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Maidstone’s play-off push: Everything you need to know

It’s been a memorable season for Maidstone United. With their magical FA Cup run going further than any team in the sixth division of English football in years and the buoyancy around the club with the always inspirational George Elokobi at the helm, it is now crunch time for the Stones.

In the National league North and South, the way promotion works is very different than the Football League. With there being two leagues feeding into one league the National League there are limited spots for teams to go into the next league. The champions of each league go straight into the National League but there is only one other team that can go up from each league and so the way the playoffs work is much more complicated than that of the Championship, for example.

From second to seventh all six teams are technically involved in the play-offs but not all the spots are equally weighted not just in terms of who you will play against but how many games you will have to play in order to be promoted. Teams finishing second or third will be automatically into the semi-finals of the play-offs but for the teams from fourth to seventh they will have to duke it out to face the teams in the automatic play-off spots and then play the semi-final and then eventually the final if they can get that far.

Screenshot via sofascore

Positioning in those four qualification play-off spots is crucial as fourth place plays seventh and fifth plays sixth and so getting higher up in the table can be the difference between playing a better or worse team. Unlike the professional leagues every one of the play-off games is a one legged knockout tie, going to extra time and then penalties if it is a draw at the end of 90 minutes, and more importantly the team who finished higher in the league table will have the home advantage. This will still apply all the way to the final as the North and South national leagues do not get the privilege of going to Wembley unlike

So, what does this all really mean for Maidstone United?

Maidstone have successfully gotten out of this division for before and just two years ago at that but they won the league that season. The play-offs are notoriously tricky, with knockout football the best team doesn’t always win and so it will be a different challenge to navigate. They currently sit fifth in the National League South table before the final game of the season this Saturday at home to Hampton & Richmond. They are already guaranteed to be involved in the play-offs in some way but still have the chance to better their position. More importantly they can get into one of the automatic play-off spots, being just one point away from third place Worthing. However, Maidstone would need Worthing to drop points against Weston Super Mare this weekend and the same applies for Braintree Town who are also just one point above Maidstone.

The lowest Maidstone can possibly finish is where they currently sit and the highest is technically second place however this is massively unlikely with Chelmsford being three points ahead with a far superior goal difference with +33 compared to Maidstone’s +16. Just last weekend Maidstone’s chances of finishing second were extremely high but they unexpectedly lost 3-1 away to seventeenth placed Truro City which has now increased the difficulty of their task tenfold.

Who will Maidstone be likely to play?

There are many possibilities that technically can happen with Maidstone’s positioning and the two playoff spots below them still being up for grabs for teams outside them. This is mainly because Maidstone’s final game of the season is against another team in the playoff spots in Hampton & Richmond Borough. Hampton actually beat Maidstone 5-2 earlier in the season but only have one win in their last eight games and that one win being against last place and already relegated Dover Athletic. It will be interesting to see if form plays more of a role in the result or that previous big win will still play on Maidstone players’ minds.

The last weekend of fixtures will complicate things even more as sixth placed Bath City play eighth placed and still with a chance of play-offs, Aveley FC. This means that every team from fifth to eighth are playing each other on the final day of the season and all have something big to play for to keep what they’ve got or improve the outlook of their seasons in what is a great chance for all of them to set up their play-off runs in the best way possible.

If Maidstone were to lose their game and Bath don’t win, then they will be playing Hampton & Richmond almost straight away again in their play-off qualifier. If Maidstone win but Braintree and Worthing don’t drop any points then they will be playing Bath. If both two teams above them drop points and Maidstone win, they are of course in the automatic play-off spots but if only one of them wins and Maidstone do, they will be in fourth and be playing one of Hampton & Richmond or Aveley depending on their result against Bath.

Maidstone have been unable to beat any of Aveley, Bath or Hampton & Richmond all season with Aveley having done the double over them and Bath beating them 3-0 in the second game of the season so none of these games will be an easy one for the Stones. However, as we have seen this season with their cup run they have a tendency to shine brightest when the games get bigger.

Depending on their final league position they will either be playing their play-off eliminator on the 23rd or 24th of April giving them a very short turn around from the final league game but if they do manage to get into the automatic playoff spots, they’ll have a whole week to rest and prepare adding yet another incentive to finish in those lucrative spots.

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