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The fifth tier knockouts are nearly upon us!

National League play-off preview

2024/04/23 15:55

The stakes are high ahead of the National League play-offs, which should kick off tonight with Altrincham hosting Gateshead... but now won't after the latter were sensationally ruled out of competing due to issues with their home ground the International Stadium. 

We will leave that political hot potato to cool, but one thing is for sure: the fifth tier is not lacking in drama. 

The only website to provide assist data for the National League, Playmaker is here to talk you through the runners and riders aiming to follow champions Chesterfield into League Two. 

Where better to begin than the Bees?

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Guaranteed to only enter proceedings at the semi-final stage, National League runners-up Barnet are unsurprisingly strong favourites to prevail in the play-offs.

The Londoners possess a potent attacking force, the second-most prolific in the division with 91 goals, which was only outscored by Chesterfield (106) during the regular season, and they're not shabby at the back either.

The Bees head into the play-offs in great form and on an eight-match unbeaten run (WWDWDDWW), so hopes are understandably high at Underhill.

Defensively, the likes of Danny Collins, Reece Hall-Johnson and Ben Coker will provide stability, while in midfield a mix of youth and experience embodied by 31-year-old Harry Pritchard (10 goals and six assists this term) and 22-year-old prospect Zak Brunt (seven goals and 11 assists) gives them a nice balance.

Goals are the name of the game, however, and Barnet undoubtedly have serious firepower in their ranks. Nicke Kabamba has scored a whopping 32 goals across all competitions this season and he will be key to how the Bees fare in the play-offs - as will young gun Gatlin O'Donkor, who has shown huge potential since joining on loan from Oxford United.

The play-offs are generally regarded as something of a lottery... but the odds favour Barnet.

Key man: Nicke Kabamba

Stat Attack: Barnet (9) scored more goals in added time at the end of games than any team in the National League during the regular 2023/24 campaign.

Odds to go up: 5/4

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After placing third during the regular campaign, Bromley - like Barnet - will enter the play-off equation at the semi-final phase and will also enjoy home advantage in the last four.

The Ravens have proved to be a very solid outfit this term and they will hope their miserly defence comes up trumps in the play-offs.

Only Southend (45) conceded fewer goals than Bromley (49) during the 2023/24 National League campaign and remarkably Andy Woodman's side lost fewer games (9) than any team this season; 15 draws hindering any hopes they may have had of challenging Chesterfield for automatic promotion.

Arsenal loanee Alex Kirk (who featured in our last National League scouting report) has been an integral part of the Ravens' promotion push, and he forms part of a formidable back three alongside the experienced duo of captain Byron Webster and Callum Reynolds. Webster notably captained Bromley to FA Trophy success over Wrexham, and he will no doubt hope for another taste of glory at Wembley this season.

The London club enter the play-offs on a mixed run of form (LWDLDWWL), but they have all the ingredients to have a very good crack at the play-offs.

Brentford-bound Ben Krauhaus is an exciting midfield prospect and another academy product Jude Arthurs will provide further quality, tenacity and enthusiasm in midfield.

Although Corey Whitely (nine goals and nine assists) and Olufela Olomola (10 goals and four assists) are threats, Michael Cheek - who scored the matchwinner in the aforementioned FA Trophy win - remains Bromley's main man in offensive areas and the prolific 32-year-old forward has already netted 24 goals across all competitions this season.

At 11/4, Bromley may not be as fancied as Barnet (5/4), but they are just two games away from League Two. Could their previous experience of winning at Wembley be a factor?

Key man: Michael Cheek

Stat Attack: Bromley (9 defeats) lost fewer games in the regular National League season than any other team.

Odds to go up: 11/4

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Although it is tempting to view league position as the most important factor, momentum could potentially prove more decisive in the National League promotion shakedown... and Altrincham are the form team heading into the play-offs.

With 19 points bagged from their last eight games in the fifth tier, 'Alty' (WLWWWDWW) are riding the crest of a wave and they have arguably the most creative player in the division in their ranks.

Highlighted by Playmaker earlier in the season, Chris Conn-Clarke has 23 goals and nine assists to his name so far in the National League, and the former Burnley man poses a real threat alongside former FC United forward Regan Linney (13 goals and four assists) and attacking midfield loanee Alex Newby (12 goals and nine assists).

With the fourth-best attack (84 scored) and the joint fifth-best defence (59 conceded), Phil Parkinson's side are solid all-rounders and Gateshead's loss has been Altrincham's gain, as they have progressed straight to a semi-final match-up with Bromley.

One rather astounding statistic from the National League season concerns just how dangerous 'Alty' have been in the 15 minutes leading up to the interval this season. Between 31-45+ minutes, Altrincham have scored a whopping 24 goals, six more than any other team in the division during this timeframe and just under a third (29%) of all their league goals!

With form and fortune on their side, Altrincham could upset the apple cart in the play-offs.

Key man: Chris Conn-Clarke

Stat Attack: Altrincham have scored more goals via substitutes (9) than any other team set to feature in the National League play-offs.

Odds to go up: 4/1

Solihull Moors

Although Solihull's starting XIs may have been refreshed during the course of the season, they have maintained their promotion push and three wins in their last four games secured a fifth-placed finish.

Already in the FA Trophy final - they will face Gateshead at Wembley on 11 May - Moors are a competitive outfit and they have excelled on their travels this term, winning more National League points (40) on the road than any team in the division this term.

In an attacking sense, Solihull had to adapt mid-season when Josh Kelly left to join AFC Wimbledon. Up until Kelly left to join the Dons at the end of January, Kelly had bagged 13 goals and supplied six assists for Solihull and he remains the club's top scorer. 

Jack Stevens has stepped in to fill Kelly's boots, however, and the intelligent and industrious 23-year-old is the spearhead of a forward line that has been strengthened with the additions of January recruit Tahvon Campbell and Swindon loanee Tyrese Shade.

Experienced campaigner Mark Beck has also weighed in with eight goals and four assists for Moors this term.

One of the undoubted strengths of this Solihull side comes in the shape of its full-backs Jay Benn and Joe Newton (see another Playmaker scouting report!), who provide real attacking intent in addition to defensive solidity. Newton, in particular, has been a productive source of goals this term, his forays forward down the left flank yielding an impressive three goals and seven assists.

In midfield, Callum Maycock (eight goals and four assists) and captain Jamey Osbourne are key influences, the latter with the joint second-most assists in the National League this term with 12.

They will have their work cut out to earn a spot in League Two, but Solihull are certainly capable of making their presence felt in the play-offs.

Key man: Jamey Osborne

Stat Attack: Solihull have won more National League points (40) than any other team on their travels this season.

Odds to go up: 14/1

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The Shayman secured seventh spot in the table with a 3-0 win at Eastleigh last weekend, but they are - along with Solihull who they face on Wednesday night - among the least fancied in this edition of the National League play-offs.

As their numbers attest, Halifax are less of an attacking force than every other team fighting for a League Two place. Rather amazingly, Chris Millington's side (58 goals) have only outscored five teams this season in the fifth tier and their passage to the play-offs has been underpinned by their defensive strengths.

Only Southend (45) and Bromley (49) have shipped fewer goals than the Shayman this term and their play-off dreams are likely to hinge on whether they can blunt the respective attacks of their rivals.

Centre-back Jamie Stott has established himself as one of the best defenders in the league this season and he and goalkeeper Sam Johnson have played every single minute for Halifax in the 2023/24 National League campaign to this point.

Going forward, top scorer Rob Harker will hope to add to his nine goals this season, while winger Max Wright will be key to the Shayman's hopes: the 26-year-old already weighing in with seven goals and five assists to this point.

Two stats Halifax may need to remedy if they are to pull off a shock and clinch League Two football concern how they start games, and their ability to fight back when they fall behind. Rather incredibly, Halifax have only hit three goals in the opening 15 minutes of games this season in the National League (albeit they have only conceded six in this timeframe), and the Shayman have only overturned a deficit to win games on two occasions.

That said, the play-offs are a law unto themselves and it would be foolish to write Halifax off before a ball has been kicked.

Key man: Jamie Stott

Stat Attack: Halifax (23) conceded the joint-fewest away goals in the National League regular season.

Odds to go up: 14/1


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2024-04-23 16h52m by eedwards
As a football fan, I am disappointed that Gateshead have been ruled out due to issues with their home ground. But the drama in the fifth tier is not lacking, and the stakes are high for the National League play-offs. Excited to see which teams will join champions Chesterfield in League Two.
2024-04-23 16h39m by edavidson
But as recent history has shown, the team finishing second does not always have the upper hand - just ask Forest Green Rovers.

As a football fan, it's heartbreaking to see Gateshead ruled out of the play-offs due to issues with their home ground. The National League never fails to disappoint with its drama. Excited to see how the rest of the competition plays out.


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