Last day drama in the Evo-Stik Premier puts Football League in the shade
Followers of English football have pretty much been starved of top-of-the-table drama this season, with three of EnglandÃ¢ÂÂs top four divisions crowning their title winners weeks before the end of the campaign.
While caps must assuredly be doffed to Manchester United, Cardiff City and Gillingham, the second half of the season has lacked the drama of a barnstorming title battle in the Premier League, Championship and League Two.
While Doncaster RoversÃ¢ÂÂ breathtaking 95th minute ascension to the top of League One on the final day of the season will take some beating, those with an eye on the Evo-Stik League Northern Premier Division will half be expecting something even more dramatic.
After a season long dust-up, North Ferriby United and Hednesford Town go into the final game neck and neck on 90 points. This tally is certainly impressive - indeed, it would have been enough to win any of the four elite divisions, but the points accrued only tell part of the thrilling season-long story.
Hednesford couldnÃ¢ÂÂt have possibly wished for a better pick-me-up following last seasonÃ¢ÂÂs play-off heartbreak (the Ã¢ÂÂPitmenÃ¢ÂÂ have suffered play-off defeat for three seasons on the bounce). They won five of their first seven games, drawing the other two.
A surprise home defeat to Worksop Town (by the relatively jaw dropping score of 4-0) was one of only three pre-Christmas defeats.
North Ferriby started more slowly. They picked up just one point from the first nine, but came to life in late-August with a 4-0 thumping of Frickley Athletic at the catchily-named Rapid Solicitors Stadium. That win spurred them into a run of five consecutive wins. They wouldnÃ¢ÂÂt lose again in the league until early December.
That defeat came against the team who would prove to be their title rivals. HednesfordÃ¢ÂÂs 3-2 win boosted their title push, while sparking a mini slump for the home side, who wouldnÃ¢ÂÂt win again until Boxing Day.
Both sidesÃ¢ÂÂ form since the New Year has been exemplary, with North Ferriby losing just once, and racking up goal difference bothering 6-1 and 5-1 wins against Eastwood Town and Stocksbridge Park Steels along the way. Hednesford have been almost as consistent, losing two league games. One of those two defeats came in the second meeting with North Ferriby, who exacted revenge with a 3-2 away victory of their own.
The nine months leading up to SaturdayÃ¢ÂÂs decider have been memorable, bordering on vintage, for supporters of both clubs, with both North Ferriby and Hednesford hoping to add the league title to cup success. North Ferriby claimed the Doodson Sports Cup thanks to a penalty shoot-out victory over Curzon Ashton; Hednesford took the Staffordshire Senior Cup by thrashing Rushall Olympic 5-1 at Port Vale, and the Birmingham Senior Cup at WalsallÃ¢ÂÂs Bescot Stadium by dispatching Sutton Coldfield Town).
So it all comes down to the final game. North Ferriby host Ashton United, whose manager, Danny Johnson announced his resignation on Monday. Hednesford, meanwhile, travel to AFC Fylde, who have secured their own play-off spot after a spate of rearranged games.
ItÃ¢ÂÂs not quite winner-takes-all, with North Ferriby clearly in the box seat thanks to a eight-goal advantage in the goal-difference stakes. But in a season that has seen so many twists and turns, the last day of the Evo-Stik Northern Premier could create tension, excitement and glory to match anything the upper echelons of the English game has produces this season.