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National South Playoff Preview

Six clubs will compete in the new National South playoff format aiming to earn a place in the top flight of non league. Pure DFC takes a look at the contenders in this season’s showdown and the build up to the final on Sunday 13th May.

Dartford

The Darts will need to get over their last minute heartbreak quickly, which denied them the championship on goal difference. For a few minutes Dartford were up until champions Havant and Waterlooville cruelly snatched the trophy away with a last minute winner against Concord Rangers. On a positive note, Dartford’s last foray in the National South playoffs ended in promotion six years ago, they have home advantage and they are on the verge of a record breaking run. The Darts ended the campaign with a nine game winning streak and if they win the playoffs will break their club record on ten victories in a row. Finishing the league’s top scorers thanks to the attacking prowess in the early parts of the campaign, the Darts have been solid at the back recently too with six clean sheets in the last eight games.

Player to watch – Alfie Pavey

The National South’s Player of the Year didn’t know where his career was going in the summer. Pavey joined Welling United, but that failed to work out. The 22 year old was picked up by Tony Burman a couple of weeks into the campaign and 23 goals later he finished the second highest goalscorer in the league.

Record vs playoff contenders (W4, D3, L3, F18 A14)

Dartford will be pleased to have avoided Chelmsford City in the semi-final considering the Clarets did the double over the Darts. The Essex club also beat Dartford in last season’s playoff semi-final. At home Dartford took ten points off their playoff rivals out of 15 (W3, D1, L1).

Next fixture

The Darts will be at home in the semi-final on 6th May 2018 against the winners of the Hemel Hempstead Town versus Braintree Town match.

Chelmsford City

Starting the campaign as joint favourites with Dartford, last season’s playoff runners up have been eyeing up the National League for some time now. Since their return to the National South ten years ago, the Clarets have reached the playoffs five times losing two finals, one of those against Hampton and Richmond Borough in 2009 and three semi-finals. Along with St Albans City, the Essex club set the early season pace, but a cluster of draws in September and lack of form in the New Year left Chelmsford City playing catch up. Rod Stringer’s side are the form team heading into the end of season lottery having won seven out of the last eight league matches. With an identical home and away record the Clarets will always be tough opponents whoever they come up against.

Player to watch – Chris Dickson

A former Charlton Athletic striker who made his way through non league with Erith and Belvedere then Dulwich Hamlet. Dickson’s experience could be vital in the playoffs, the 33 year old managed to score 14 times this term for the Clarets.

Record vs playoff contenders (W3, D4, L3, F15, A16)

Chelmsford City will be relishing a chance to make up for their final defeat a year ago. They will have home advantage in the semi-final, only Hampton and Richmond Borough beat then on their own patch. The only team they will face away will be Dartford, if these two make the final and they did the double over the Darts.

Next fixture

The Clarets will be at home in the semi-final on 6th May 2018 against the winners of the Hampton and Richmond Borough versus Truro City match.

Hampton and Richmond Borough

The Beavers were title contenders up until Dartford practically ruled them out on a muddy Good Friday. A last-minute Alfie Pavey goal opened up a gap between the Darts and two draws and a defeat later it was game over. However, they have recovered lately winning two in a row before drawing their final game with Truro City. The Beavers have playoff experience from last season despite finishing seventh, losing to eventual winners Ebbsfleet United in the semi-final. The Middlesex club were only promoted to the National South two years ago as Isthmian Premier League champions and have performed consistently since then. Between the final game of August through to the end of January the Beavers went 21 games unbeaten, including an eight-match winning streak. Alan Dowson’s men will be a force at home where they have lost just once this term.

Player to watch – Max Kretzschmar

A goalscoring midfielder and dead ball specialist, Max Kretzschmar started his career at Wycombe Wanderers where he spent three years before joining Woking. The 24 year old joined Hampton and Richmond Borough in the summer and a sound return of 14 goals from midfield has helped the Beavers finish fourth in the National South.

Record vs playoff contenders (W1, D6, L3, F9, A11)

The Beavers seem to keep games tight against those in the playoff places, but they have managed just one win against Chelmsford City away. Hampton and Richmond Borough drew all five home matches versus teams in the playoffs and whether they win or lose the margin has just been by one.

Next fixture

The Beavers play their first match on Wednesday 2nd May at home to Truro City. If Hampton and Richmond win then they will face Chelmsford City away in the semi-final on Sunday 6th May.

Hemel Hempstead Town

It took until October for Hemel Hempstead Town to get going, the Tudors couldn’t string a sequence together for the first two months and then they went 12 games unbeaten. At one point they topped the table, but that was a very brief moment. The Tudors have been on a solid run during the final stretch of the campaign, the loss against Dartford their only loss in 12 attempts before a final day defeat at Weston-super-Mare. Hemel Hempstead Town have collected the second most points at home this term, seven less than the Darts. Dean Brennan took the Hertfordshire club up four years ago winning the Southern Premier League in style. This season the Tudors have reached a new milestone in setting their highest ever league finish and will take part in the National South playoffs for the first time.

Player to watch – Jordan Parkes

The Tudors seem to be a good fit for Jordan Parkes, now in his second spell for the club. The attacking midfielder scored 42 times in 112 appearances between 2012-2015 before joining Ebbsfleet United. It didn’t quite work out for the 28 year old at Stonebridge Road so he returned to Hemel Hempstead Town where his scoring a goal every other game.

Record vs playoff contenders (W4, D3, L3, F19, A19) 

Hemel Hempstead Town will be pleased to play Braintree Town who they beat twice, they will be keen to avoid Dartford who inflicted two defeats on them. The Tudors won three at home and were involved in some high scoring matches including a 4-3 victory over Braintree Town and a pair of 3-3 draws against Chelmsford City and Truro City respectively.

Next fixture

The Tudors play their first match on Wednesday 2nd May at home to Braintree Town. If Hemel Hempstead Town win then they will face Dartford away in the semi-final on Sunday 6th May.

Braintree Town

Set the task of rebuilding in the summer, Braintree Town boss Brad Quinton hasn’t done a bad job by getting the Iron into the top seven with a final day 3-0 victory versus Gloucester City. The Essex club were relegated last term from the National League, a stark contrast to the campaign before when they lost to Grimsby Town in the playoff semi-final. Braintree Town spent six seasons in the National League often punching above their weight and now they have a shot of returning to the top non-league division after one season. The Iron have been within a shout of promotion all campaign by being amongst the early pace setters before the New Year slump in January and February. Quinton’s side are now another one of the playoff contenders hitting form at the right time winning five of their last six games.

Player to watch – Billy Crook

The Supporters Player of the Year adds to his accolades he won at Enfield Town the season before, whilst under manager Brad Quinton. Another goalscoring midfielder to feature in this season’s playoffs, Billy Crook started as youngster at Crystal Palace and was part of the Glenn Hoddle Academy in Spain.

Record vs playoff contenders (W2, D6, L2, F17, A17)

The Iron drew all four games against the highest ranked teams Dartford and Chelmsford City, they lost twice to their next opponents Hemel Hempstead Town and beat Hampton and Richmond Borough at home and Truro City away. Each game has had no more than a one goal winning margin so expect a tough ride against the Iron.

Next fixture

The Iron play their first match on Wednesday 2nd May at away to Hemel Hempstead Town. If Braintree Town win then they will face Dartford away in the semi-final on Sunday 6th May.

Truro City

The White Tigers had to wait to the final day of the season to book their place in the top seven. A draw with Hampton and Richmond Borough coupled with St Albans City’s defeat got them over the line. It will be the third time in four years the Cornwall club has reached the playoffs, their last attempt to win promotion to the National League ended in a semi-final loss to eventual winners Maidstone United. The campaign before their return to the National South, the White Tigers went up through the playoffs in 2015 from the Southern League they beat St Neots Town 1-0 in the final. Since Lee Hodges returned has manager, Truro City have got back to the level of expectancy. This term has been a vast improvement to the relegation threatened side of last season, however their form in April tailed off but the White Tigers managed to hang on.

Player to watch – Cody Cooke

Popular amongst the fans and players, last season’s Player of the Year top scored for the White Tigers this term. Cody Cooke joined the Cornwall club in 2010 so has been through the ups and downs with Truro City. The 34 year old knows where the goal is and gives his side experience.

Record vs playoff contenders (W3, D4, L3, F15, A16)

Truro City have a better home record than away which is hardly surprising considering the amount of travelling needed. The problem then is that Truro City, the lowest ranked team will have to play their matches away from Treyew Road. So with that in mind they did manage to beat Hemel Hempstead Town on their travels, picked up two draws and lost to the two highest ranked clubs.

Next fixture

The White Tigers play their first match on Wednesday 2nd May at away to Hampton and Richmond Borough. If Truro City win then they will face Chelmsford City away in the semi-final on Sunday 6th May.

 

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