Contenders queue up for Conference promotion play-offs

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The Independent Football

The increase in promotion places available to Nationwide Conference clubs this season means that at least half the teams in the league still have realistic hopes of playing Third Division football next term.

The increase in promotion places available to Nationwide Conference clubs this season means that at least half the teams in the league still have realistic hopes of playing Third Division football next term.

Whereas last season only the Conference champions were promoted, this term the top team will go straight up and the next four in the final table will enter play-offs to decide the second promotion place.

Under the old system the promotion race probably would have been restricted to the three full-time professional clubs at the top of the table, Yeovil Town, Chester City and Doncaster Rovers. But now teams as far down the table as 12th-placed Northwich Victoria are within easy reach of the play-off places.

Northwich, who visit Telford United tomorrow, are being linked with a move for Yeovil's out-of-favour target man Carl Alford, once non-League football's most expensive player when he cost Rushden & Diamonds £85,000 five years ago. Another experienced striker who could be on the move is Dagenham & Redbridge's Junior McDougald, who is a target for the Third Division strugglers Exeter City.

If McDougald moves on, it would be a blow to Dagenham's chances of featuring in the race for a play-off place. The new system keeps the Daggers' season alive for, after just being beaten to a berth in the Football League by Boston United last term, they have had mixed results this campaign and lie in 11th place.

Although the play-offs are a realistic target for Dagenham, the Essex side will do well to catch Yeovil, who could be six points clear at the top of the Conference table tomorrow evening. The Somerset side are away to fifth-placed Scarborough in a league fixture while second-placed Chester City, who are three points adrift, are involved in a second-round FA Cup tie at Morecambe.

Third-placed Doncaster Rovers, six points behind Yeovil, could halve that deficit if they beat Burton Albion at Eton Park tonight. It looks like a season when no club will run away with the title, and it may be that the championship will be decided on the last day of the campaign, when Yeovil will be at home to Chester.

At the other end of the Conference table, the bottom club Kettering Town are asking their fans to help them play players' wages. The Poppies recently had to slash their squad's salaries, and they are trying to avoid a repeat which could lead to players walking out and relegation becoming an inevitability.

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