Non League Daily

ALGERS ANGLE: Crying out for a classic

NLD writer Alan Alger looks forward to what he hopes will be a classic Vanarama Conference Play-Off Final in his latest 'Alger's Angle' column

It's fair to say that the Conference Promotion final rarely produces a classic match. For one reason or another in recent seasons at least one of the teams contesting this £1million pound match hasn't 'turned up'. We can speculate that playing at Wembley and the magnitude of the prize on offer may get to Non-League players on the day. It might put them off their normal game. It's also worth noting that playing in late-May on a big pitch after a long hard season may also be a factor.

None of those excuses will wash with the fans and indeed managers of Grimsby Town and Bristol Rovers. Two of the biggest sides in the division face-off for a place back in the Football League. Being part of that '92' is valued at around £1million, but as Mariners boss Paul Hurst said last week - it's much more than that. As a number of ex-League clubs languish in what will now be known as the National League. It's becoming harder and harder to claim one of those two promotion spots.

Grimsby have spent five long seasons at this level. Their end of season tally of 86 points confirmed their best ever finish in third. The gap of six points to champions Barnet is in stark contrast to the 23 point gap as they waved goodbye to Luton over the horizon a year ago. Just four wins in 12 matches at home to sides in the middle section of the table was the clear difference between becoming champions and a third stab at the play-offs this term.

Sunday's opponents Bristol Rovers have arguably displayed some of the best football seen at this level in recent seasons. Their defensive record is by far the best in the section, including the table split into home/away matches only. That's the key thing for me in this final. Grimsby are yet to score against the Gas this season in two close-fought matches. It will come down to which team can find that little bit extra under the arch.

Rovers have won eight of their 46 matches by a 1-0 scoreline this season. Six of their games finished goalless. They have scored a phenomenal 21 goals in their last seven matches - including a play-off stroll against Forest Green Rovers over two legs. I think they can achieve an extremely rare immediate return to League 2. With it all seeming a relative breeze for manager Darrell Clarke.

He has been the epitome of calm all season despite such a high-pressure role and I think he has the fans to thank. The Memorial Ground faithful have maintained a positive edge as they have embraced the Non-League game - and that has allowed the team to focus on winning promotion. Contrast that with the expectation and barbed criticisms that sometimes come from fans not willing to accept that their team is now "Non-League".

I expect Bristol Rovers to get the job done on Sunday and join Barnet back in the big time next season. I predict a 2-0 scoreline.

You can follow Alan on twitter: @Alan_Alger_

Article: Alan Alger


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