Non League Daily

ALGER'S ANGLE: Title race goes to the wire, Dragons issues and an exclusive

 A weekly blog from Alan Alger, former Head of PR for the Conference sponsors for seven seasons - now working outside of the game, but still a keen fan of Non-League football with his ear to the ground.

Conference Title Race

A three-way race for the Conference title in the month of April is a very rare thing indeed. The battle for automatic promotion hasn't had as much interest since just nine points separated the top five at the end of the 1998-1999 season. Current leaders Barnet have had the close attention of Bristol Rovers for some time now, but with Grimsby Town coming up on the rails it could be the most exciting finish in Conference history.

The competition's official broadcaster BT Sport might have to plan for a triple-header programme on April 25 when each team are scheduled to play their final games at 5.30pm. Before that we have the busy Easter weekend where teams are asked to play twice and titles can be won or lost. On paper each of the title challengers look set for a maximum six points, but as we know from matches in this division, nothing can be taken for granted.

Grimsby have taken 22 points from their last ten Conference games. In the same period Bristol Rovers have gained 21 points, while Barnet are behind the pace on 17. Martin Allen's side could afford that dip in form because of the blistering sprint set at the start of the season. Psychologically they must not get hung up on the fact that they were much further ahead at the half-way point of the season. Sometimes it's far easier being in the chasing pack.

Bristol Rovers are aiming to become the first team since Darlington (in 1989-1990) to return to the Football League as Conference champions after just one season. A feat that might point to the league diminishing in quality from recent seasons when clubs attempting to do that have failed miserably. Their away form is only the sixth best in the division, but their defence is statistically the best - and that's sometimes the difference.

Barnet have a ten goal cushion in the GD column over Grimsby and a huge advantage of 18 goals over Rovers. With just five games to play that's as good as a point. It's in the hands of the Bees and they also look to have the favourable run-in. Easter matches against sides with a mountain to climb in the bottom four, then a three-game finish against sides around mid-table who might have little to play for.

Grimsby might prefer to be playing away in their remaining fixtures as they are just 8th in the table based on matches at home. The pressure of a large home following and the expectation that brings can sometimes count against a promotion chasing side, just ask 2013/14 champions Luton Town - who struggled for years. Although Paul Hurst's side have benefited from a real push from the Mariners' faithful and a following of over 2500 to Alfreton on Easter Monday is highly commendable. Bristol Rovers will be taking similar numbers to Kidderminster on the same day.

Grimsby were my title prediction at the start of the season and I'm not going to change that now, I think four wins and a draw will be enough to see them lift the famous pyramid shaped trophy. Despite their trailblazing form, I haven't been impressed with Barnet whenever I've seen them live this season and recent results suggest they are leveling out and will just fall short. If they do happen to miss out then a play-off challenge will be very difficult. Cambridge managed it last season, but they had plenty of time to adjust to not being champions. It might only dawn on Barnet on the final day, which will take all of Allen's motivational skills.

Bristol Rovers need to start finding the net in their remaining games as 'Goal Difference' counts against them at the moment. I think they are booked for third place. Whatever happens it's going to be a thriller and I've got my fingers crossed for a final day on BT Sport live from three grounds, tables updated in the corner of the screen and plenty of excitement.

Wrexham's Woes

On Grand National day in 2012 I was stood in a bar at Aintree racecourse with the Fleetwood Town squad, gathered around a mobile phone waiting to hear if Wrexham had won at home to Grimsby Town. The 2-2 scoreline at the final whistle provoking wild celebrations (and a few funny looks as we were between races) as the Cod Army secured the Conference title. Wrexham eventually took 98 points from that 46 game season. A total which would have won the division at a canter this campaign. But the Red Dragons are way off the pace and with the play-offs well out of reach they are now searching for a manager to get back to challenging for promotion.

Former Mansfield Town boss Paul Cox has been mentioned, but I think that would be the wrong choice. Cox needed all of the financial backing available at Field Mill to get the Stags over the line in 2012-2013. That kind of money won't be easy to come by at the Racecourse. Wrexham need a manager who can fuse some good signings with raw talent acquired by outgoing boss Kevin Wilkin, with a good set of senior pros. Additions to the squad need to be value for money and in the right positions. It's a long tough season but in the same respect there isn't much time to find your feet. Experience of the division is a must, but also someone who can get the most out of the sum parts of a 20-plus squad. They could do far worse than look to a man at Nuneaton again... Liam Daish.

What's In A Name - *Exclusive*

​A well placed source has indicated to me that the Conference could undergo yet another name change ahead of next season. Thankfully for the clubs it's nothing to do with a new sponsor, but has come about due to the difficulty in distinguishing the top-flight of the Conference with the two feeder divisions. I understand that the word 'National' will be added to the top division next season to make it clear to all.

You can follow me on twitter @Alan_Alger_ - where I will welcome your comments.

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