IN the wake of news that the ninth-tier of English football will feature play-offs from next season, Gary Freeman might end up wishing that his voice had been heard a little sooner.
His Jersey Bulls side currently sit third in Combined Counties Premier South but their hopes of claiming a top-two finish – and a shot at promotion – are diminishing fast. The Islanders sit three points behind Badshot Lea before tonight’s trip to AFC Croydon, having played two games more than the side who currently occupy the only inter-league play-off spot for 2022/23.
Under the regulations for 2023/24 and beyond, both clubs would be set to compete in the play-offs, alongside the teams in fourth and fifth.
Freeman spoke openly about the need for play-offs at step five of the National League ladder last week, to keep mid-table teams interested for the entirety of the campaign. Days later, their inclusion was confirmed by the FA.
‘Including a play-off structure was certainly a decision that had to happen,’ said Freeman following Bulls’ home defeat to Farnham Town.
‘Unfortunately it looks like we could end up in one of those positions that next year it would benefit.
‘But for the future of the league, it is a direction that will benefit the competitive nature of the league and create added excitement down the stretch. You can sometimes see teams that are mid-table switch off and lose a bit of that competition as the season draws to a close.
‘What the plans will provide is dangling a carrot to those teams from sixth to ninth to fight for a chance at getting into the promotion places.
‘Even looking at Farnham [seventh, 14 points adrift of Bulls] … they clearly wanted to win and made a lot of travelling supporters happy, but the result has little bearing on their season, whereas next year it could have been a massive result to fight towards the top five.’
Up next for Freeman is a trip to 13th-placed Croydon [7.45pm kick-off].
The Bulls got the better of the London side in the reverse fixture in February, behind goals from Luke Campbell and Lorne Bickley, but their situation has got more precarious since then.
Only two league victories in eight have left the Caesareans needing help from elsewhere – namely from leaders Raynes Park Vale, who travel to Badshot this evening.
Jersey Bulls squad to face Croydon Athletic: Euan Van Der Vliet, Frank Tobin, James Querée, Jay Giles, Luke Campbell, Sammy Sutcliffe, Luke Watson, Adam Trotter, Jack Boyle, Joe Kilshaw, Jonny Le Quesne, Kamen Nafkha, Francis Lekimamati, Fraser Barlow, Miguel Carvalho, Robert Martins-Figueira.