The National League player registration deadline: When is it and why it is so important for Hartlepool United, Notts County, Stockport, Wrexham and other promotion chasers
National League clubs are in the somewhat fortunate position of not being shackled by transfer windows – but there is still one key date they need to be aware of.
The player registration deadline would usually be the final Thursday in March and, up until this week, everyone thought that would continue to be the case this season.
But in the classic better very late than never fashion we’ve grown accustomed to, the registration deadline has been extended by another four weeks until April 22.
This is the new date clubs will have to ensure that they have registered every player they wish to participate in the remaining matches of the ongoing campaign.
And it’s the closest thing the National League will get to a ‘deadline day’ – just without the hyperbolic, yellow tie wearing fanfare that usually comes with it.
It’s a significantly more subdued transfer cut-off point due to non-league sides being able to conduct business all season long. This isn’t the place for panic buying or last-minute mega-deals – it's the day where clubs finalise the squad they have knowing that they’re stuck with it until the end of the season.
While no transfer window leaves sides vulnerable to having players leave at any point before the registration deadline, the fact that they are allowed to strengthen at any time before the last Thursday in April gives them ample opportunity to assemble their best squad possible.
This season fifth tier sides have the added bonus (if you can call it that) of having the rest of non-league football shutting down, leaving plenty of players available and wanting to play.
But unlike previous seasons, the 2020-21 campaign extends until the end of May opposed to April, explaining the registration extension.
For Hartlepool United, they’re in no real danger of losing any key players at this stage with Football League clubs unable to act. But Dave Challinor’s side still have time to bolster their squad in time for the final run of fixtures.
Here’s an assessment of their squad and the areas Challinor will be hoping to strengthen before April 22.
One area where Pools are perfectly fine. Ben Killip remains the number one choice as he has been for the past few months but Pools know they have a more than capable back-up in Henrich Ravas available should they need him.
And when their third choice goalkeeper, Brad Young, is an England under-19 international, you can safely say the side is well covered when it comes to the goalkeeper position.
In terms of centre-backs, Pools have strength in depth regardless of whether they choose to play a back three or back four. It’s a cliche but Gary Liddle coming back from a long term injury has almost been like a new signing in itself and more than made up for losing Tyler Magloire back in January.
The veteran defender has helped Pools keep several clean sheets since returning to the side with his experience and composure shining through and aiding his younger defensive partners.
The arrival of Jake Cooper on loan from Rotherham United provided additional cover at the back when Pools were hit with a couple of injury and suspension problems.
With Liddle, Cooper, Timi Odusina, Ryan Johnson and Lewis Cass available at centre-back – Hartlepool should have nothing to worry about in that area.
The full-back positions are slightly less solid in that regard. Jamie Sterry and David Ferguson are crucial players to Pools but an injury or suspension to either one of them would cause problems.
Cass started the season at right-back and could fill in for Sterry if required. Ryan Donaldson and Odusina also have experience playing down the right side but Challinor would want to avoid playing them there if possible.
The left side looks far more troublesome with Ferguson the only natural left-back in the squad. As a left-footed centre-back Johnson could potentially play there and Challinor has considered the option of swapping Cass or Sterry out to the left if necessary, but none of those options are ideal.
Left-back is one of the stand out positions Pools should be looking to cover. But with 11 games remaining, will they risk keeping what they’ve got?
Hartlepool’s midfield is, for want of a better word, stacked.
With Nicky Featherstone, Mark Shelton, Tom White, Gavan Holohan, Tom Crawford and Luke Williams now back available – six players who would get into most National League starting line-ups – you don’t really need to say any more.
Unless something popped up that was simply too good to turn down, acquiring any more central midfielders at this stage would be seen as financially irresponsible with money being better spent elsewhere in the squad.
This is where things get interesting. On the surface, Pools look well off in attack with Rhys Oates and Luke Armstrong scoring 17 goals in the last 19 National League games between them.
And with Luke Molyneux coming in and making an impact in recent weeks, you wouldn’t blame Challinor for not wanting to mess with a winning formula.
But in terms of a plan B in attack, Hartlepool look a little bit thin on the ground.
They have Mason Bloomfield, who brings more of a physical presence up front. But the forward has just two league goals to his name this season.
Challinor has admitted he’s looking to bring in another goalscorer to bolster his front line and be a threat on the counter attack should the side look for a different path to victory.
The Mail understands the club enquired about Spennymoor Town striker Glen Taylor’s availability among others, but nothing has transpired so far.
But with the Pools boss saying there would be a ‘definite’ loan incoming before the deadline, it’s a case of watching this space.