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Semi-Final Preview

By Jeff Brazier

The eliminators served up some late drama and one fairly big surprise in that Chesterfield finally turned up for the first time since I saw them away at Notts County at the end of March. It looked like a certainty that Halifax would capitalise on poor form, but Danny Rowe and Jeff King had other ideas.

Quite what inspired the dramatic return to performing with the discipline and togetherness that evaded them for so long is beyond me, but it caught Pete Wild’s side by surprise and they didn’t do enough to find a solution of their own.

A disappointing end to what was otherwise an incredible season for The Shaymen, who punched above their weight against the likes of Stockport and Wrexham. Question is: can Pete Wild improve on this season’s 84 points and will another club try to tempt him elsewhere?

Ian Burchnall was also desperately unlucky to see his side concede so late and he has been strongly linked to the Forest Green Rovers job, so we might see a lot more managerial movement than Chris Hargreaves’ recent appointment at Yeovil.

Looking ahead to the weekend, Wrexham v Grimsby is fascinating. A few weeks ago, many would have said if Wrexham don’t win the title, they will win the play-offs. I mean, all teams that finish 2nd would start as favourites, right?

The reason I worry for them is because firstly they had the knock of Stockport beating them to automatic promotion. It was out of their hands in the end, but that defeat at Dagenham was below their usual high standards. They then got beat in another underwhelming performance at Wembley against Bromley and they must now navigate that rollercoaster again to stand up to a plucky Grimsby side who clearly don’t know when they’re beaten.

What I loved about that dramatic victory for the Mariners was how unfazed Paul Hurst was by the whole event! He knows nothing has been achieved yet but that unwavering belief in his side or acceptance that what will be will be would have been felt by the players and with that trust, no wonder they carry on pushing right up to the last. Nobody is writing them off at The Racecourse.

I’ll be at Solihull v Chesterfield and it has something in common with the other tie in that the gap between who you would have said were favourites a few weeks ago has considerably reduced, although the difference here is down to Chesterfield’s resurgence and not because Solihull have lost form.

In fact, Solihull have been the side I fancied in the play-offs since I watched them coincidentally win away at Chesterfield back in February. I’ve seen them numerous times since and they’ve remained solid and efficient, rarely dipping below the standards Neil Ardley has set. Arguably the only off day was away to Barnet which they did enough to win 2-0.

With 5 straight wins coming into this fixture and 10 unbeaten at home, 8 of those wins, you have to see them as the favourites to go through to the final at West Ham’s London Stadium. They’ve had a fantastic 2 week rest too, whereas Paul Cook’s side played on Tuesday night and have struggled with knocks and fitness generally all season. Danny Rowe came off injured and has announced his season is over so he will be a massive loss on Sunday.

Paul Cook kept repeating ‘that’s football’ after the Halifax win. Will he be saying that come Sunday evening? That win on Tuesday night means he will be unable to travel to watch his beloved Liverpool in the Champions League Final so you can guarantee that beyond his actual duties, he’ll be doing everything he can to make sure the semi-final proves particularly worthwhile.

Fingers crossed the drama and excitement keeps coming in a fitting end to a fantastic season.

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