It was a thrilling season in the National League South, where the title race came down to the wire, controversy in the battle for the playoffs as well as a tight battle to avoid the final relegation spot.
The first nine games
Maidenhead were the early pacesetters, sitting top of the league with seven wins in their first nine. The Magpies were on 22 points and Hampton and Richmond sat just behind them with on 20 points. St Albans, Chelmsford and Poole made up the rest of the play off places. At the other end of the table, Concord Rangers were the only side yet to get their first win as they sat bottom with just three points. Welling surprisingly were also in the bottom three despite being one of the title favourites after relegation last season. Whitehawk also were suprisingly in the bottom three after reaching the playoffs in the previous season.
Halfway through the season
At almost the halfway point, with 20 out of the 42 games played Maidenhead were turning into runaway leaders. The Magpies sat nine points clear of second-place St Albans City with an incredible 49 points and just one loss all season. Good runs from Dartford and Ebbsfleet meant they sat in the play off places along with Hampton and Richmond. Poole had dropped from 5th to 7th, while Chelmsford sat just outside the playoffs in 6th. 2nd and 7th were separated by just five points while there was a six point gap between 7th and 8th. Meaning, effectively, it was just a battle out of the seven already mentioned for promotion.
An awful run from Weston Super Mare meant they sat second from bottom in the relegation zone, just a point ahead of bottom side Bishops Stortford. Welling’s surprisingly awful start continued as they were the final team in the relegation zone. Margate were a point ahead of Welling and Weston Super Mare before a four-point gap between themselves and Concord Rangers.
The last 10 games
An awful run from St Albans meant, in the space of 13 games, they had slipped from 2nd to 9th and 10 points off of the play off places. Meanwhile an incredible run from Ebbsfleet, meant they had caught up with the Magpies and sat just a point behind them. Dartford also enjoyed a very good run and at one time looked as if they had entered the title race but two points in three games meant they had slipped eight points behind the top two but looked in a very good position to finish in the playoffs. Chelmsford also endured a good run as they sat eight points clear of 6th place Hampton and Richmond, while Poole sat five points clear of Hampton and Richmond in the final play off place.
Margate looked doomed for relegation after a 14 game losing run in which they scored just one goal. Thay sat bottom 10 points away from survival. Bishops Stortford also looked in trouble as they were six points away from survival. Meanwhile, good runs from Welling and Weston Super Mare meant they had both clawed themselves out of trouble as they sat 15th and 16th respectively. Gosport Borough was the final team facing the drop as they sat five points away from survival. Whitehawk and Truro were the two teams now sitting just above the drop.
As the season came to a close, neither Maidenhead or Ebbsfleet were going to give up as Maidenhead went on a nine-game winning run. Meanwhile, Ebbsfleet had won seven and drawn two of those games meaning the gap was extended to five points with two games left. In the penultimate game, the two sides met in a game which Ebbsfleet had to win to keep their title hopes alive. Maidenhead took an early lead but Ebbsfleet fought back to win 2-1 and take the title race to the final day. Ebbsfleet got a 1-0 win at home to Oxford City, meaning Maidenhead had to win. Which they did, 3-0 away at relegated Margate meaning the Magpies could celebrate promotion.
Dartford and Chelmsford had both confirmed their play off places comfortably. Meanwhile, the battle for the final spot took many turns but not for reasons on the pitch. The National League had announced to be promoted you must have at least 500 seats in your stadium. Teams such as Poole, Hungerford and Wealdstone did not have this and therefore were not eligible to compete in the playoffs. Meaning Hampton and Richmond were in the playoffs despite finishing 7th as Poole and Hungerford finished 5th and 6th respectively.
Margate and Bishops Stortford were never able to recover meaning they were relegated and Gosport Borough were relegated in the penultimate game of the season after conceding a heartbreaking last minute goal to be relegated.
Ebbsfleet recovered from their final day heartbreak with a 2-1 win away at Hampton and Richmond to take a big step towards the play off final. Meanwhile, Chelmsford and Dartford could not be separated meaning it was all to play for in the second leg after a 0-0 draw. Ebbsfleet won the second leg again 2-1, to book their spot in the final with a 4-2 aggregate win. Chelmsford were to join them in the final with a 2-1 wi away at Dartford in the second leg.
In the final, Chelmsford took the lead after a first half red card was shown to Ebbsfleet’s Anthony Cook. But two goals in five minutes meant Ebbsfleet fought back to win 2-1 and secure promtotion alongside Maidenhead. It was deserved for Ebbsfleet after finishing on 96 points which would have earned automatic promotion any other year! But Dave Tarpey’s 44 goals meant it was a season remember for himself and the Magpies, finishing on 98 points as they claimed the automatic promotion spot.