2018/19 NPL Season Review

By James Gordon

We remember the highs and lows of the 2018/19 EVO-STIK League season.

Farsley Celtic were crowned 2018/19 EVO-STIK Northern Premier League champions after prevailing in a thrilling three-way title race that went down to the final weekend of the season.

They finished with an impressive 90 points from 40 games that saw them finish ahead of South Shields and Warrington Town.

Warrington would go on to win the play-offs, beating South Shields away 2-1 in the final, but would miss out on promotion to National League North with a heartbreaking extra time defeat to King’s Lynn Town in the so-called super play-off with the Southern League Central play-off winners.

The title race in the East Division was a lot more clear cut, with Morpeth Town steamrolling through their first season in the NPL to pick up the title by 12 clear points, winning 28 of their 38 games in the process.

In the first season since the change from North/South to East/West, the merger of Ossett Town and Albion to form Ossett United proved a success as they reached the play-offs, along with Pontefract Collieries, Sheffield FC and Brighouse Town, who missed out on promotion despite beating Colls 3-0 in the play-off final due to an inferior points per game to other clubs at step four, with only five promotion places available to the seven play-off winners.

Fortunately for Radcliffe in the West Division, they had done enough during the regular season to ensure that their 2-1 play-off final victory over Leek Town earned them promotion to the Premier Division, alongside champions Atherton Collieries, who earned their third promotion in five seasons to reach step three.

Colls finished seven points clear of second placed Radcliffe, having pulled clear in the run-in of the season in a race that had included Runcorn Linnets, who slid out of the play-off places on Easter weekend having occupied a spot since August.

Colne and Ramsbottom United, who enjoyed a memorable run in the FA Trophy reaching the last 16 and were the best performing NPL club in the competition, were the other two play-off teams in the West.

The Premier Division ended with one less team than it started with after North Ferriby United were liquidated in March, resulting in their records being expunged from the league table and their removal from the NPL.

That meant two relegation spots, and Workington were the first to go after a disappointing campaign in the same season they announced plans for an exciting new stadium development at their Borough Park home.

The relegation battle went down to the wire, with Marine ending up going down on the final day courtesy of a late Mickleover Sports winner against Bamber Bridge. It’s the first relegation in Marine’s 125-year history and ends a run of 40 consecutive seasons at the top level of the NPL.

At the bottom of the step four divisions, there was a reprieve for Carlton Town after AFC Mansfield resigned from the league at the end of the season. Carlton finished two points above bottom-side Gresley FC, who go down to step five.

In the West Division, Skelmersdale United were relegated with just two wins all season, while second-bottom Kendal Town were reprieved due to Colwyn Bay’s decision to resign and join the Welsh football pyramid.

Farsley were denied a league and cup double by Trafford, who were the Integro League Cup winners with a 2-1 triumph at Broadhurst Park, home of FC United.

Seven more NPL teams claimed silverware during the campaign as they won their respective county cup competitions - Nantwich Town (Cheshire), Cleethorpes Town (Lincolnshire), Scarborough (North Riding), Morpeth Town (Northumberland), Basford United (Nottinghamshire), Stafford (Staffordshire) and Ossett United (West Riding). Seven more NPL clubs reached the final of their competition before falling at the final hurdle.

In the FA Cup, no NPL side reached the first round proper, with Warrington coming closest - going down 2-0 to National League side Halifax Town in a fourth qualifying round replay.

Three other NPL sides reached the fourth qualifying round, Witton Albion went down 2-0 to National League high-fliers Solihull Moors, Marine bravely lost 2-1 to Salford City, who would go on to earn promotion to the Football League, while Kidsgrove Athletic lost 1-0 to Hartlepool United.

The top goalscorers in the three divisions all scored 25 goals - with Bamber Bridge’s Alistair Waddecar and Scarborough Athletic’s James Walshaw sharing the Premier Division golden boot. Chris Almond of Prescot Cables came out on top in the West Division, while Brighouse Town’s Aaron Martin was the top scorer in the East, with nearest challenger Eli Hey finishing three goals behind having suffered an injury late on in the season.

The NPL Player of the Year awards all went to players from championship-winning clubs - James Spencer from Farsley in the Premier, Morpeth’s David Carson in the East and Atherton’s Ben Hardcastle in the West.

Colne’s Alex Curran won the Young Player of the Year award in the West for the second season running, while the West Division award went to Belper Town’s Piteu Crouz.

In the Premier, the award went to Nantwich forward Joe Malkin. Radcliffe’s Tunde Owolabi won the NPL Show Supporters’ Player of the Year.

Leek Town won the Presidents Cup for topping the Fair Play table, with Lancaster City and Cleethorpes Town topping their respective divisions.

It was also a successful season off the pitch for the NPL, with several new partnerships struck including a new kit deal with Kappa and the launch of the NPL50 book, and most notably the successful awarding of the additional division at step four which will be run by the NPL from the 2020/21 season.

Where next?

Digital Challenge award winners The Digital Challenge Award winners for 2018/19 were announced in Blackpool at the NPL End of Season dinner.
Key takeaways from the AGM The curtain was brought down on the 2018-19 EVO-STIK Northern Premier League season on Saturday, with the league AGM in Blackpool.

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