And then there were three . . .
CHRIS LAKEY If three is the magic number then the Ridgeons League Premier Division battle becomes a box of tricks over the next week. Leaders Lowestoft have a two-point advantage of Bury and AFC Sudbury, the only teams left with a shout, and by next Saturday the Blues will know if they have done enough to win their first league title since 1978, after being one of the most dominant forces in Eastern Counties football for a decade and a half.
If three is the magic number then the Ridgeons League Premier Division battle becomes a box of tricks over the next week.
Leaders Lowestoft have a two-point advantage of Bury and AFC Sudbury, the only teams left with a shout, and by next Saturday the Blues will know if they have done enough to win their first league title since 1978, after being one of the most dominant forces in Eastern Counties football for a decade and a half.
Micky Chapman's team have three games left, beginning at home to Soham Town Rangers today, while Bury have four in a week, starting with a visit by Leiston this afternoon. AFC Sudbury, chasing a sixth consecutive title, have three to go, with their only home game this afternoon, against Newmarket.
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Chapman may well hold the upper hand in that he has three home games to finish the campaign, while Bury, apart from the physical challenge they face, have one away trip, as do AFC Sudbury.
However, Chapman will, as ever, take nothing for granted in his view from the top.
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“There's still a long way to go and lot of football to be played in the next week,” he said. “We'll take it one game at a time and aim to pick up three points as we're still up there fighting at the top of the table, which is a lovely position to be in at this stage of the season.”
Chapman has Craig Lewis close to being fit again, but Dale Cockrill is definitely out with a three-week ban while Carl Poppy, Matty Potter and Marcus Saunders are all struggling.
“But as I've always said, one players misfortune is another players good fortune - and we're looking forward to the next week,” added Chapman.
Lowestoft go into the final week of the season buoyed by a tremendous seven days in which they were comprehensive winners at Wisbech, beat Kirkley in the Lowestoft derby and then thrashed Mildenhall 4-0 on Thursday.
Bury have refused to be downhearted at their FA Vase semi-final exit and have also pickle dup nine points out of nine in the past week, while Sudbury haven't played since Monday's 4-1 win at Halstead.
Bury boss Richard Wilkins believes his team can finish top of the heap, despite their busy schedule.
“The attitude of the players has been first class. Whatever happens from now, it will not be for want of trying,” he said. “There are all sorts of permutations but, at the end of the day, it is up to us. The lads are handling the pressure well and, whatever happens, they will have done brilliantly.”
Elsewhere in the Premier, Norfolk Senior Cup winners Dereham are at home to Ipswich Wanderers, while the beaten finalists, Norwich United, turn their attention to survival when they entertain Wroxham.
Paul Franklin's team, are third from bottom, eight five points behind Cambridge City Reserves, but if they show the resolve they did at Carrow Road when they were unlucky to go down 1-0, they may see it through.
They won 2-0 at Trafford Park nine days ago but Wroxham will be keen to turn the tables, although manager Damian Hilton will be without the suspended Gavin Pauling and Martyn Magee. Gavin Lemmon, Shaun Howes and Lee Gilman - who were injured in the defeat by AFC Sudbury last Saturday, are expected to report fit.
Hilton said: “We played superbly against Sudbury and should have won at least a point, so now it is a matter of restoring pride and finishing our last three games with a maximum nine points.”
Wisbech are out of the title race but will want to consolidate fourth spot, beginning at Woodbridge today, while Diss entertain King's Lynn Reserves and Kirkley have no injury problems for their home game against Halstead.
In Division One there's a derby at Shoemakers Lane where Swaffham face Downham, while Fakenham are at home to Whitton, Yarmouth travel to Felixstowe, Gorleston entertain Godmanchester while Thetford travel to Hadleigh.
(.) Two select Fakenham teams will be staging a fundraising match at Clipbush Park tomorrow (11am) with the proceeds split between Ben Woodhouse - who broke his leg in December playing for the reserves - and the East Anglian Air Ambulance.
Afterwards there will be a barbecue, and Fakenham Ladies will later be playing Bungay.