THE stage is set for a thrilling conclusion to the Ryman Premier Division season on Saturday, with Hendon and Wingate and Finchley hoping to achieve very different targets.
Having looked virtual certainties for relegation two months ago, Hendon have enjoyed a dramatic upturn in their fortunes which has seen them win seven of their past nine matches to ensure that victory at home to Staines Town on Saturday (3pm) will guarantee that they avoid the drop.
And Wingate are on the brink of sealing their place in the play-offs following successive wins over the Easter weekend which leaves them only needing a point at home to third-placed Dulwich Hamlet on Saturday (3pm) to secure a top-five finish.
Hendon’s resurgence continued over the weekend as they beat Metropolitan Police on Saturday and Harrow Borough on Monday to climb out of the relegation zone for the first time in months and leave their fate very much in their own hands.
However, although their current total of 53 points would be more than enough to secure survival in most seasons, that may will not be the case this time around.
The Greens could lose on Saturday and stay up if Burgess Hill Town and Canvey Island both fail to win their matches, while it would take an extremely unlikely sequence of results to send Hendon down if they draw against Staines.
But victory would leave the side not needing to worry about any other results and could even see Hendon end up as high as 15th in the final table.
Manager Gary McCann said: “Such is the pressure and tension we have been under that we have not been able to really enjoy and appreciate any of our victories. It has been win one game and get ready for the next match and try to pick up another three points.
“In the other two leagues at this level [Northern Premier and Southern Premier] the teams fourth-bottom have 46 and 44 points, so our 53 points would leave us safe.
“A few weeks ago, I thought 52 would be enough, but now I believe it will take more than this. But I have confidence in my players having the mental strength to cope with the pressure and come through with the result we need.”
McCann added: “We are in a great place in terms of our confidence and there has been a real togetherness about us.
“After we lost at Billericay, we had 32 points from 36 games and I have the players a target from four groups of games. I knew that 50 points – our target at the start of the season – was not going to be enough, but I?thought that 5 or 52 would have sufficed.
“We met the target in each of the first three sets, but even with a win from the first game of the last pair we are not there yet. It is hard to believe that 53 points – or even 54 – may not be enough, but that just says how unpredicatable the division is.”
Meanwhile, Wingate have every chance of reaching the play-offs even if they lose to Dulwich as they would still finish fifth unless sixth-placed Leiston win at fourth-placed Enfield Town.
Victory would see Wingate jump above Dulwich in the final table and could even result in them finishing third and securing a home tie in the play-offs if Enfield fail to beat Leiston.