As April draws ever closer, the race for promotion in the North West Counties Premier Division remains wide open.
It looks as though there are, at most, five teams still in with a chance. Padiham currently lead the way but Runcorn Town and Maine Road sit right behind them, ready to capitalise on any slip up.
Maine Road have played more games than any other team in the top five which leaves them at a disadvantage, Bootle on the other hand have games in hand on all of their rivals. They currently sit in fourth, ten points behind Padiham, but if they were to win all four of their games in hand then they would go top.
Winsford United are the outsiders, they are putting together a good run of form – currently unbeaten in six, winning five of those. If they were to win their games in hand over Padiham, then they would sit just five points off the top. If Winsford continue their form and others stutter, it is not unreasonable to think they could go up.
For Runcorn Linnets in sixth though, it seems it may have to be next year. They have played a game more than Winsford and are still two points behind them. If they could have beaten the Blues in their meeting last week then it might have been a different story, but a 0-0 draw left them wondering what might have been.
If we look at the remaining fixtures of the clubs in the mix, we can get a better idea of who might be playing in the Evo-Stik First Division next season. I’ve had a go at predicting the results too (shown in italic next to the fixtures).
The Storks have some really tough games in their schedule and you cannot see them winning all of their games against Linnets, Maine Road, Bootle and Runcorn Town, especially considering they are all away. It looks as though it may be too tough for Padiham to finish as league winners, but if they manage to do it, nobody will argue that they didn’t deserve it.
01.04.13 (H) Silsden – Win
06.04.13 (A) Runcorn Linnets – Draw
11.04.13 (A) Bacup Borough – Win
13.04.13 (H) Congleton Town – Win
20.04.13 (A) Maine Road – Draw
23.04.13 (A) Bootle – Draw
27.04.13 (A) Ashton Athletic – Win
TBA (A) Runcorn Town – Loss
Road’s fixture list has been fairly kind to them, you would expect them to be able to pick up a lot of points in their final games. They do have a habit of throwing up an unexpected poor performance though, as shown by their ten losses this season. All they can do is try to win their remaining games and hope the other slip up
01.04.13 (H) Stockport Sports – Win
06.04.13 (A) St. Helens Town – Win
13.04.13 (H) Squires Gate – Win
20.04.13 (H) Padiham – Draw
27.04.13 (H) AFC Liverpool – Win
TBA (A) AFC Blackpool – Win
Runcorn Town’s schedule is similar to that of Padiham’s, in that they have a run of very tough fixtures at the back end of April (Bootle, Winsford and Padiham). However, Runcorn Town play all of those games at home which may give them the advantage.
01.04.13 (H) Runcorn Linnets – Draw
06.04.13 (A) Wigan Robin Park – Win
09.04.13 (A) AFC Liverpool – Win
13.04.13 (H) Glossop North End – Win
15.04.13 (H) Squires Gate – Win
20.04.13 (H) Bootle – Loss
22.04.13 (H) Winsford United – Draw
27.04.13 (A) Stockport Sports – Win
TBA (H) Padiham – Win
Looking at the league table, you would think Bootle are in a great position, but when you see how tightly packed their schedule is, you can’t help but think that will affect them. They are pretty much playing three games a week from now until the end of the season, as well as tough games against the likes of Padiham, Runcorn Town, Winsford and Barnoldswick twice. They will do well to catch the leaders with this influx of fixtures.
28.03.13 (H) Glossop North End – Win
30.03.13 (A) Glossop North End – Draw
01.04.13 (H) AFC Liverpool – Win
04.04.13 (A) Barnoldswick Town – Loss
06.04.13 (H) Stone Dominoes – Win
09.04.13 (H) Alsager Town – Win
13.04.13 (A) Colne – Draw
20.04.13 (A) Runcorn Town – Win
23.04.13 (H) Padiham – Draw
27.04.13 (H) Barnoldswick Town – Draw
29.04.13 (A) St. Helens Town – Win
01.05.13 (H) Winsford United – Draw
Winsford have a fairly tight schedule too, but it seems easier than Bootle’s as they only face two teams from the top five. It’s the games against the likes of Barnoldswick, Congleton and Colne in which Winsford will have to pull off a win. If they can’t do that, then you can’t see them going up.
30.03.13 (A) St. Helens Town – Win
03.04.13 (A) AFC Liverpool – Win
06.04.13 (H) Congleton Town – Loss
09.04.13 (A) Stone Dominoes – Win
13.04.13 (H) Silsden – Win
17.04.13 (A) Silsden – Win
20.04.13 (A) Squires Gate – Win
22.04.13 (A) Runcorn Town – Draw
27.04.13 (H) Colne – Win
01.05.13 (A) Bootle – Draw
Predicted final table
My result predictions leave the table looking like this:
- Runcorn Town – 90 points
- Padiham – 89 points
- Bootle – 87 points
- Maine Road – 86 points
- Winsford United – 84 points
Very difficult to predict, but whatever happens we are in for an exciting finish to the season.
Following a weekend of mixed League Challenge Cup and League action, we are back to a midweek schedule of purely NWCFL Premier Division football.
There are seven fixtures this week, starting with some Monday night football at Runcorn Town, as they face St. Helens Town.
Both sides are fighting battles at different ends of the table, Runcorn beat Colne 5-3 on Saturday to go top of the league, and have the opportunity to extend their lead. St. Helens moved out of the relegation zone at the weekend, but it is difficult to imagine them getting anything from the game at Pavilions tonight. Runcorn Town won the first meeting of the season 2-0 back in September.
The most intriguing match-up on Tuesday night looks to be Winsford United vs Maine Road. Road will be desperate for a win to keep tracks with Runcorn Town in first place, but it will be difficult at Barton Stadium. Winsford lost at home to Glossop last Tuesday to end an eight game unbeaten run in the league, Runcorn Town will be hoping for a favour from their Cheshire counterparts.
Sixth-placed Colne have not won in three games, and face another tricky fixture at home to Barnoldswick Town. Both teams lost at the weekend, Colne to Runcorn Town, and Barnoldswick to Division One Formby in the League Challenge Cup. Each team needs to rebound with a win to keep up their slim chances of promotion.
The biggest crowd of the week should be at Surrey Street, where Glossop North End face AFC Liverpool. Glossop rank second in the NWCFL Premier Division with an average attendance of 157, and AFC Liverpool always travel well. The away side are coming off an impressive 2-0 win away at Alsager at the weekend to get them in to the last eight of the Cup. Glossop won the reverse fixture 2-1 back in September.
Squires Gate dropped in to the relegation zone after a loss at home to Stone Dominoes on Saturday. They have lost their five games without scoring a goal, and it doesn’t get any easier for them, as they travel to Delta Taxi Stadium on Tuesday to face Bootle. The two sides met just two weeks ago, when Bootle ran out 4-0 winners, the Bucks will be confident of another win as they try to use their games in hand to catch up in the race for promotion.
Ashton Athletic will be hoping they can pull away from the relegation zone when they welcome Wigan Robin Park to Brocstedes Park on Tuesday. Athletic are in 18th, three points clear of the bottom two, but have played more games than both Bacup Borough in 19th and St. Helens Town in 20th.
Bacup Borough themselves will be looking to gain some vital points in the battle against relegation, they are two points clear of the drop zone and will travel to 15th-placed AFC Blackpool on Tuesday night. Borough have lost their last six league games but a good win over Division One leaders AFC Darwen in the Cup on Saturday should give them confidence heading in to this game. AFC Blackpool have not won in their last three, but will see this as an opportunity to get back on track.
Monday 18th February 2013 – NWCFL Premier Division
Runcorn Town vs St. Helens Town
Tuesday 19th February 2013 – NWCFL Premier Division
AFC Blackpool vs Bacup Borough
Ashton Athletic vs Wigan Robin Park
Bootle vs Squires Gate
Colne vs Barnoldswick Town
Glossop North End vs AFC Liverpool
Winsford United vs Maine Road
Formby provided the biggest surprise of the NWCFL Challenge Cup third round this weekend, as they came from 2-1 down to beat Premier Division side Barnoldswick Town 3-2 at the Silentnight Stadium.
Two Michael White penalties helped send Formby through to the last eight of the competition, one of which was a 90th minute winner. The Squirrels have another away draw in the quarter finals, this time to holders Bacup Borough.
Their progression in the cup means that another of their league games will have to be re-scheduled though, something that’s becoming a real problem for Formby as they have only played 13 games in NWCFL Division One so far this season.
Maine Road faced a tough tie away at Congleton Town, which got even tougher when they were reduced to ten men after 30 minutes when Andy Kilheeny was sent off.
Road hung on and battled to a 0-0 draw. Extra time couldn’t separate the two sides either, and Maine Road went through on penalties, winning 3-1 in the shoot-out with Matt Warburton scoring the winner.
Runcorn Linnets got some revenge on Winsford United in a Cheshire derby. Winsford had already beaten the hosts at Millbank Linnets Stadium twice this season, but couldn’t make it third time lucky as Linnets went through 3-2 after extra time.
In front of the highest crowd of the day, 260, Linnets went 2-0 up with a penalty from Kyle Hamid and Ross McDowell’s impressive individual effort. Winsford levelled up the scores before half time, Callam Gardner and Daniel Egan with the goals. But Linnets advanced in to the last eight with an extra time winner from Mark Houghton. Winsford finished the game with ten men, as Kyle McGonigle was sent off late on after a second yellow.
Padiham, along with Maine Road and Bootle, are another club that could still win a NWCFL league and cup double. They were victorious at home to AFC Blackpool, Mark Sharples’ second goal of the season was enough to give them a 1-0 win.
Alsager Town were targeting a crowd of 200 for their game against AFC Liverpool, they managed 152, not as many as they would like but much better than their season average of 89. The crowd were not treated to a Bullets win though, as AFC Liverpool came away 2-0 winners, thanks to goals from Steven Williams and Liam Louchlin, the latter being a penalty.
Cheadle Town recorded an impressive win in the only all Division One tie, they beat second-placed Abbey Hey 1-0 with a 90th minute winner from Andrew Lindon.
Bacup Borough overcame a potential banana skin at home to AFC Darwen, the visitors are top of Division One but Bacup went through with a 1-0 win. Darwen played the majority of the second half with ten men, as Matthew Taylor was sent off for a second yellow, and Shaun Birtles grabbed Bacup’s winner on 73 minutes.
Bootle complete the quarter final line-up, they knocked out Division One club West Didsbury and Chorlton at Delta Taxi Stadium. Michael Young and Kevin Townson scored the Bucks’ goals as they had to come from behind to win 2-1, after Scott Jones had put the away side ahead.
The marquee tie of the quarter finals is arguably Padiham vs Maine Road, as one of the NWCFL Premier Division’s high-flyers is sure to go out. The draw in full:
Bacup Borough vs Formby
Cheadle Town vs AFC Liverpool
Padiham vs Maine Road
Runcorn Linnets vs Bootle
The big game at the top of the Premier Division table did not disappoint, as Runcorn won 5-3 at Colne to go top of the league. Gareth Grant and Paul Shanley grabbed a brace each for the away side, with Mark Keddie scoring the other. Colne’s goals scored by Jason Hart (his 26th of the season), Ashley Carter and Mark Coyne all proved to be in vein as they remain sixth.
Stone Dominoes grabbed just their second win of the season away at Squires Gate. Dwayne Spence’s second half goal was the only one of the game as Squires Gate drop in to the bottom two.
St. Helens Town moved out of the relegation places with a 2-1 home win against Silsden. Charles Stoker put the hosts ahead in the first half before Joseph Gaughan equalised for Silsden, but Cole Ashton’s 75th minute winner was enough to give St. Helens their fifth win of the season.
In the two mid-table battles, Norton United won 2-1 away at Glossop North End, Delroy Fox and Thomas Fogg with a penalty the goalscorers for Norton. Wigan Robin Park and Stockport Sports played out a 1-1 draw, James Edgar put Park ahead early on before Andrews Frempong earned Stockport Sports a point with his second half equaliser.
NWCFL Challenge Cup – Third Round
Abbey Hey 0-1 Cheadle Town
Alsager Town 0-2 AFC Liverpool
Bacup Borough 1-0 AFC Darwen
Barnoldswick Town 2-3 Formby
Bootle 2-1 West Didsbury and Chorlton
Congleton Town 0-0 Maine Road (Maine Road won 3-1 on penalties)
Padiham 1-0 AFC Blackpool
Runcorn Linnets 3-2 Winsford United (After extra time)
NWCFL Premier Division
Colne 3-5 Runcorn Town
Glossop North End 1-2 Norton United
Squires Gate 0-1 Stone Dominoes
St. Helens Town 2-1 Silsden
Wigan Robin Park 1-1 Stockport Sports
Just like the Champions’ League, the North West Counties Football League Challenge Cup makes its long-awaited February return after being on hiatus since before Christmas.
We reach the third round stage this weekend, with 16 teams left in the competition. The League have confirmed this week that for the remainder of the season, each League Cup game will be played to a finish, including extra time and penalties.
The lack of replays should help ease fixture congestion for clubs later down the line this season, and it will also mean that by Saturday evening, we will have our quarter-final line-up complete (barring postponements).
For the clubs that have been knocked out of the competition at earlier stages, there have been five Premier Division games arranged, meaning all but one of the 22 clubs in the Premier Division will be playing this weekend. Ashton Athletic are the unlucky ones, with the odd number of top flight sides in the third round meaning that one club had to miss out.
Congleton vs Maine Road is arguably the tie of the round, with two of the better teams in the Premier Division going head to head. Maine Road lost in the final to Bacup Borough last year and will be keen to go one step further this time. The League and Cup double still remains a real possibility for Road.
Winsford United travel to Runcorn Linnets for the third time this season in what is sure to be a feisty Cheshire derby. Linnets are the form team in the NWCFL, having won their last six games, and will be keen to get one over their local rivals. Winsford won both previous meetings at Millbank Linnets Stadium this season 3-1.
Alsager are targeting a crowd of 200 for their home cup tie against AFC Liverpool, assistant manager Stuart Heeps launched the Target 200 scheme to increase footfall at the LAW Training Stadium, they are averaging 86 this season so it will be interesting to see the attendance on Saturday.
The only other all-Premier Division tie is at Padiham where they welcome AFC Blackpool, a game the home side will be confident of winning.
There will be a few Division One sides looking to cause upsets, the best chance of which may well be AFC Darwen, who sit in first place of Division One, they travel to Bacup Borough, 19th in the Premier Division. But with only four places separating them, a Darwen win may come of no surprise at all.
Division One’s Formby will provide a tough test for Barnoldswick, the Squirrels have only lost one league game this season. West Didsbury and Chorlton will have to be at their best to get a result away at Premier Division high-flyers Bootle, the draw for the last eight takes place at Delta Taxi Stadium following this game, and the Bucks will be confident that they will be in the hat.
It is a certainty that there will be at least one Division One side in the quarter final, as Abbey Hey welcome Cheadle Town in the final tie of the day. The home side sit in second place, and have won their last four games, seventh-placed Cheadle have a tough match-up on their hands.
Colne against Runcorn Town is the marquee fixture of the Premier Division this weekend, as both sides will look to take advantage of the fact that many of the teams around them will be playing in the Cup.
There are some important ‘basement battles’ this weekend, with Stone Dominoes looking for just their second win of the season away at 20th placed Squires Gate. St. Helens Town will be looking to move out of the relegation zone too, as they face Silsden in a winnable game.
Both the Wigan Robin Park vs Stockport Sports and Glossop North End vs Norton United games have all the makings of two mid-season mid-table clashes. Every one of these teams will have to have a drastic change in form to get caught in either the relegation battle or promotion race.
NWCFL Challenge Cup – Third Round
Abbey Hey vs Cheadle Town
Alsager Town vs AFC Liverpool
Bacup Borough vs AFC Darwen
Barnoldswick Town vs Formby
Bootle vs West Didsbury and Chorlton
Congleton Town vs Maine Road
Padiham vs AFC Blackpool
Runcorn Linnets vs Winsford United
NWCFL Premier Division
Colne vs Runcorn Town
Glossop North End vs Norton United
Squires Gate vs Stone Dominoes
St. Helens Town vs Silsden
Wigan Robin Park vs Stockport Sports