Non League Daily

BT Sport's Clemmit looks forward to Conference play-offs

Ahead of the Vanarama Conference play-offs Mark Clemmit, who was speaking on behalf of BT Sport, spoke to NonLeague to give his thoughts on how the two ties would pan out, and they are fixtures he describes as "two cracking ties".

Bristol Rovers narrowly missed out on winning the Conference title, being pipped at the post by Martin Allen's Barnet and Clemmit revealed his admiration for the job done by Rovers boss Darrell Clarke, under what he described as "huge pressure" at the Memorial Ground.

"I am full of admiration for the job that Darrell Clarke has done under huge pressure as well. They have been ran in a very precarious way over the preceeding four or five years, with a huge array of managers have come and gone after the excellent work Paul Trollope did to get them up the leagues.

To have dealt with that pressure and to have finished the season by losing one game in twenty nine is amazing. In any country, in any league at any level, that is blistering form. They did all they could on Saturday and I spoke to Darrell last week and he said the number one priority was not to mess up, not to hear Barnet had slipped up and they hadn't taken advantage"

Clemmit believes that their comprehensive final day win over Alfreton Town, a win that relegated the Reds, would give them momentum in their play-off semi final against Forest Green Rovers, a tie where he thinks Clarke's side start as "overwhelming favourites"

"They won in spectacular style with a big win so for me they go into the play-offs as overwhelming favourites, no doubt about that in my opinion"

Not that Clemmit is completely ruling out the club from the New Lawn against Rovers. The BT Sport Non-League expert feels that progression of Forest Green and new clubs progressing is "good for football", citing the examples of Crawley and Fleetwood Town to qualify his statement.

"I am delighted for Forest Green Rovers as a club. They have plugged away and it's their seventeenth season at this level and they have made the play-offs at last. It is good for the game when you get new clubs with new activities breaking through. We have seen it in non-league in recent years with the likes of Crawley, Fleetwood Town and Yeovil Town finally making it into the Football League, it's good for football"

However, Clemmit believes that there is only one winner in the tie and it will be Clarke's side.

"I worry about them a little bit. On the one hand they have some aging legs in there although big Jon Parkin has been excellent for them this season. They are a little inexperienced at the back and that could cost them. I can't see past Bristol Rovers to get through that tie"

The other tie sees another battle between an established name in England football and an up-and-coming ambitious outfit as Grimsby Town take on Eastleigh.

The Mariners missed out on the play-off final twelve months ago, losing the two legged semi-final to Gateshead after having two players sent off and being caught out by an error by keeper James McEwan.

That painful defeat could be used by manager Paul Hurst according to Clemmit, as they go into the tie with Eastleigh as favourites.

"I do believe when I look at statistics that the law of averages is applicable here. The dot on the horizon for Bristol Rovers is Grimbsy Town. I think how they play and what has happened to them when they lost out at Gateshead last year in such unfortunate circumstances where their keeper James McEwan, who is the best keeper in the league for me, had one of those moments and they had two men sent off, so Gateshead went to Wembley.

How Paul Hurst uses that pain is key. I look at the law of averages and there won't be too many teams who make the play-offs three years in a row and don't get through. I think they are clearly the biggest threat to Bristol Rovers and I like Grimsby a lot. They have a great spine with McEwan, who I already mentioned.

Then there is Pearson at the back would be in my team of the season, as would Disley in midfield and they have a couple of very decent strikers who are getting valuable goals.

They are big favourites for the tie with Eastleigh"

"A great story" is how Clemmit described the story at Eastleigh as they made it into the Conference play-offs for the first time. With new owners, a new stadium and an investment in a core of experienced players these are exciting times for the Hampshire outfit.

However it will be one step too far to make it to Wembley in Clemmit's opinion.

"Whatever happens you have to say Eastleigh is a great story and is up there with the likes of Crawley and Fleetwood Town. They had new owners in 2011 and they had an ambition to build a new stadium and get into the Football League. Their recruitment has been impressive with the focus on experience. The Todds, the Stanleys and the Constables have all been there and done it.

There is a huge amount of experience in there and my worry is that they have won five in a row to get into the play-offs and even their manager admitted it would be tough to extend that to eight in a row to get through the play-offs. I do think that getting to this point now is great and it is an unbelievable acheivement in itself.

Potentially having the least expectations can help but do they really have it? They have momentum and that builds expectation. They came bounding through the division and what Richard Hill must guard against is that factor of we have done our work for this season, he has to get in their heads that they have to go again"

And with all four play-off contenders going into the semi finals in the top five of the Conference form table Clemmit believes there are "two cracking ties" ahead, although he did reveal his sympathy for John Askey's Macclesfield Town side.

"I think it is set up for two cracking ties. I feel for Macclesfield Town because they were flying in January and suddenly went to Eastleigh and the wheels came off. They operate on probably a third of the budget of most of the league and I feel for John Askey. He is a legend at the club, their all-time apperance holder and all-time record goalscorer, it's a great story.

But the form table doesn't lie. Everyone had a wobble but the clubs in the play-offs have ended the season in great fashion and that is important"

He also believes that the two favourites - Bristol Rovers and Grimsby Town - will contest the Wembley final and predicts a big crowd if that were to be the case.

If you are asking me it will be there two big guns - Bristol Rovers and Grimsby Town - who will get through and make it to Wembley and we will be going all bells and whistles on at BT Sport for what would be a great final. Somebody senior in football said he anticipates that Bristol Rovers could bring 40,000 to Wembley if they get there and Grimsby Town could bring 30,000.

For a final, in the fifth tier of English football, to have 70,000 at Wembley would be astonishing. In terms of both of those two clubs their home legs being second, with their crowd behind them at Blundell Park and the Memorial Ground could be massive. My head says it will be Bristol Rovers who will make it through to the Football League but I have a funny feeling Grimsby will have a major say"

Watch every game of the Vanarama Football Conference Play-offs exclusively live on BT Sport starting with Forest Green Rovers v Bristol Rovers on Wed 29 April and Eastleigh v Grimsby Town on Thu 30 April.

Interview: Mark Carruthers

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