As the League Two season reaches its climax, all remains still to play for as far as the battle to stay afloat in the football league is concerned. With several clubs all in the relegation run in, the final four games will no doubt be make or break to the future’s of the clubs concerned.
However one thing is and has been for a while confirmed; Darlington’s 18 year stint in the football leagues bottom tier has come to an end. A seven game losing streak at the beginning of the season and a string of different managers has seen the Quakers exit the football league despite the last decade looking bright in terms of their long term future, following the so called ‘Reynolds revolution’. Even a gallant win at league leaders Rochdale in midweek proved too little too late for Darlo, who now face a long road to back to league Two from the Conference.
Darlington’s sealed fate however spells good new of sorts for other clubs looking over their shoulders, with only one other club now facing the dreaded drop. The favourites for that drop heading into the final straight look to be Grimsby Town; seven points adrift, with one more game played than their near rivals, a great escape of smaller sorts would need to be staged if the Mariners are to hang on to their football league status. Tomorrow’s clichéd six pointer sees them host Torquay United, who themselves are not yet totally safe; depending on other results though, anything other than a win would put Grimsby in a perilous position. Amazingly, Neil Woods men then travel to Darlington, before hosting Barnet; an incredible run in of fixtures, which will give the fans a glimmer of hope. A seven point deficit will need to be overturned and fast if they are to stand any chance of staying up.
Barnet and Cheltenham both make up the rest of the serious contenders for relegation. A strong start to the season saw Barnet look good to push for a promotion spot, but a huge change in form now sees them struggle for survival. It is fair to say that the Bees have the hardest run in out of all the relegation candidates, notably Saturday’s home clash with Bradford, followed by a tricky home game against high-flying Rotherham. They will have to rely on their free scoring and experienced strike force (including player coach Paul Furlong) to see them out of trouble and get their fans buzzing again.
Cheltenham though have been almost content with sustaining a place just above the dotted line all season, rarely showing signs of improved form. They managed to secure the signing of veteran Jamaican forward Barry Hayles on a permanent basis in the summer and he has valuably contributed goals and assists in what has proved to be a turbulent season for the Robins. A mixed bag of fixtures remain for Town, including the vital trip to Rotherham tommorow as well as the home encounter with doomed Darlington. The fans and all involved with the club will be praying that come the end of the season, they can breathe a sigh of relief after surviving the threat of back to back promotions and rebuild for next season.
Also looking over their shoulders will be Lincoln City and Torquay, however a nine point gap seperates them from the final relegation place, taken up by Grimsby. Any sign of a slip up will no doubt leave supporters sweating, especially with teams below them needing to win games in hand.
Not only do the relegated teams face a difficult journey back to league Two on the field, but off the field financially too. Inevitable diminishing attendences and failure to attract players will hit clubs hard. Darlington and the likes will be fully aware of this and must take the relevant steps to ensure that they don’t follow in the footsteps of the all but extinct Chester City.