sides who are also battling for the top five.

With three defeats in their last four league games, they will be looking for positive results in the next week to keep their play-off hopes alive.

Remaining Fixtures:

Warrington Rylands (H) - 6/4/24 (Current Position: 2nd)
Worksop Town (H) - 9/4/24 (Current Position: 7th)
Matlock Town (A) - 13/4/24 (Current Position: 17th)
FC United of Manchester (H) - 20/4/24 (Current Position: 14th)
Workington (A) - 27/4/24 (Current Position: 15th)

Lancaster City - Current Position: 9th - P37 PTS 56

Lancaster City are another side that only have three games remaining due to Marske’s exit from the division.

Their play-off hopes are slim, but maximum points in their final three could see them sneak into fifth.

After two 3-2 wins over the Easter weekend, Chris Wilcock's Dolly Blues will be looking to kick on, starting with a huge game against 10th-placed Gainsborough Trinity tomorrow.

Remaining Fixtures:

Gainsborough Trinity (H) - 6/4/24 (Current Position: 10th)
Warrington Rylands (A) - 13/4/24 (Current Position: 2nd)
FC United of Manchester (A) - 27/4/24 (Current Position: 14th)

Gainsborough Trinity - Current Position: 10th - P35 PTS 53

Given Gainsborough were 17th and only four points above the relegation zone on Boxing Day, the fact they even have an outside chance of finishing in the top five come the end of the season is a credit to recent form of Russ Wilcox’s side.

The Holy Blues have won 10 out of 13 league games this calendar year, including victories over Worksop, Guiseley and Warrington Rylands.

They’ll most likely need to aim for as close to maximum points as possible in their final five games, with their run-in starting with a massive game at Lancaster this Saturday.

Remaining Fixtures:

Lancaster City (A) - 6/4/24 (Current Position: 9th)
Hyde United (H) - 13/4/24 (Current Position: 5th)
Matlock Town (A) - 16/4/24 (Current Position: 17th)
Bradford (Park Avenue) (A) - 20/4/24 (Current Position: 20th)
Radcliffe (H) - 27/4/24 (Current Position: 1st)

Photo credit: Darren Murphy

Where next?

The NPL Show - Monthly Review The Permutations are in, all 4 Divisions are discussed along with the FA Trophy Tie
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