*BS*With two games to go this season, there are five teams fighting for the remaining three play-off places up for grabs.*BF*
Salisbury are guaranteed 2nd place but who will come 3rd, 4th and 5th? This midweek round of matches could go a long way to deciding it, though the battle for 3rd place is likely to go to the wire on Saturday.
This week we will take a look at the contenders for the play-offs and who will finish where in the top five.
*BS*THE OUTSIDERS: SUTTON UNITED*BF*
7th placed Sutton face a tough home fixture against Salisbury, needing a win to have a realistic chance of snatching 5th place. They lie four points off 5th with two games to go and need Eastleigh to slip up in both their games.
The Surrey club only registered their first win of the campaign in October, spending the opening months of the season firmly in the relegation zone. However, just two defeats in the following three months saw them shoot up the table; beating Eastleigh and Welling along the way.
Their season took another twist in March when four defeats in eight games, three of them at Gander Green Lane, seemed to end their play-off hopes. Players were swiftly released as the club started the rebuilding process for next season but April has seen them enjoy six straight wins with the talented Harry Beautyman, Marvin Williams and Craig Dundas leading the charge for the U’s.
They need to make it seven in a row against Salisbury and eight at Bath on Saturday to have a chance of achieving what seemed impossible at more than one stage this season.
*BS*THE UNDERDOGS: WESTON-SUPER-MARE*BF*
6th placed Weston have had a magnificent season under up-and-coming boss Craig Laird, who has gradually put together a strong side in the South West seaside town.
Punching somewhat above their weight for a club with the 18th highest average attendance in the division, Weston have been consistent against the mid-table and lower sides but struggled against the top five. Dover (twice), Eastleigh (twice), Chelmsford, Salisbury and Welling have all beaten the Seagulls. Just two wins in 10 games against the sides currently above them has seemingly curtailed their play-off dream.
It’s not over just yet for Weston. Admittedly, Chelmsford and Eastleigh victories this week will end their hopes but much stranger things have happened in non-league football. However, hoping for Chelmsford and Eastleigh to fail against Maidenhead and Truro in midweek is probably asking a bit too much on this occasion.
*BS*THE FORM TEAM: EASTLEIGH*BF*
Eastleigh have been in a great form since early January, new manager Richard Hill gradually moving the club up the table. One or two wobbles aside, Eastleigh have barely put a foot wrong in the past three months and found a useful knack for scoring important late goals.
Quality players such as Jai Reason and Craig McAllister, who have experience in the league above, have kept the goals flowing. In fact, former Exeter and Crawley target man McAllister has notched two consecutive hat-tricks in the past week, including a second half treble against Tonbridge after they were 1-0 down at half-time on Saturday.
In the summer Eastleigh made notable signings in midfield and attack to become pre-season favourites for the title. However, the defence remained unchanged from last season, which turned out to be a weakness in the first half of this campaign. Hill has addressed the problem, signing Ross Flitney from Gillingham, Dean Beckwith from Luton and Chris Todd from Forest Green.
A win for the Spitfires on Tuesday at home to Truro will seal their place in the play-offs. On Saturday they travel to champions Welling, who will be in party mood so the result could go either way there.
A play-off spot looks almost certain in their present run of form. Currently 2nd in the form table for the past six games, Eastleigh have scored 15 and conceded four. However, they haven’t faced one of the top five since playing Chelmsford and Salisbury in mid-February.
If McAllister keeps scoring, Eastleigh will be hard to stop and they will be a different side to the one Whites did the double against earlier this season.
Later this week I will review how the play-off picture has changed after the games on Monday and Tuesday. I will also put Chelmsford, Dover and Salisbury under the microscope ahead of the final league fixture and next week’s play-off semi-finals.