Dave Challinor reflects on the National League play-off schedule as preparations gear up for Bromley test
Hartlepool United finished fourth in the National League meaning they face three games over the next three weeks in the play-offs IF they are to win promotion this season.
Victory over Weymouth at the weekend saw Pools claim fourth spot in the table and set up a play-off eliminator round match against Bromley on Sunday, June 6 (2.30pm kick-off).
Should Pools win that, they will move into the semi-finals and face Stockport away before a potential final at Bristol City’s Ashton Gate against one of Notts County, Chesterfield or Torquay United on Sunday, June 20.
Clearly that’s all ifs and buts at this stage, with the initial focus purely on getting past Bromley on Sunday afternoon with fans once again back inside The Vic.
With a week between the games, there has been plenty of time for preparation and for those players carrying minor injuries to recover ahead of the weekend clash at Victoria Park.
Pools boss Challinor has been reflecting on the play-off schedule this season – and whether the lengthy spell between games this season is an advantage for teams, or not.
Challinor said: “It's a hard one really.
"In normal circumstances, the way the play-off schedule has been, finishing fourth to seventh was always a big disadvantage in my opinion.
"Previously, yeah, you had to play an extra game but the way it’s been configured means you play that extra game three days before a potential semi-final.
"You play Thursday then you play Sunday.
"I’ve been in both situations, finishing in the bottom two places and had to go away for an eliminator match knowing that we’d be away again a few days later if we won.
"I’ve played a home game and then an away game to get to a final.
"Is it more difficult finishing outside of the top three?
"Yeah because you’ve got to win three games opposed to two but there all winnable games and home advantage this year has maybe not been as beneficial to clubs as it would have been in other years.
"That will change slightly in the play-offs but regardless of what happens, we have three games to win in order to get out of the division and into the Football League which is a big opportunity for us.
“I think the schedule is kinder to the teams who finish fourth to seventh without question.
"I’ve been there previously and finishing in those positions means you have to win two games within 72 hours to get to a play-off final and you knew that the second game was an away game.
"With it being a week between the games, it doesn’t give an advantage obviously because you’re still having to play three games but it certainly reduces the disadvantage I think.”
Pools ended the regular season with a convincing 4-0 win over Weymouth in front of 1,700 supporters at The Vic on Saturday afternoon.
Ryan Johnson, Rhys Oates, Mark Shelton and Gavan Holohan were among the scorers as Pools secured their joint biggest National League win at The Vic.