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Title Race On

Thursday Jan 17, 2019

 Battle for promotion is hotting up!


 Do Kettering have what it takes to overcome Stourbridge for the title?

 It is looking increasingly like a two-horse race for automatic promotion to National League North from the Evo-Stik Southern League Central Division this season. Stourbridge find themselves 14 points clear of third-placed Biggleswade Town, although the West Midlands side have played four games more than their Bedfordshire counterparts. Nevertheless, Stourbridge’s number-one contender for the Southern League Central title appears to be Kettering Town. The Poppies have just four points to make up on Stourbridge in second place with three games in-hand.

 The Lambs showed their mettle against The Glassboys.

 The Lambs put up stiff resistance against Stourbridge back in November when Dennis Greene’s side held Stourbridge to a 1-1 draw, which was no mean feat given Stourbridge’s side contained ex-Lambs Callum Powell and Greg Mills. However, recent defeats at the hands of Coalville Town and Stratford Town have left Tamworth off the playoff pace by seven points. Unfortunately for the Lambs, it looks like an immediate return to National League North would be a tall order this term. Near misses in football are something that most Tamworth and England fans have to put up with, but a season of consolidation and getting used to the new division might not be such a bad thing for Dennis Greene’s men, who are still a team in post-relegation transition.

 Greene is still moulding a squad capable of competing for promotion and, ultimately, stabilising again in the National League North. Akwasi Asante’s recent departure to Chester FC on a month’s loan gave Greene some room for manoeuvre in the transfer market, snapping up Sheffield United starlets David Parkhouse and Reon Potts on-loan for an initial three months. The additions should add some youthful exuberance to the Lambs’ squad, as well as some international quality given that Parkhouse is a Northern Ireland Under-21 ace. Birmingham City prospect, Jack Concannon also joined on a work experience loan basis this month, providing more technical ability and set-piece attributes in the final third.

 The reborn AFC Rushden & Diamonds find themselves in the thick of the playoff places this season too. The Diamonds have been buoyed by the news that they are inching closer to securing a new permanent home, agreeing in principle a 30-year initial lease on an 11-acre plot that will enable AFC Rushden to develop their own facility in the years ahead. The clarity about the club’s long-term future has helped boss, Andy Peaks focus the players’ minds on pushing for promotion contention back into the National League.

 One side that has so far failed to build on their success of last season is East Suffolk side, Leiston. The club parted company with boss, Glenn Driver just a few weeks ago and new boss, Stuart Boardley is still finding his feet in his first management role at Evo-Stik Southern League level. Leiston made the final of the Bostik League Premier playoffs last term, eventually losing to Dulwich Hamlet. Those heady days seem a little way off, although they are just five points off fifth-placed Alvechurch at the time of writing.

 At the other end of the Evo-Stick Southern League Central, it looks like being a long, hard season for Bedworth United, who are winless after their opening 20 league games. However, they will take some heart from a recent battling 2-2 draw with Leiston on home soil. It would take an impressive run of form to see Stuart Storer’s side climb out of relegation trouble, but stranger things have happened. Above Bedworth, only seven points separate the Lambs in 13th and 21st-placed Halesowen Town, who recently appointed Rob Smith as their new boss amid reported interest in the vacancy from overseas. Ultimately, it could be a real slugfest until the final weeks of the season before the relegation places are sealed.

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