As Cardiff City fans dare to dream of breaking out of the Npower Football League, an even bigger race is taking place two divisions below: to stay in it. At the time of writing nine teams are separated by just eight points at the bottom of League 2, with last Saturday leaving the bottom five on the same points tally, making this season’s relegation battle one of the tightest in recent memory.
Whilst it is likely to be two teams from six, the more pessimistic supporters of team’s right up to 15th placed Wycombe may still be casting a worried look over their shoulders. Lacking the usual team cut adrift at the bottom through financial problems (Luton 08/09), generally being rubbish (sorry Macclesfield 11/12 fans), or a combination of the two (Darlington 09/10), any two teams from Aldershot, York, Accrington Stanley, Plymouth, Barnet and Torquay are likely to drop.
Aldershot currently sit a point adrift at the bottom, and three from safety, but with a game in hand over their two closest rivals. Despite a six match unbeaten run that coincided with the arrival of Andy Scott, consecutive defeats have left the Shots bottom with seven to play. Whilst their run in appears difficult on paper, and lacks a game against a relegation rival, they have five games against mid table teams with little to play for, although will do well to take points from trips to Port Vale and Rotherham. Aldershot will be hoping to prove the old saying that a team is only as good as its strikers, and will be hoping that eleven goal Craig Reid remains injury free, and Danny Hylton returns from injury to transfer his FA Cup goal scoring exploits to the league run in. Verdict: 23rd
A point above them, and dropping steadily, lie a York City team in free fall. Despite a promising first half of the season, York will need a dramatic turnaround if they are to avoid becoming the first newly promoted team to be relegated from the league in their first season. Six defeats and four draws in their last ten games saw them drop into the bottom two for the first time last weekend, and marked a rapid fall, from a team who were comfortably mid table at the turn of the year. A home double header against fellow strugglers Plymouth and Accrington could make or break their season for the league’s draw specialists, who will need to improve upon their poor home record, and turn those draws into wins. Verdict: 24th
Accrington Stanley will need their pair of ex-England internationals, Francis Jeffers and James Beattie, to step up to the plate and contribute their experience to offset the inexperience of manager Leam Richardson. Stanley will be optimistic of survival after gaining six points from recent games with Barnet and Wimbledon, and narrowly losing to leaders Gillingham. They have a relatively good run in, and will be glad of home advantage when they face their highest placed opponents; a Burton Albion side that haven’t performed well on the road this season. Verdict: 22nd
Plymouth also sit on 43 points, but with a game in hand and superior goal difference over Accrington. They approach the final furlong on the back of back to back wins; form that will be needed in a run in that contains four of the top seven teams. Verdict: 21st
In a change from recent seasons Barnet currently sit in 20th place, a welcome change for the team more used to snatching 22nd place than looking over their shoulder. Relegation would hold particular significance for Barnet in their last season at Underhill, as they attempt to persuade fans to continue to attend matches at their Hive training ground in the neighbouring borough of Harrow. Fans would also be questioning if the likes of Edgar Davids and John Oster would hang around for a tilt at the Conference. Verdict: 20th
Torquay are the last of the main contenders, and can provide inspiration for the winless York City. Having suffered seven consecutive losses since the loss of manager Martin Ling to illness, interim manager Alan Knill has steadied the ship with two wins and two draws in their last four games. Torquay will need to hope that top goal scorer Rene Howe stays out of trouble, as the 16 goal striker is within two bookings of a three match ban, having picked up thirteen yellow cards so far this season. Verdict: 18th
With the league as tight as it is, there is every possibility that further teams could be drawn in to the battle. Wimbledon have pulled away in recent matches, whilst Dagenham and Rochdale are both showing the kind of indifferent form that could pull them into the mix, particularly if the teams below them hit form. With the BlueSquare Premier League increasing in competiveness, this season’s race is both tight and crucial, as relegated teams could be consigned to a long stretch alongside the likes of recently relegated Luton, Lincoln, Hereford and Stockport. Aldershot, Barnet, York and Torquay all know how tough promotion into the Football League is, whilst York and Wimbledon have ambitions for new stadia that would surely be shelved with relegation. With Cardiff on the brink of the Premiership, the real action is to be had at the opposite end of the Npower Football League.