Playoff Push Still Alive For The Bards - The Stratford Observer

Playoff Push Still Alive For The Bards

Stratford Town remain in the hunt for a playoff spot in the Southern Central League. After a bright start to the new year, making the most of home advantage, there has been sustained momentum in the upward drive in the standings.

But with more away games remaining than what’s left to play at Knights Lane in 2024, there is a big shift still to be put in. Looking at the stats from the first half of the season, there is a clear directive ahead for Stratford. While they can lean heavily on their excellent home form for a promotion push, the road form needs a drastic improvement over the second half of the season.

Home vs Away

Throughout that first half of the season, the Bards were an exceptional home team. As things roll into the new year, they continue to prove to be something of a home banker in football winning odds today as one of the top home sides in the division.

Twenty-six matches into the new season, Stratford Town boasted the best home record in the league. Standing at W10 D1 L3 for the season at Knights Lane, and with a very healthy average of 2.4 goals per home fixture, things couldn’t be much rosier.

Two of the three defeats in that home sequence were by a one-goal margin, leaving their blowout against Nuneaton the only real anomaly.

However, the story was much bleaker on the road for the Bards, with only three wins from twelve (D3 L6) through to the end of December. With two of the wins happening against teams in the bottom six, it’s the away form that need a clear tilt in a better direction.

It also raises the question of will that lack of away form come back to haunt them in what is likely to be a closely fought-finish for a top-five place?

Top Six

While Stratford banked a great home record against teams above them in the standings, it again all fell apart on the road. The late November defeat away at Redditch was perhaps the most notable of all.

The match came during a period when the Bards were in great form, going into the fixture on the back of a four-match winning streak. They had won their previous two away matches against Bromsgrove and bottom-side Long Eaton, both by a narrow one-goal margin.

But still, Stratford were eased aside in a 2-0 loss at Redditch, sparking a new winless streak of three on the road to close out the 2023 calendar. The Bards failed to find the back of the net in any of those, too.

Where Are The Goals?

Teams generally don’t score more on their travels than at home. Stratford’s lack of goalscoring exploits on the road over the first half of the season was in stark contrast to their home output.

An average of just one goal per away game was costly. While their goals conceded per match average was better on the road than at home, the shortfall in front of the goal was clear. Stratford scored in just 50% of their dozen road games in the first half of the campaign.

Hope Springs

The stats suggest that it is just the one area that needs fixing going into the spring – goalscoring on the road. It’s not a major overhaul required. While the defence does have room for improvement due to a lack of clean sheets, the averages at the back aren’t bad. But can the attack start making its presence felt away from home?

42% of Stratford’s away matches in the first half of the season were lost to nil, and this is where things could get sticky for them. With road fixtures still to come against fellow play-off contenders, Stratford quickly need to find an edge on the road.

The positive is that half of the remaining ten road games for 2024 in the Southern Central are against teams who started the year in the bottom half of the table. There are points there up for grab, but it’s time for someone to find their shooting boots on the road.

The Magic Number

Considering their 14th-place finish last season, the Bards are set for better times this term. But what’s the magic number that could get them into the top five at the end of the 2023/24 season?

Last season, Rushall, despite some terrible end-of-season form, squeezed into the top five with 73 points. The season before, a relatively meagre 65 got Alvechurch the final spot.

With fourteen games remaining of the current season, Stratford were averaging 1.65 points. From that, a realistic target would be another 23 points heading for the Bards in their playoff push. That would move them on to 66 which is touch and go.

But that again returns the picture to the away form over the first half of the season. That brought the average points per game down. So any nominal improvement in the average points on the road in the second half of the campaign can seriously shift and boost those numbers towards play-off potential.

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