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Monday, May 24, 2010

Conference North: Season Review

In the final article dedicated to our featured division all this season, Nobes takes a look back at how the last nine months panned out in the Conference North.

They say it's a sign of getting old when time goes more quickly. The same applies for when the football season seems to fly by.

It hardly seems like a week ago when, with the helps of my esteemed colleagues, Lakes and Turls, we were democratically choosing a Non League division to cover during the 2009/10 campaign.

In the end, it was the Conference North which was the lucky league to be picked.

Ultimately, we were treated to a title race which went down to the very last day, a congested fight for the top five places, and a relegation battle mostly dictated by finances. In all, not too dissimilar to the top flight of English football.

In previewing the campaign I spoke about Southport being "fancied to challenge again," and the investment at Fleetwood raising their hopes of a challenge "for the top five."

The latter did a bit better - taking the fight to the early pacesetters of Port - and eventually took over at the top at the start of 2010. For a while it looked like Mickey Mellon's side would take control, but Southport ensured this was a fight to the wire.

Making use of their games in hand, it was the Haig Avenue side who edged out their rivals in the final few weeks - taking the title with a 3-0 win at Eastwood on the final day.

That consigned Fleetwood to the play-offs, where they were joined by three others. Alfreton - after another consistent season, and former Conference side Droylsden - who sneaked in on the final day ahead of Corby.

The quartet was completed by Workington - who timed their run perfectly to put together a sensational last couple of months and rise into the top five.

However, in the end of season lottery, they were comfortably seen off by Alfreton. The other semi final was a lot closer - with Fleetwood coming back from a 2-0 defeat in the first leg to eventually beat Droylsden on penalties.

In the final, it was the Lancashire side who emerged 2-1 victors and make up for missing out on the title. They will play in next season's Conference Premier.

Southport clinched the title and promotion on the final day

At the bottom, matters had long been decided.
Just two sides were to go down from the division though after the sad demise of Farsley Celtic. The gates were closed at the Throstle Nest in March as the club lost its fight against big debts.

It was a season of financial peril, with Hyde United coming close to going out of business. It also brought great joy and surprise with Northwich's stunning FA Cup run that saw them dump out League One Charlton.

On the pitch there was a surprise struggler in the form of big-spending Gainsborough.

Even the presence of the experienced Brian Little looked like not being enough for the Lincolnshire side. A late run helped ease them away from trouble eventually though.

In truth, this always looked a campaign too far for two other clubs - Harrogate Town and Vauxhall Motors.

The Yorkshire side, under rookie boss Simon Weaver, had experienced massive financial problems and struggled throughout. For the Motormen, strugglers in the past, they once again finished under the dotted line.

However, with Farsley no longer in existence, the same fate befalling Chester City higher up the pyramid, and Northwich being expelled for financial reasons, both clubs earned a reprieve from the drop.

They will be joined in next season's division by Worcester City - who finished in the bottom three of the Conference South but earned a transfer across the regional divisions.

Newly promoted are Nuneaton Town from the Southern League - the phoenix club of Nuneaton Borough. Also coming up from the Northern Premier are champions Guiseley and play-off winners Boston United.

All of which means that, although we won't be covering the division, the Conference North is once again shaping up to be an exciting contest next season. It will do well to match this term's drama though.

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