It’s often stated that the Easter weekend can be the crucial one in defining seasons, and with only seven days of the regular campaign to go in the Hallmark Security League after Saturday’s schedule, it rings truer than ever this year.
The Premier Division sees all 20 clubs in action, with the top two separated by just three points with three hurdles to clear.
With frontrunners City of Liverpool taking on Bootle on Monday, both are in the unusual position of having their fate in their own hands at this stage.
It’s the Purps who have home advantage this weekend as they welcome Padiham. The leaders and Macron Cup finalists had won nine successive matches prior to drawing 1-1 at Whitchurch Alport last weekend.
The visitors meanwhile are 16th and not completely safe from relegation as they sit six points clear of the bottom two, although they earned a respectable 2-2 draw against Squires Gate last time out to end a three match losing run.
Bootle dismantled Charnock Richard 5-0 last weekend to make it an extraordinary 18 league victories on the bounce.
They travel to Squires Gate in what will be perhaps their biggest test of the season mentally – the Bucks’ game prior to this amazing run saw them beaten 5-3 at home by Saturday’s opponents.
That was one of numerous notable results in what has been an excellent campaign from the team in 7th, although they had a seven game unbeaten streak ended with a late defeat at Northwich Victoria on Wednesday.
Congleton Town are closing in on their best finish since being relegated back to the Premier Division in 2001, sitting 3rd as a midweek 6-1 thrashing of Barnoldswick Town made it five consecutive league wins.
The Bears host 13th placed Irlam, who have won two of their last three, including an impressive 1-0 success against 1874 Northwich last Saturday.
The two sides immediately below Congleton meet as Runcorn Town in 5th play Northwich Victoria in 4th.
Town are finishing strongly as they beat Litherland REMYCA 1-0 to make it three victories from four, whilst Vics have lost only one of their last 12 in the league.
6th placed Ashton Athletic entertain Barnoldswick Town hoping to cap off a fine second half to the campaign and finish as high as possible.
Their visitors’ league form has been the opposite as they were one of the frontrunners in the first half of the season, but now sit 10th after losing ten of their last 11 in all competitions.
Charnock Richard are 8th, and have lost their last two at home but have taken 19 points from 21 in their last seven away games.
They are on their travels this weekend as they visit 11th placed 1874 Northwich, whose six game unbeaten run has been ended with defeats in the Mid-Cheshire Senior Cup at Northwich Victoria and the league at Irlam.
They were, however, 2-0 ahead at home to Whitchurch Alport on Tuesday before the game was abandoned due to floodlight failure.
After a mid-season slump, Silsden’s form has really picked up again of late – they made it back-to-back wins by beating Abbey Hey 2-1 last weekend, and have lost just one of their last seven to climb to 9th.
They travel to Hanley Town, who are 17th and four clear of the drop zone having lost just one of their last four.
However, they will have to pick themselves up from squandering a 3-0 lead to draw 3-3 at Winsford United in a six-pointer last Saturday if they are to edge closer to safety.
Having won only one of their last six, 12th placed Burscough will want to avoid their campaign ending with a whimper, and travel to Abbey Hey.
The already relegated hosts have lost their last seven, but will want some positive results in their last three games to give them encouragement going into the First Division next term.
14th placed Whitchurch Alport have only lost one of their last five and drew with City of Liverpool last weekend, so they will be in buoyant mood ahead of another home game against Winsford United.
That stirring comeback against Hanley last weekend keeps the visitors 18th and four points clear of the bottom two.
They have lost their last six on the road, but if they can halt that run here it would be a big step towards ensuring survival.
Litherland REMYCA are 15th but have lost their last seven, putting them eight points ahead of their visitors West Didsbury & Chorlton, who occupy 19th place.
A point would secure the hosts’ Premier Division status, and whilst West are four points from safety, they gave themselves a fighting chance last time out with a 3-2 victory at Irlam to end a seven game winless run.
In the First Division North, although there is a strong chance that both Longridge Town and Avro will be promoted due to their points per game ratio, the title race has seriously hotted up.
Leaders Longridge lost for the first time in 14 outings last weekend as they went down 3-0 at Lower Breck, and a slight wobble has seen them win only one of their last four.
They will seek to bounce back at home to Nelson, who sit 15th after ending a run of just one victory from eight by beating Holker Old Boys 2-1 last Saturday.
Avro’s 5-0 hammering of Cleator Moor Celtic on Wednesday means they are only two points behind Longridge with a game in hand.
They have won five of their last six in the league as they welcome Shelley. The visitors are 11th after a four game winless run, but having been in the top half for most of the campaign they will want a big push to help them finish there.
Lower Breck’s outstanding triumph over the leaders made six victories out of seven, and 12 in a row at home in the league. However they are away this weekend at Daisy Hill.
The home side are 19th and six points behind Holker with three to play, as they have won just one of their last 18 and suffered five defeats in succession.
A bottom two finish would leave them at risk of relegation, so they will be desperate to avoid that fate.
A 1-0 victory at AFC Darwen last weekend saw 4th placed AFC Liverpool make it 14 games unbeaten in the league, with 12 wins during that time.
They will hope to extend that further at home to Atherton LR, who prop up the table after just one win in 15, and will almost certainly be consigned to bottom spot if they lose on Saturday.
Prestwich Heys face Garstang in a clash between two strong sides who sit 5th and 7th respectively.
Heys had won four on the spin before going down 3-2 at Avro last Saturday, whilst Garstang have won their last three after beating St Helens Town 1-0 last week, with a fine victory over Avro preceding that.
Three successive victories for Carlisle City have stabilised their form and lifted them back up to 6th as they welcome St Helens Town.
The away side are 17th but in decent shape having won back-to-back games prior to losing narrowly at Garstang, and also drawn 4-4 with Longridge recently.
Cleator Moor Celtic have lost three of their last four, but their one success at Atherton LR lifted them into 10th place.
They host a Bacup Borough side sitting five points above them in 8th, and they ended a five match winless run with a 2-0 away triumph at Steeton last weekend.
In 12th place are Ashton Town, who will still be seeking a top half finish despite winning only one of their last five.
They entertain AFC Blackpool, who are a place and two points behind them in 13th having also won only one of their last five.
And lastly is a big game in Cumbria as Holker Old Boys in 18th welcome Chadderton. The hosts have lost their last four, but can secure their First Division North status if they better Daisy Hill’s result.
The visitors are 16th after winning only one of their last eight, although they have lost just one of their previous four.
In the First Division South, it’s a big weekend for leaders Rylands, who can wrap up the title with three points, or if Vauxhall Motors fail to win.
The table-toppers have won four on the bounce going into a trip to 5th placed Stone Old Alleynians.
Last weekend’s 2-1 reverse at Abbey Hulton United continued the home side’s mixed form, but they have still only been beaten once at Wellbeing Park this term in the league.
Vauxhall Motors in 2nd have won their last three games and lost only one of their last 13 going into a home fixture against Ellesmere Rangers.
The visitors are enjoying a late season resurgence – they remain second from bottom and six points adrift of New Mills in 18th (who they visit on the last day), but have won three games out of four, including impressive back-to-back victories over Wythenshawe Amateurs (4-5) and Sandbach United (2-0).
The Ammies slipped to 4th as their run of back-to-back wins was ended with the defeat to Ellesmere last weekend, but they can move above neighbours Wythenshawe Town going into Monday’s derby with just a point at Alsager Town.
The Bullets are 17th, and although they lost 2-0 at Cheadle Heath Nomads last week, two wins from their four games prior to that have eased any fears of a bottom two finish.
6th placed FC Oswestry Town have won only one of their last four, but have only lost at home once in the league – that was back in August against Wythenshawe Town.
They play their final home fixture of the campaign against 13th placed Cheadle Town, who have lost back-to-back matches and won just one of their last ten. However they have lost just one of their last ten on the road in the league.
Sandbach United are 7th in the league and will contest the First Division Cup final against Avro in May.
They have been one of the strongest teams in the division, and responded to two consecutive defeats in some style on Tuesday by thrashing Maine Road 5-1.
They host Cammell Laird 1907, who sit 15th. Lairds have a final of their own in the Cheshire Senior Cup on Wednesday, and have had a good April to this point with three wins, a draw and only a narrow 1-0 defeat at Rylands last week.
In 8th are Abbey Hulton United, who got back to winning ways last weekend by beating Stone Old Alleynians following a run of just one victory from seven.
They travel to 12th placed Stockport Town, whose recent form has seen them win six out of seven in the league before losing three on the bounce, then bouncing back last Saturday with a 2-1 triumph at Sandbach.
9th placed Cheadle Heath Nomads continued their strong end to the campaign last week as their win against Alsager made it five victories out of six.
They host Barnton, who are 11th and unbeaten in three after two wins and a respectable 0-0 draw at Oswestry last Saturday.
The visitors still have top half ambitions themselves as they are a point behind St Martins in 10th with two games in hand.
Ray Barnett and Jeff Newman have done a sterling job at Maine Road, presiding over eight wins since taking charge in January to lift them well clear of any danger up to 14th.
However they have lost their last three going into a home game against Stone Dominoes. The visitors will sadly finish bottom in their first campaign back at this level, though new manager Rob Gittins was appointed in the week and now has these last three games to give the Doms something to cheer about.
16th placed Eccleshall won 4-0 at Stone Dominoes last weekend to end a run of three straight defeats, so they will hope to pick up where they left off at home to New Mills.
The visitors are 18th and have lost five of their last six. There is still work to do for them as they are six points clear of Ellesmere in 19th, but maximum points from this trip would be a huge step towards guaranteeing safety.
It’s been a hugely entertaining campaign in the Hallmark Security League, and with a very promising weather forecast for this Easter weekend, go along and support your local club as we enter the final straight!