Another season in the Vanarama National League North drew to a dramatic close, with teams battling it out to either stave off relegation or secure a Play Off place right up until the final day.
The title race was won by AFC Fylde, who stormed to the title with a 3-0 win away at Boston on the penultimate day of the season, scoring 109 goals on their road to the National League. Joining them are FC Halifax Town, who won the Play Offs after an exciting encounter with Chorley at The Shay.
First Five Matches
It was a lightning start to the season in the first five matches, with no less than six teams reaching double figures in points, five of which were unbeaten, with recently promoted Darlington leading the pack after only dropping two points from their opening five matches, showing that the momentum was clearly on their side. FC Halifax Town and Kidderminster Harriers were keen to get back up to the National League after relegation and also made bright starts to their season, as well as another promoted team in Salford City, Harrogate Town and AFC Fylde. At the bottom of the table were Nuneaton Town and Worcester City, who both had failed to win any of their opening five fixtures, drawing one and two out of those respectively, leaving The Boro bottom of the table. Mid-table consisted of teams such as Alfreton and Gloucester City, who despite big wins, found it tough to keep up a good run of form in their opening fixtures.
Approaching the Midway point
As the teams approached the busy Christmas period, the table was starting to take shape and it was clear to see where most of the teams would be challenging for. At the halfway point, runaway leaders Fylde had 50 points from 21 games, losing only once in the first half of the season and were already looking like potential champions. Kidderminster, Chorley, Tamworth and Darlington were occupying the Play Off berths, but Salford and Stockport County were very close behind. At the other end of the table, Altrincham were having a disastrous season, picking up only seven points from their first 20 matches. Joining them in the relegation zone were Stalybridge Celtic, who were also having trouble picking up points early on and Bradford Park Avenue, who were not struggling as badly as the bottom two, being only one point outside of the relegation zone and picking up key wins, such as one at home to Brackley Town.
The Last Few Weeks
The first divisional movement of the season came on April Fools Day, when a 2-1 loss away at Salford proved to be no joke for Altrincham who as a result were the first team to be relegated, with Stalybridge joining them on the penultimate match of the season. At the other end of the table, the Play Off picture was taking shape with Kidderminster, Darlington, Salford, Chorley, FC Halifax, and Stockport all sitting either in or within touching distance of the Play Offs going into the final day. A 3-0 win at Boston United gave Fylde the title and promotion to the National League with a game to spare.
The Final Day
With the title already won by Fylde, the last day saw Darlington, Salford, Chorley and Stockport all competing for the last two spots in the Play Offs, with Stockport only able to finish in the last play off spot if results went their way. Despite a loss for Darlington, Chorley’s loss to FC Halifax saw the Quakers and Salford secure their places in the play offs, as Stockport also drew, which ended their hopes. At the bottom, Gainsborough and Worcester were battling to stay in the division, with Trinity sitting one point above their relegation rivals. Worcester’s loss to champions Fylde, combined with Gainsborough’s loss at FC United confirmed the relegation of John Snape and Danny Jackman’s side, who subsequently announced they would be competing in the Midland League at Step Five due to operating costs.
The Play Offs
Due to an issue with Darlington’s Blackwell Meadows ground, their application to be promoted was denied by the FA and they were unable to compete in the Play Offs. 6th placed Chorley took their place and faced Kidderminster in the Semi Finals, with FC Halifax and Salford competing in the other Semi Final. Chorley defeated Kidderminster 2-1 over the two legs, with a 2-0 win at Aggborough to overturn a 1-0 home defeat. FC Halifax and Salford played out two 1-1 draws and had to be separated by a penalty shootout at The Shay, which the Yorkshire side won 3-0 to secure their place in the final and the home advantage in said final. The final was a dramatic affair that saw the Shaymen win 2-1 after Extra Time, despite strong chances from both sides in a truly end to end affair. This result saw Halifax secure an immediate return back to the National League in 2017/18 joining champions Fylde.