Non League Daily

Mark Carruthers: Evo-Stik Title Race A Match For Premier League

While the world's eyes were cast upon the red hot cauldron of Anfield on Sunday a vital, potentially title deciding game had already taken place five days earlier which in comparative terms could match anything seen on Merseyside.

FC United of Manchester supporters FC United of Manchester supporters

Chorley travelled to FC United of Manchester in a match between the top two in the Evo-Stik Northern Premier League played out in a raucous atmosphere at Gigg Lane, in front of over 4, 000 fans. This season's title race has been one that has had more twists and turns than Silverstone as one club have looked like winning it all season and their main contender have come from nowhere to challenge. There have been others like Skelmersdale United who seemed set to crash this party but have dropped like a stone meaning the Magpies and the Rebels are the only show in town.

Firstly there is the consistent Chorley, managed by former Blackburn Rovers midfielder Gary Flitcroft. A grand old club with a quite wonderful ground in the aptly named Victory Park that screams of authentic non-league, mixing old fashioned reliability, a warm welcome and an intimidating atmosphere.

On the pitch they have been led by the talismanic James Dean, he is a rebel WITH a cause and that seems to be steamrollering sides to lead the Magpies to the holy land of the Skrill North. He is a big, brute of a target man but with a sublime touch and a lethal finish.

The midfield talents of the dynamic Josh Hine and Dale Whitham means that they have a solid centre and solid is certainly a word that can be used for their backline. They possess arguably the best keeper in the league in Sam Ashton and in Andy Teague they have a leader in every sense of the word.

They currently head the league table and are favourites to go up in my opinion. That is reward for an outstanding season from Flitcroft's side with their only major blip coming as they headed for the final fence of the campaign.

After a 3-1 defeat at Blyth Spartans they seemed to recover winning three games without conceding but a draw at Grantham Town led to a run consisting of two wins in seven games, including a nail-biting defeat to title rivals FC United. Since losing to Ashton United in late March the Magpies have been resurgent with four wins out of five, the odd game out being the 2-2 draw with FC United.

With three games left the title seems set for Victory Park. Having said that we shouldn't rule out FC United of Manchester.

A club who have been the bridesmaids of the play-offs for the past three seasons, a second place finish would see them enter that lottery again but will they find a winning ticket this time around. Karl Marginson is a manager who knows how to get the best out of their players, quite simply they never know when they are beaten.

They are a side who have a little bit of everything really. A strong defence, a midfield that blends silk and steel and a strike force that combines brute force with a touch of class.

Personally I love the partnership they have in the lethal Tom Greaves and the intelligence of Mike Norton. They are two strikers who for me could grace a far higher level and do themselves justice.

They have a Rolls Royce of a defender in Tom Davies and in Matthew Wolfenden a creative influence that can unlock the very best of back fours.

They are a club with probably the most vocal backing in the league, although maybe they could lose the smoke bombs and flares that have been seen in recent weeks if only out of respect for clubs they are visiting.

A club built by supporters disillusioned with the Glazer takeover at Manchester United have grown into a club for their community with youth teams and ladies teams, being part of the "club" has never been more appropriate than with the Rebels. A new ground is finally in progress and you get the impression that an upwards momentum will result in promotion at some point, but it will take a dramatic last few weeks for them to catch Chorley.

Having seen FC United recently at Blyth Spartans' Croft Park they are a very impressive unit although there did seem a little touch of complacency. They deserved a 1-0 win over Spartans but they did switch off and on another day could have been punished, at this point of that season that can be fatal. Indeed seven days after their win in Northumberland they were beaten at home by Buxton, a dagger to the heart of their title hopes which now rest on making the most of their game in hand and hoping for a Chorley slip up.

The game between the two sides at Gigg Lane perhaps summed up the season. Chorley winning at a canter, two goals to the good but pegged back by an FC United side roared on by their vibrant supporters.

Gigg Lane rocked and so did the Magpies as two late goals saw the points shared but in reality the draw did Flitcroft's side more favours than their hosts.

With two weeks of the season left there will no doubt be more twists and turns but with two top quality sides slugging it out.It's certain to match scenes witnessed at Premier League grounds on Merseyside, Moss Side and West London.

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Source: Mark Carruthers & Luke Donkin

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