Leading the way in the National League, a return to the Football League beckons for Stockport County, but how soon can they wrap the title up?
By Amos Murphy
Title race still alive in the National League, but for how much longer?
Out of the promotion picture when Dave Challinor replaced Simon Rusk at Edgeley Park earlier in the campaign, a resurgence under the former Hartlepool United and AFC Fylde boss has seen the Hatters take the National League by storm.
Just three defeats in his 27 league games so far have punctuated a fantastic return to non-league for Challinor, with the Chester-born boss targeting consecutive promotions from the National League with two different clubs.
Having guided Hartlepool to a dramatic playoff final win last season, after knocking out current club Stockport in the semi-finals, Challinor looks set to go one better this time around and finish on top.
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Boasting a four-point advantage over second-placed Wrexham, it is starting to feel like a matter of when not if for Stockport.
Five games remain of the National League campaign, with Stockport only needing a handful of victories to confirm their status as champions, while ending an 11-year hiatus from the Football League.
When is the earliest point Stockport can be crowned champions?
Currently on 85 points, Stockport have already matched their record points tally for a league season, with attention now switching to securing the league title.
With 15 points left to play for, the maximum points tally the Hatters can achieve this season sits at 100, whereas their closest chasers in Wrexham, who have played a game more, can manage 93.
We're pleased to announce that we will be broadcasting our National League game away at Wrexham live on the big screen at Edgeley Park.
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Due to that extra game, it means Stockport’s earliest chance of securing the league title, should Wrexham continue to win all of their remaining games, would come at the Racecourse Ground itself.
The pair are due to meet in North Wales on 8th May, in what was at one point billed as a National League title decider.
Granted, the match could still end up playing a crucial role in the promotion race, albeit only for the Hatters to confirm their promotion.
Can the title be secured any earlier for Stockport?
However, should Wrexham drop any more points between now and their clash with County, there may be an opportunity for Stockport to start their title party early.
Wrexham face tough tests against Southend United and Boreham Wood before they welcome Stockport to the Racecourse, with maximum points required for the Red Dragons to keep the title race alive.
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One defeat for Wrexham during the Bank Holiday weekend double-header would mean Stockport could secure the title at the Technique Stadium when they face Chesterfield on Monday, should they also win their next two matches.
What if Wrexham draw one and win one of their next two?
Last weekend’s defeat away to Woking was Wrexham’s first in the league since falling to Torquay all the way back in early February.
Defeats aren’t a currency Phil Parkinson has dealt in often since the turn of the year, with the chance of an end-of-season collapse looking unlikely.
Of course, if both sides continue to win, 8th May will remain the day Stockport can earn promotion, but what if Wrexham draw one and win one of their next two matches?
Well, the title could be theoretically sealed by Stockport before their trip to the Racecourse, but not mathematically.
⚽️ Have Wrexham’s chances of catching Stockport County disappeared, or can they still win the National League? pic.twitter.com/RysNhf9GSI
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Four points from Wrexham’s games against Southend and Boreham Wood would put them on 85 points, with a maximum total of 91 available to them after that.
In that case, Stockport could match Wrexham’s maximum tally with two wins against Boreham Wood and Chesterfield, and due to their superior goal difference, have the title all but confirmed ahead of their visit across the Welsh border.
That would leave County needing only one point from their game against Wrexham to wrap the title up and confirm promotion to the National League.
For Wrexham, unless they can muster a flawless end to the season, while also beating leaders Stockport in their upcoming fixture, it looks as if Parkinson’s side will be reliant on the playoffs.
Set to be held at West Ham United’s London Stadium, the decision has already caused controversy amongst the Wrexham faithful, due to the final date clashing with Wales' World Cup playoff clash against either Ukraine or Scotland.
An unforgiving beast at times, Wrexham will need to keep their nerve if they are to earn promotion and also end their long unwanted stay in non-league.