Vanarama National League North
Gloucester City v NFU
(at Cheltenham Town FC)
Saturday 23 April 2016
Kick-off 3.00 pm
Second-placed Ferriby travel to Cheltenham to play Gloucester City on Saturday. It is the first of two long trips in four days for The Villagers who go to Lowestoft on Tuesday.
Ferriby are two points ahead of AFC Fylde and five in front of Harrogate who play each other on spot. Depending on the result from that game and Ferriby’s result at Gloucester, The Villagers could end the day confirmed as runners-up.
Ferriby are almost certainly going to finish. second or third and this will give them the advantage of playing the play-off semi-final second-leg at home. Their opponents will be one from Fylde, Harrogate, Boston United or Nuneaton Town.
Gloucester are not mathematically safe of staying up and they will be eager for three points on Saturday to ensure safety. They are currently in 17th position, four points ahead of the final relegation spot. Corby and Hednesford are already relegated so there is only one relegation spot available. It is likely to be filled by either Brackley or Lowestoft but desperation and nerves can create unexpected results, especially in a division where everybody can beat everybody else.
Gloucester have found goals hard to come by this season. Their total of 35 is the lowest in the division. However, they have one of the best defensive records with just 46 goals concede. That total is only one fwer than Ferriby and two fewer than champions Solihull.
Goals have been in short supply at home with just 17 scored and 21 conceded. Ferriby may well have to be patient on Saturday against side that has won six and drawn five of its 20 home games. Gloucester have not won in 11 games and suffered a one-nil home loss to promotion-chasing Nuneaton on Tuesday. That is a sequence that Ferriby would like to see Gloucester maintain.
Since then they have put together a good set of results and have climbed out of the relegation zone. They won all five games in March including two against promotion challengers Tamworth and Harrogate. They lost 3-0 to champions Solihull last Saturday and will be looking to bounce back from that by taking at least a point from The Villagers on Saturday.
The reverse fixture back in September saw Ferriby win 3-0. It may not be that comfortable on Saturday.
Ferriby go in to the match with just one defeat in eight games. There is confidence, but not complacency, in the Ferriby dressing-room. It has been another tremendous season for The Villagers who probably have the smallest squad in the division. That puts massive demands on the players and the management duo of Billy Heath and Mark Carroll who have to juggle and nurse players who carry minor injuries.
The Gloucester and Lowestoft fixtures illustrate the demands that are made on semi-professional footballers. Each game will involve a door-to-door trip of between probably 12 and 14 hours. It’s a big ask of players who have other jobs. Ferriby’s success over the last four seasons shows the commitment and desire of the players over that time.
With a play-off spot secured, Heath may make some changes on Saturday. Skipper Liam King went off with a hamstring injury in last Saturday’s win over AFC Telford. Even if King is fit, Heath may be tempted to rest him and not risk a re-occurrence ahead of the play-offs. There may be other change to the starting line-ups as Heath gives game time to the players who have been largely on the bench over recent weeks.
As Carroll says,
“Two seasons ago we didn’t claim a play-off spot until the final league game. That meant we had little scope to rest players. This time it is different. We have been under a lot of pressure over the last four years due to our success. That has probably helped everybody become mentally stronger. That could be important in the play-offs.”
“I’ve got to give great credit to the players for all that they have achieved. There is a tremendous spirit throughout the team and this is helped by a good off-the-field team which means that Mark and I can concentrate on the playing side.
“The play-offs are often about momentum so we need to keep ours going until the very end of the season. We are producing solid performances and that is earning us our success.
“Gloucester will be difficult on Saturday. They are well-organised defensively. We will need to be patient and try to break them down. They don’t score many but we must avoid silly mistakes and deny them scoring opportunities.”
Hopefully, with the possible exception of King, Heath should have a full squad to choose from on Saturday
NFU squad: Adam Nicklin, Ben Middleton, Sam Topliss, Josh Wilde, Ash Palmer, Mark Gray, Danny Hone, Liam King, Russ Fry, Adam Bolder, Danny Clarke, Danny Emerton, Ryan Kendall, Curtis