Warrington Town face local rivals Northwich Victoria in a top of the table clash at Cantilever Park on Saturday in a game that could have a decisive say in where this year’s Evo-Stik Division One North title goes.
For the second time in three seasons, Warrington are very much in title and promotion contention under the guidance of tenacious manager Shaun Reid, who has strengthened his squad in recent weeks to ensure his players can continue the remarkable run of form that has seen them lose just twice in the league all season.
Warren Beattie, Joe Holt and Phil Dean have arrived to bolster the Town squad, a sign that shows Reid has perhaps learned from two years ago when his squad ran out of steam in the early months of the year and ultimately missed out on promotion with defeat to Bamber Bridge in the play-offs.
Fans of the Yellows will have painful memories of the last table-topping clash that was held at Cantilever Park, a 5-1 hammering at the hands of Curzon Ashton, who eventually went on to be champions, in February 2014.
Worse than that was the fact that the game had been re-arranged from the previous November, when it was abandoned at the first attempt due to floodlight failure, with Warrington 2-0 up after 30 minutes.
Reid’s side were virtually unplayable that day, and had they been able to close out that win, they would have gone seven points clear at the top and made it 17 games unbeaten. It would have also been Curzon’s first defeat of the season.
There was a feeling on that night that it could be a decisive point in the season and so it proved, as Curzon were able to maintain their unbeaten run and they eventually, deservedly, won the league relatively easily as both Warrington and Darlington fell away in the final months of the season.
With last season’s league campaign virtually written off following the obvious distraction of Warrington’s historic FA Cup run, the pressure is on for ambitious Town to get promotion.
Their 2020 vision of reaching the Football League looks to be a tall order, but there’s no doubting that a win on Saturday could provide the springboard to promotion from what is acknowledged as one of the most difficult leagues to escape in non-league.
Ahead of the game, Town sit top of the table, three points ahead of Northwich, although Vics do have four games in hand. It is that which makes this game nothing but a must-win for Reid and his charges.
Vics had an FA Cup run of their own this season, which will contribute to a fixture pile-up later on in the campaign, yet they have dropped just five points all season – all against Clitheroe, a team against who Town have scored 10 goals in two meetings this campaign.
Warrington are currently on an unbeaten run of nine games in the league, and have won 17 and drawn two of their last 20 league games. Their sluggish start, which saw two draws and a defeat in the opening four, is so far keeping Northwich with the upper hand.
A win for Warrington would put them six points clear, with the trip to Northwich still to come. Although they will of course be reliant on Jim Gannon’s side dropping points elsewhere, it would be a clear statement of intent.
What Reid will be wanting to avoid, where possible, is the lottery of the play-offs – particularly after the experience of two years ago when both Town and Darlington were upset by Bamber Bridge and Ramsbottom United, who eventually earned promotion having finished fifth in the table.
To go up as champions would provide Town with the springboard for success in the Evo-Stik Premier League, which is just one level below National League North (formerly Conference North).
It is worth noting that the champions of two seasons ago, Curzon Ashton, made it back-to-back promotions last season and are now playing at that level, just one below the National League (formerly the Conference).
One man to watch on the Vics side, if he plays, is Abou Sanogo, who has ripped Town apart on no fewer than three occasions when the two sides have clashed in recent seasons.
Town will no doubt look to deadly duo Ben Deegan and Ciaran Kilheeney, who sits second in the league’s goalscorer charts with 18 so far this season.
Warrington Town take on Northwich Victoria on Saturday (3pm kick-off) at Cantilever Park. You can pay on the gate – £8 for adults, £5 for concessions and £2 for Under 16s (or free with a paying adult).