The National League is a crazy old division that makes up the fifth tier of English football. So far in the 2017/18 campaign, there has been barely any discernible advantage in playing at home – just 40% of matches have seen a home win, as opposed to 30% ending in victory for the away side, the average goal count per game is 2.57 and some one-in-four National League matches have seen a minimum of four goals!
And so we have to say huge congratulations to John Askey, the Macclesfield Town legend who has guided his first love to promotion back to the football league after six seasons in the non-league wilderness.
Askey, who played over 400 times for the Silkmen, was demoted from the manager’s role to a standard coaching role in 2004, but remained loyal to the cause and was handed his just desserts in 2013 when he was named first team boss once more. Promotion this term was the icing on the cake.
Macclesfield have 88 points and now cannot be caught by the chasing pack, which leaves six play-off places for the rest of the high flyers to target under the new promotion rules that govern the National League.
In short, the teams which finish second and third automatically qualify for the play-offs, while fourth to seventh must battle it out in a qualifying round before they can take their place in the semi-finals.
Convoluted? Yes. An unnecessary change to tradition? Absolutely. But the pressure and uncertainty is great news for punters, with the best betting sites offering plenty of odds on who will ascend to the professional ranks and who must duke it out in non-league for at least another year.
And with stacks of bookmaker sign up offers to take advantage of, we can place our National League promotion wagers without spending a penny of our own hard-earned cash!
The Race for Second and Third
The teams that finish second and third have a huge advantage in that they don’t need to win a qualifying match to take their place in the play-offs, and so naturally they are the bookmakers’ favourites for promotion.
Timing is everything at this point of the campaign, and Tranmere have that in spades. They have won eight of their last nine matches – four of their last five without conceding a goal – and having secured second place in the division they are guaranteed home advantage in their semi-final: W15 D2 L4 at Prenton Park this term gives them all of the confidence they need.
The Merseysiders have another obvious advantage over their rivals: they possess a 46-goal front pair in Andy Cook and James Norwood, and with Connor Jennings and Oliver Norburn providing the ammunition, Tranmere certainly aren’t short of goals. Indeed, they have bludgeoned 76 in just 44 appearances this term.
Micky Mellon’s outfit are the 13/8 favourites with the best betting sites, and you’d certainly have to agree that they have the best chance of promotion from the National League.
The battle for third place is between two teams: Sutton and Aldershot. Tantalisingly, they play each other on Saturday!
Sutton were without a win in five prior to their last outing against Ebbsfleet where they claimed a hard-fought victory, and you wonder if that will give them the confidence they need to complete the job. They are the home team this week and only need to avoid defeat to secure third place, so their promotion odds of 7/2 are justified.
But don’t write off Aldershot. They have kept clean sheets in five of their last eight matches and have an excellent away record this season; they cannot be discounted.
Best of the Rest
The form team heading into the play-offs might well be AFC Fylde, the National League’s top goalscorers who recently have bagged an astonishing 24 times in just ten matches.
But a tepid end to the campaign – a 0-1 loss at Maidstone, followed by a 1-1 draw at home against Solihull – might just sow the seeds of doubt.
Mathematically there are seven teams battling it out for the remaining trio of play-off places, with Dagenham, in eleventh, still capable of finishing inside the top seven if other results go their way.
But the focus has to be on the remaining two teams currently in those all-important play-off places: Borehamwood and Dover.
Borehamwood play some really exciting attacking football, with a trio of pacey frontmen in Angelo Balanta, Bruno Andrade and the returning Morgan Ferrier, who broke the club’s record transfer fee when he re-joined in January. They are in pole position for a play-off berth given that their last game of the season is against Guiseley, who are dead and buried at the bottom of the table and who have conceded eleven goals in their last four outings.
Dover, on the other hand, face a tough trip to Woking, who themselves are fighting for their lives at the other end of the table. Dover’s recent away form? W1 D1 L5. That does not bode well.
Matters are complicated further by the presence of Ebbsfleet and Bromley in eighth and ninth. They both have a game in hand on the sides above them – Ebbsfleet travel to Gateshead, while Bromley host Barrow, both on Tuesday night.
Ebbsfleet made the headlines when they drew eight of their first nine matches of the season, and they have rallied well to lose just one of their last twelve.
Bromley, meanwhile, have won three on the spin, and they will certainly fancy their chances of gate-crashing the play-off places.
When it comes to having a flutter at the best betting sites, often playing the percentages is key – especially in a division as bananas as the National League.
For our money, that’s why Tranmere boast obvious appeal in the National League promotion market. They have a) secured their play-off place already, and b) have guaranteed home advantage. With messrs Cook and Norwood crashing in goals left, right and centre, they will be very tough to beat indeed.
But if you are armed with bookmaker sign up offers and fancy a long-shot bet, how about Bromley at 12/1? They too have plenty of goals in them, and that game in hand could prove all-important come the final shake-up.
Written by Craig Simpkin
A sports journalist with a smorgasbord of experience writing for a variety of publications, Craig is a Leicester fan hoping that England can also achieve the impossible this summer.