Notts County lead non-league heavyweights in battle for final EFL spot

Notts County are two games away from a return to the EFL

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Four clubs each with a proud league history are competing for the final spot in next year's EFL.

Whilst most people's attentions will be firmly fixed on the British teams competing at the European Championships, this weekend also sees the National League play-off semi-finals take place.

And it pits together four teams each desperate to reclaim their league status.

Torquay, Notts County, Stockport and Hartlepool have all dropped out of League Two within the last decade and their relegations brought to an end long stays for each of them in the top four divisions.

Notts County were the most recent of the quartet to suffer the ignominy of surrendering their league status. That was in the 2018-19 campaign and it brought to a halt their stay in the EFL, which they'd been a part of for their entire history.

Prior to their relegation in 2019, Notts County's entire history was in the Football League

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The world's oldest professional league team almost made an immediate comeback last term, but fell short in the play-off final losing out to Harrogate Town.

Now, they want to go one better.

First, they have to find a way past Torquay at Plainmoor on Saturday in the semi-final. Their hosts relinquished their EFL status in 2014 for the second time in seven years.

Prior to that they'd been a mainstay in the League for 80 years.

Credit has to go to veteran boss Gary Johnson who led them to the National League South title in 2018-19, his first campaign at the club.

They consolidated last term before Covid saw the regular season end early, and this term they finished just four points short of eventual champions Sutton United.

Gary Johnson led Torquay to the National League South title and now wants to take them back into the EFL

In stark contrast to Johnson's experience is the relatively unknown Ian Burchnall. He started coaching at university before moving to Scandinavia to take on various coaching roles, eventually succeeding Graham Potter at Ostersunds before being tempted to Meadow Lane in March.

The other end of the draw sees another two famous old League names compete, when Stockport host Hartlepool on Sunday.

Only a point separated the two teams across the 42-game season so it promises to be a tight and tense affair at the weekend.

Whilst Pools were last in League Two in 2017, for County it's now a full decade since they were part of the EFL.

They even dipped down into the Conference North in 2013. It took them until 2019 to get back to the National League, and last season they were unlucky to miss out on the play-offs via the PPG method.

As for Hartlepool, they've flattered to deceive in their three previous seasons outside the EFL, finishing 15th, 16th and 12th.

But under Dave Challinor, a former Stockport player, they've been much more consistent this season and will be looking to emulate their result against County from earlier in the season when they trounced them 4-0.

This is Hartlepool's fourth season outside the Football League

The presence of home fans only may well be a key advantage in both this weekend's games.

Both Pools and Notts sealed 3-2 wins over Bromley and Chesterfield respectively in the quarter-finals, roared on by partisan home crowds.

Torquay and Stockport will now be hoping for the same this coming weekend.

Unlike previous years, the winners of this weekend's tie will not be meeting in a showpiece final at Wembley.

That's due to the famous ground being one of the host venues for this summer's European Championships.

Instead, the one-game shoot-out for a spot in the EFL will take place at Bristol City's Ashton Gate on Sunday, June 20.

Ashton Gate will be the setting for this year's National League play-off final

National League play-off schedule

Semi-finals (single leg)

Saturday, June 12: Torquay v Notts County – 12pm

Sunday, June 13: Stockport v Hartlepool – 12pm

Final

At Ashton Gate, Bristol on Sunday, June 20 at 2pm

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