IT looked like Warrington Town’s title hopes were in tatters with 15 minutes to go on Saturday.
After back-to-back disappointments against Stafford Rangers, the Yellows could ill afford another slip even against high-flying Gainsborough Trinity, such is the relentlessness of the three-way battle for the Northern Premier League title.
Substitute Jack Mackreth came on and dragged Warrington back in to the match with an equaliser, and then converted a controversial late penalty that earned the Yellows a much-needed, if fortuitous, three points to keep them alive.
The reality is Paul Carden’s men are going to have to win all six of their remaining league fixtures to have any hope of winning the title, which would earn automatic promotion to National League North.
Even that may still not be enough.
A disjointed performance that seemed low on confidence at times, didn’t scream title-winning quality, though as has often been the case with Warrington this season, their ability to score goals in the dying stages of games shows a fighting spirit that is so often prevalent in champion teams.
If the title doesn’t come, then confidence and momentum is needed going in to a play-off series that will require three consecutive wins against quality opponents to earn promotion, all within 12 days of each other.
Mackreth, marginalised in recent months through injury, looks like he could be a pivotal figure in the run-in and Carden will be desperate to get as many minutes out of the former Grimsby and Wrexham winger as possible.
A lot will also depend on how deep the title fight goes – there’s every chance the Yellows could go in to the final day, away at Buxton, still in the title race, but if not, they will at least get the opportunity to potentially protect players for the play-offs.
A repeat visit of Gainsborough, which could be possible, would be spicy given their anger at the penalty decision on Saturday, though Buxton would appear to be in the box seat in the chase for that final spot.
Finishing second guarantees a home semi-final and that the final will be at home, while finishing third would open up the possibility of travelling to either South Shields or Farsley Celtic in the final.
A win in the final then sets up a super play-off against the winners of the equivalent play-offs in the Evo-Stik Southern League Central, which currently would be one of Stourbridge, King’s Lynn Town, Stratford Town and Alvechurch, who had a scout present at Warrington’s recent draw at Stafford.
Clearly, winning the league is the desired outcome.
The Yellows suffer because their run-in isn’t as favourable as Farsley or South Shields, and Warrington need the Yorkshiremen to drop points in at least two of their remaining six games.
This Saturday’s trip to Buxton is arguably Farsley’s most difficult fixture, though the Yellows need to focus on getting their job done first at Matlock, before worrying about what goes on elsewhere.
The picture may, or may not, be clearer come Saturday evening.
Saturday April 6: Buxton v Farsley Celtic, Matlock Town v Warrington Town, South Shields v Hednesford Town
Tuesday April 9: Farsley v Stafford, Warrington v Whitby, Workington v South Shields
Saturday April 13: Grantham v Farsley, South Shields v Basford, Warrington v Scarborough
Saturday April 20: Farsley v Hyde, Stafford v South Shields, Stalybridge v Warrington
Monday April 22: South Shields v Scarborough, Warrington v Witton, Whitby v Farsley
Saturday April 27: Buxton v Warrington, Farsley v Marine, Gainsborough v South Shields