Our veteran non-league football correspondent, BRIAN GRANVILLE, on play-off success for one local club
Carshalton Athletic’s stellar end-of-season form has transformed what has otherwise been a very disappointing season for non-league football in and around Croydon.
Tonight, Carshalton face Merstham at Colston Avenue in the first of what could be three play-off contests to reach the National League South for the chance to play teams such as former Football League club Aldershot Town, and history-laden Dulwich Hamlet.
Nine consecutive home wins and only 14 points dropped out of 54 since late January has seen Carshalton rise like a champagne cork from mid-table of the Isthmian League Premier Division to finish second, clinching a play-off berth on the last day of the regular season.
If they manage to battle their way through the play-off system, it would mean back-to-back promotions for Carshalton, who last season amassed 102 points in winning the Isthmian League South. The Robins last played in Level 6 of the English football pyramid – National League South – in 2006.
With such good recent form, Carshalton are favourites to beat fifth-placed finishers Merstham tonight, although the Robins lost both their league games this season to the Moatsiders. Carshalton had a player sent off in each of their encounters with Merstham.
Merstham booked the last play-off place by beating Worthing 4-2, after Carshalton defeated Bishop’s Stortford 1-0.
Robins captain Paris Hamilton-Downes (no relation to the Inside Croydon editor) told the club website: “Including the other results going our way, the overall day was amazing.
“To finish second is a fantastic achievement considering we were lower mid-table in January.
“And now we have the play-offs to come which will give us a chance to make this season even more memorable.”
Bank Holiday Monday will see the winners play either Haringey Borough or Tonbridge Angels, and then the winner of that match will face the winners of the South Division play offs on May 11. That other finalist will be one of Poole Town, Taunton Town, Metropolitan Police or Salisbury.
Carshalton’s meteoric rise came while their local rivals were struggling through to the end of the season.
Sutton United fell short of repeating their National League play-off position last season, as they failed to rediscover the inspiration of their famous FA Cup run in 2018.
Lower down the leagues, and Croydon Athletic drifted to mid-table obscurity in the Southern Counties East Premier League, finishing 14th. Club chairman Paul Smith will be able to take some satisfaction that his Mayfield Stadium club are now re-established as Croydon’s top non-league team, after Croydon FC had a calamitous season.
Croydon’s paltry 11-point tally at the end of the season in SCEPL sees them consigned to the obscurity of Level 10 football next season. The 11 points, including just three wins in the 38-match league, represents the worst season-long record ever for the Trams, who were established in 1953 as the Croydon Amateurs.
Amateurish it has been this season, which has seen four managers come and go since May 2018 (Liam Giles, the fifth, brought some solidity and stability when he took over, but too late to salvage survival), and a worse performance even than the notorious 1993-1994 season when there was national coverage of Croydon’s 198 goals conceded. That year, Croydon still managed to amass 12 league points. At least this year only 101 goals were leaked.
At least Croydon has an outstanding youth team.
Their Under-18s are through to the Isthmian League’s “champion of champions” final. That success came after beating Lewes. Penalties were needed to find the finalist after the game finished 1-1. When it came to the penalty showdown the Trams came out on top 4-2.
The Trams’ youngsters go to the final at Whyteleafe’s Church Road ground on May 9, where they will face either Camberley Town or the Metropolitan Police. Given recent events at the club, the management must hope that all their starlets return still as Croydon FC players…
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