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National League Review 2016/17

It was another fantastic season in the National league which saw an exciting title race, a spectacular last minute relegation and the battle for the playoffs going down to the final day. But ultimately, it was Lincoln City’s year with the Imps finally making a return to the Football League along with Forest Green, for the first time in the club’s history.

The first five games

Tranmere were the early pace setters, winning all of their first five games, while Sutton and Solihull Moors were surprising many, sitting third and fifth respectively. At the other end of the table, Guiseley got off to a very poor start, not picking up any points for the first seven games of the season. While Braintree, Southport and Woking made up the other three spots.

Almost at the halfway point

By the end of October, it was still Guiseley, North Ferriby, Woking and Southport making up the four relegation spots with North Ferriby and Guiseley being in the most trouble, being on just 10 points after 18 games. At the other end of the table, Forest Green had opened up a four-point gap at the top of the National League ahead of the chasing pack made up of Tranmere, Lincoln City and Dagenham and Redbridge. Barrow, Aldershot and Dover were in a race for the final playoff place.

Nearing the end of the season

With just 11-12 games left for a lot of sides, Lincoln City had the advantage in the four-horse race at the top, being six points clear of Tranmere and Forest Green and a further two points ahead of Dagenham and Redbridge. It was the same three teams battling for that final playoff place, however, Gateshead had also entered the race. Dover, Barrow, Gateshead and Aldershot were all separated by two points in what looked like it was going to be a dramatic finale. The battle for relegation had changed massively as Braintree and Guiseley had clawed themselves six points clear of the relegation zone. As a result, York had slipped into the drop zone and were five points away from survival. Torquay had also fallen into the drop zone but were only two points behind. North Ferriby and Southport were both in the bottom four while Woking and Maidstone both sat just above it, just below Guiseley and Braintree.

The final game

Despite a heavy fixture schedule due to their FA Cup and FA Trophy run, Lincoln City kept up their great form to secure the title and a return to the Football League after a 2-1 victory against Macclesfield. Tranmere were the only ones who put the pressure on Lincoln City but could not catch them after Lincoln’s run of seven wins in seven, meaning Tranmere had to settle for second. Forest Green and Dagenham and Redbridge slipped a long way behind the front two but were able to comfortably secure a playoff place and would play each other in the playoffs.

Gateshead slipped well behind in the race for the final playoff place meaning it was a race out of Barrow, Dover and Aldershot. Dover looked in pole position to claim it, being six points ahead of Barrow and two ahead of Aldershot with a game in hand. However, they picked up just one point in their next three games including a loss to their playoff rivals Aldershot, meaning Aldershot had the advantage going into the final day. It was only a race out of Aldershot and Dover since Barrow were four points behind. Despite Dover winning, Aldershot claimed the spot after a comfortable 2-0 win against Braintree.

At the bottom, North Ferriby and Southport were both relegated before the final game being 11 and 12 points behind respectively. Braintree had to win their final game to stand any chance of survival but after a 2-0 loss at Aldershot, Braintree became the third team relegated. Going into the final game, the two main teams at risk were Guiseley and York although Chester, Woking and Torquay could still mathematically go down. With a minute to go, Guiseley were the side going down as they were losing while York were drawing but a dramatic last minute equaliser for Guiseley sent York down, condemning them to back-to-back relegations.

Playoffs

In the playoffs, Tranmere comfortably won 3-0 away at Aldershot to almost definitely book their spot at Wembley. Meanwhile, it was all to play for in the other playoff game as Dagenham and Redbridge and Forest Green drew their first leg 1-1. In the second leg, despite a bit of a scare Tranmere saw off Aldershot with a 2-2 draw meaning they won 5-2 on aggregate. In the second leg of the other playoff semifinal, two first half goals meant Forest Green beat Dagenham and Redbridge 2-0, 3-1 over the two legs to book their spot at Wembley.

In an exciting final, Woolery put Forest Green 1-0 up after just 12 minutes before Jennings equalised for Tranmere. Then five minutes before half time Doidge scored putting Forest green 2-1 up before Woolery go his second and Forest Green’s third. Tranmere couldn’t find a way back into the game and Forest Green held out and for the first time in their history will be playing in the Football League, joining Lincoln City.

 

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