ALTHOUGH Stratford Town have secured their Evo-Stik Southern Premier Central play-off spot, coach Steve Walker does not want the journey to end there, declaring: “finishing in the play-offs is not enough.”
The Blues secured their play-off place on Easter Monday at the Arden Garages Stadium with a 3-2 victory over Biggleswade Town, thanks to goals from Mike Taylor, Wilson Carvalho and Dan Creaney.
It now means Town can head to league champions Kettering Town this Saturday knowing they can enjoy themselves and prepare for Wednesday’s (1st May) play-off semi-final against Stourbridge or King’s Lynn Town.
To put the promotion picture into shape, Town must win three games to reach Step Two on the non-League ladder.
Thomas Baillie’s men would have to win the league’s very own play-off semi-final and final, and then win a ‘super’ play-off to secure promotion.
This is because six teams are coming down from Step Two into four Step Three divisions.
Therefore each winner from the Step Three leagues (Southern Premier Central, Southern Premier South, Northern Premier Division and Isthmian Premier Division) automatically go up.
Then the divisional play-off winners will play a further match against each other, with the two ties decided on a geographical basis.
Both ties are a one-off game and the home side will be decided by who has the better points-per-game ratio.
The two winners will then take the final two promotion spots.
The reality of this is two teams who won their divisional play-off won’t go up.
Regardless of the task ahead for Town, Walker is confident his players have what it takes to secure promotion to cap off a memorable season which has seen the Blues reach the FA Trophy first round and win the Evo-Stik CSS League Challenge Cup.
“If someone had said to us in June last year when Darren (Byfield) was here with the squad that we’d assembled that this was going to happen, I wouldn’t have laughed, I’d have snapped their hands off,” Walker told the Herald.
“That’s because we did not see this happening ourselves.
“The club wanted us to be self-sufficient in terms of being in the middle of the league and get into next season to see where we were.
“So from the start that we had, we’ve moved it forward and went on that long unbeaten run and ever since then the players had the belief they were a good side and to finish in the play-offs is not enough.
“We want to go and win our divisional play-off to make sure we’re in the super play-off wherever that may be against a northern team.
“Getting into the play-offs isn’t the be-all and end-all of the season, winning them is.
“We might be in a position where we end the season in fifth, but with our momentum and the fact that we’ve won a cup already, that shows in the dressing room we’ve got everything that we need.
“We will not be scared to go to any team in these play-offs.”
With one league game remaining, Walker hinted there could be changes to the starting XI, but only to make sure everyone is fired up for the play-off semi-final on Wednesday.
“The pressure is off for sure now, but we can’t just sit back and accept the Kettering game as it is,” added Walker.
“We need to make sure on Saturday that we are fully professional and we shall be selecting a team that we think will go and win the game.
“There could be a lot of changes because Saturday is not that important in the grand scheme of things, Wednesday is.
“We want to make sure that everyone is ready for that play-off semi-final.”
Thomas Baillie, who missed both games over the Easter weekend owing to a family holiday in Florida, returns to the touchline for Saturday’s trip to Kettering.
Following Town’s victory over Biggleswade, he said on Twitter: “Play-offs secured, League Cup winners, FA Trophy first round. Full credit to the group of players for their achievements this season. What happens now…?
“We rose up the league quietly and unnoticed and then just before Christmas found ourselves in the play-off places and effectively have stayed there ever since.
“It’s an extremely tough league and full credit to all involved.”