National League: final day analysis
The last day of the National League season – barring the play-offs – is finally here and there’s still something left to play for at both ends of the table. Here I’ve looked at the six matches which will collectively decide who finishes in the top five and who avoids the drop into the sixth tier.
First of all, here’s what the latest model simulation makes of things:
So Braintree are in pole position to claim the last play-off place with an 88.3% chance of finishing fifth or higher, with both Tranmere (8.3%) and Eastleigh (3.5%) only given a slim hope of overtaking them. These two are both three points behind so can only best them on goal difference, but with the Iron at home to Altrincham – themselves very likely to drop out of the division – fifth place looks to be theirs to lose:
Braintree have overachieved to get into this position and it looks like their resilient defence has been the key, compensating for a modest attack. Their visitors have been among the division’s most wasteful finishers, which doesn’t bode well, but even if they can snatch a win here they still need Guiseley to take no more than a point at home to Torquay and for Halifax to lose at home to Macclesfield. As a result, the model only gives them a 4.5% chance of clawing their way out of the drop zone at the death.
Let’s look at those other two matches in order:
Torquay played their way out of relegation danger a few games ago, so it’s difficult to predict how hard they’ll be pushing here. Their hosts may have motivational problems of their own: while the E Ratings have been flagging their potential relegation candidacy for a while now, they’ve remained outside the relegation zone all season until they slipped into 21st last weekend, having won just one of their last 14 matches.
Factoring in goal difference, a draw here would be enough to keep Guiseley up if Halifax lose and Altrincham fail to win. However with this game looking too close to call, the model sees the home side as the next likeliest to go down after Altrincham, with a 39.2% chance of staying up.
Here’s how Halifax‘s match looks:
Macclesfield will be no push-overs here: while they’ve shared Halifax’s slight wastefulness up front they’ve looked much more solid in defence. Home advantage still makes the Shaymen the likelier to prevail, and as mentioned above they need to at least better Guiseley‘s result to stay out of the bottom four. Altrincham can also overtake them on goal difference if they win and Halifax lose here, but given the latter’s play-off chasing opponents the model returns a 68.6% chance that the home side will remain outside the drop zone.
There’s one remaining relegation candidate that we haven’t mentioned yet: Boreham Wood. Like Guiseley they were new to the division this season but have flirted more conspicuously with the drop. They have a winnable-looking game away at already-relegated Welling:
Both sides have struggled in attack but the visitors have at least been able to compensate with a solid-looking defence, which has kept their goal difference at just -8 while the rest of the bottom seven are all beyond -20. This renders them effectively uncatchable by Altrincham, who are three points behind but would need a 14-goal swing to overtake them, and therefore it would take both a Guiseley win and Halifax bettering their result to relegate the Wood. Therefore the model gives them an 87.8% chance of extending their stay in the division.
We glossed over the play-off race earlier, as it’s the less open of the two, but here are the matches involving the sides who can take advantage if Altrincham defy expectations and stun Braintree:
Tranmere appear to be better-placed to snatch fifth, as they are at home and have the better goal difference. However they are hosting the best-rated (and by implication underachieving) side in the division. It’s not clear how many – if any – players that Grimsby will rest with their own play-off place assured and being unable to rise any higher in the table, but Rovers will surely be the more motivated either way. Still, an 8.3% chance reflects the amount of things that have to go their way if they’re to depose Braintree.
Eastleigh have the tougher-looking route to fifth as they have to play their final match away from home, but they’re up against a Woking side that has been deteriorating sharply for a few months now. The home defence in particular has looked shambolic – only relegated Welling’s looks in worse shape – so it would be no surprise to see their visitors (whose own defence has been their strongest suit) emerge triumphant here. The Spitfires need a three-goal swing over Braintree and to better Tranmere’s result, neither of which seem all that improbable, but in combination give them just a 3.5% chance of extending their season.