WARRINGTON Town have got to win three games in the next 11 days to secure promotion to National League North.
First up tonight (Tuesday) is Nantwich Town, their Cheshire rivals who they have failed to beat in six league meetings since promotion to the Premier Division in 2016.
If the game is as entertaining as the last meeting, back in February, fans are in for a treat.
In that game, Nantwich led 3-1 after just 34 minutes, having also missed a penalty, and went in 3-2 to the good at half-time.
Tony Gray’s injury-time equaliser rescued a 3-3 draw for the Yellows, who lost the reverse fixture 2-1 back in October, one of only six defeats all season.
Nantwich had been up at the top of the table for two thirds of the season, before falling away in the run-in that saw Warrington come third in a three-horse race behind eventual champions Farsley Celtic and play-off favourites South Shields.
The Dabbers sat top of the pile for 11 weeks during the season, albeit having played a few games more, while the Yellows sat top for three weeks in total.
For the past few weeks, Nantwich have been gearing up for the play-offs having been cut adrift by the top three, but boasting enough points to know they weren’t at risk from those behind them.
That meant a skeleton team took to the field for a 7-3 reversal in their final game at Basford United on Saturday, when at the same time Warrington took the opportunity to rest a few of their big-hitters in a 2-2 draw at Buxton.
It’s a tough one to call. Home advantage and their league placing will have Warrington as favourites, but there is something about Nantwich that they haven’t been able to figure out in the past few seasons.
The 2016/17 saw 4-1 and 3-2 defeats for the Yellows, while last season was only marginally better with a 2-1 defeat and 0-0 draw.
Warrington have a play-off monkey on their backs to shrug off too – after finishing third last season, they were humbled 3-0 at home by Grantham Town in a disappointing home semi-final when Paul Carden’s team had simply ran out of steam and bodies.
Their only other play-off experience in recent memory was also a bad one, suffering a 1-0 home defeat to Bamber Bridge when in NPL First Division North back in 2014.
Nantwich’s last foray in to the play-offs came two seasons ago, when they finished fifth to qualify for the first time in eight years.
They lost at the first hurdle too, 2-0 against Spennymoor.
The prize for the winner is likely to be a visit to South Shields in the final on Saturday, though the north east side must get past Buxton first.
Winning the play-offs this season unfortunately doesn’t secure automatic promotion – instead a “super play-off” will be played against the play-off winners from the Southern Central League, with Stourbridge and King’s Lynn the favourites to make that one.
Ones to watch for Nantwich are the league’s Young Player of the Year Joe Malkin up front, and creative midfielder Sean Cooke, who was named in the league’s Team of the Year alongside Yellows pair Mark Roberts and Dave Raven.
It would be a real shame for the Yellows if their efforts over the past two seasons, consecutive third place finishes, didn’t result in a genuine tilt at promotion this term.
Warrington Town vs Nantwich Town kicks off at 7.45pm tonight (Tuesday) at Cantilever Park. Tickets are available on the door at £10 for adults, £6 for concessions and £2 for under 16s.