By Ryan Smith
The recent Beast from the East has seen many games in the National League called off courtesy of inclement weather or frozen pitches. It’s been a bit of a juggling act for the authorities as they desperately try to reschedule the games into an already tightly congested season.
At the start of February, we saw three more fixtures in the National League postponed due to bad weather and this trend is likely to carry on as the late winter storms build up to a crescendo before better weather arrives in the spring. With this being the case, the league table currently shows little symmetry and you only need to look at the goings-on at the summit to ask whether having more points on the board is an advantage?
Leaders Torquay United sit on 44 points with Sutton United in second on 37. The U’s have three games in hand over Torquay though and should they win all of them, they will go two points clear at the top. A well-deserved 2-0 win over Boreham Wood on the 13th of February indicates that Sutton are more than capable of closing the gap and surpassing Torquay’s points tally, but the pressure will only really begin to show at the end of the season.
Great win for Sutton. Well played lads
✅ Up to 2nd, gap closed to 7 points
✅ Clean sheet
✅ Goal of the season contender
— Sutton United FC (@suttonunited) February 13, 2021
With promotion to League Two on the line, there will come a time when the pressure is greatly amplified as the carrot of joining the fourth tier of English football is dangled in front of those in with a chance. This is where the advantage of having points on the board after having accumulated them earlier in the season will work in a team’s favour. You could argue that the job is made simpler by knowing what you have to do and how many points you need, but that can also be a hindrance as you chase the teams ahead of you.
A quick look back on the history of football will provide many examples of the effects that pressure can have on a team when chasing promotion. The most recent and high profile was perhaps Leeds United’s implosion against Derby County in the play-off semi-final. The Whites had accumulated a 6-1 aggregate over the Rams through the season before that game but the bright lights of an approaching Wembley blinded them on a night they needed to see clearly.
Leeds ultimately had the last laugh though as a look at football today will show that they are in the Premier League and they appear to be comfortable at this level, while Derby are fighting to avoid relegation in the Championship. At the end of the day, football is 11 v 11 and played over 90 minutes, one can’t take anything for granted.
Leeds have beaten Derby three times this season, but the Rams know they need to go for it tonight.
— Sky Sports Football (@SkyFootball) May 15, 2019
Indeed, it doesn’t matter how simple the task looks, when there is pressure, there is room for things to go spectacularly wrong. Added to that, when you take into account the National League’s insatiable appetite for upsets, well, having points on the board all of a sudden looks like a far more reassuring position to be in.