They think it’s all over, well it surely is now ! Chesterfield moved an incredible sixteen points clear at the summit, while setting a new club record of eighteen successive home wins. Breaking a near one hundred-year-old record that had stretched all the way back to 1929-30.

Three wins out of four have seen AFC Fylde move off the bottom and within a point of safety but three defeats in four have plunged Woking deeper into the relegation mire. A descent that cost Darren Sarll his job, with Michael Doyle now charged with the unenviable task of keeping the Cards in the top flight.

New blood also arrived at bottom-markers Kidderminster Harriers, Russ Penn falling on his sword, although they went for experience in former Hull City Manager Phil Brown who’s enjoyed a 100% record to move them to within a single point of the dotted line. In fact, only three separate the bottom five; Oxford City now propping the rest up and Ebbsfleet United ahead of them all. Not that that was enough to keep Dennis Kutrieb in a job, the axe falling on the penultimate day of the month.

Hartlepool United dispensed with the services of John Askey after three wins in nineteen league games resulted in the Monkey Hangers loitering dangerously close to the wrong end of the standings, veteran Lennie Lawrence stepping into the breach. The seventy-six year old staying on to assist the incoming Kevin Phillips.

There are, however, two sides to success as Wealdstone found to their cost. One of just two semi-professional teams in the division, the Stones continue to defy the odds which had Notts County come calling for Stuart Maynard.

The form of Josh Stokes at Aldershot also caused Bristol City to swoop for his signature, although he will see the season out at The EBB Stadium. A trip to Wembley is off the agenda now though. While bowing out to a virtual full-strength West Brom at The Hawthorns in the FA Cup was no disgrace, a six-one FA Trophy humbling at National North Bishop’s Stortford sent shockwaves around more than just Hampshire.

A competition taken less seriously by Chesterfield, thanks to the Spireites fielding a youth eleven in exiting at Welling United, added to by surprise losses for Oldham Athletic at home to Southern Prem Hendon, ex-winners AFC Fylde at Aveley, Hartlepool against Hampton & Richmond Borough and struggling Dorking Wanderers suffering a five-nil humbling at upwardly-mobile Step Three promotion hopefuls Macclesfield.

Five victories in six returned Tamworth to the top of the North, including a one-nil win in front of over five thousand at ‘closest’ rivals Scunthorpe United. A gap that now stands at a healthy twelve points, albeit with Scunny having played two matches less.

Although tight is hardly apt to describe the five that keep twelfth-placed Warrington Town behind Chester, who currently fill fourth spot. Both sides experienced a decent January to keep them in and around the play-offs respectively, alongside fellow form teams Brackley Town and Curzon Ashton who remain unbeaten in the league in 2024.

Chorley, Hereford and Peterborough Sports are still the sole survivors from the North section in the FA Trophy; the former pair also well-placed in and goal difference outside the leading seven in the league. All three face interesting ties in the quarter-finals as everyone looks forward to home meetings against National League clubs. Hereford were drawn out of the hat and matched with last term’s runners-up Gateshead, Sports were paired with upwardly mobile Kidderminster and Chorley must get past Solihull if they are to retain ambitions of a visit to Wembley in the final.

It’s not only been on the pitch though where the excitement has occurred. Chairpeople have been busy hiring and firing at the head of the table, particularly in the far part of the country.

South Shields’ slide down the table to halfway caused the trigger to fire Julio Arca out of his Boss’s seat a few days prior to the turn of the year. A drop from the top and four straight defeats brought about a change at the First Cloud Arena, Coach Elliott Dickman holding the fort and having an immediate impact by way of losing only one of his opening six games in charge.

Staying in the North East, Spennymoor, Darlington and Blyth Spartans also swapped their top dogs for new pups. One-time Hartlepool player Graeme Lee followed (indirectly) in his Father’s footsteps at Moors but a winless start shows the task ahead of him is far from easy. Darlo went for Newcastle United legend Steve Watson, who has a seven point difference to make up on Spenny and Southport.

Ex-FA Vase winning Supremo Graham Fenton was placed on gardening leave before Jon Shaw was announced as his Caretaker replacement at Spartans. On a positive note, sitting six points outside the top seven will have the men of Croft Park still harbouring promotion ambitions.

The final one of the not so Fab Five, Mark Jones went at Banbury United. Taking over from now Solihull Moors Manager Andy Whing has coincided with positive beginnings succeeded by a lower mid-table position. Resulting in the Puritans now looking up almost as much as down, almost precisely in the middle as far as the right and wrong ends of the table go.

Hmmm, where do I start in the South ? How about Maidstone ?

An incredible FA Cup run shows no sign of ending, as the Stones look to not only bounce straight back up to the National League but also continue to lap up the ‘distraction’ of something that started in September at Steyning Town and, unbelievably gathered yet more speed via a victory at Championship high-fliers Ipswich Town. The 1978 winners sent packing courtesy of goals by Lamar Reynolds and Sam Corne, cheered on by around 4,500 travelling supporters. An inspired performance from a former fans’ favourite of ours Lucas Covolan, between the sticks, also proved key.

Just for good measure, a young team took to the pitch in the Kent Senior Cup a mere three days later. Earning their place in the last four courtesy of a penalty shootout verdict versus Punjab United of the Southern Counties East League.

The ‘other’ Road to Wembley/March to the Arch saw spot-kicks play an important part too in some of our sides progressing to the quarter-finals.

Weston-super-Mare overcame last year’s losing finalists Gateshead at the International Arena home, making the six hundred and twenty mile round trip back to Somerset somewhat more bearable.

Hampton & Richmond Borough also had to endure an arduous journey to the other end of the nation. Upsetting their more illustrious hosts from twelve yards as well.

However, the lottery of penalty kicks led to Bath City and near neighbours Chippenham Town failing to see their numbers come up; crashing out at home to Southern Premier Central Coalville Town and away to previous victors Bromley respectively.

Same level Hereford and one above Wealdstone accounted for the removal of Torquay United and Chelmsford City from the competition but special mention must go to Danny Bloor at Welling United, who caused the shock of the round by sending runaway top flight leaders Chesterfield packing at Park View Road.

Sadly though, that was to be one of one of Danny’s last acts as Wing Boss as, ironically, following a win at Hemel Hempstead Town, his services were dispensed with. Soon succeeded by former Chelmsford, Braintree Town and Aveley number one Rod Stringer.

Big local rivals Dartford have surprised many by their lack of a challenge at the top end. Twenty one points dropped from winning positions this season forced the hierarchy at (the) Bericote Powerhouse Princes Park to act. Leaving club doyen Tony Burman to look after on-pitch affairs until a suitable replacement can be found.

A Boxing day battering by now second-placed Worthing ended up being the straw that broke the camel’s back at Eastbourne Borough. Full-time football and a highly-regarded Coach not enough to save Mark Beard from getting the chop at Priory Lane. Adam Murray, a National League promotion winner at Mansfield Town, plucked from League One Cheltenham Town, rapidly unveiled as the new man at the helm.

One lone strike in the ‘goals for’ column separates the play-off places and St Albans City, very much aided by four wins in five. Enough for Wealdstone to come in for David Noble, despite the forty-one year old only taking over at Clarence Park in November 2022; a fine start to a burgeoning Managerial career offered the opportunity to blossom further, higher up.

Reports of financial trouble sadly surfaced at Taunton Town; the Peacocks now looking nervously over their shoulders at the bottom four, although they do have Truro City for company.

However, the main thing counting in both their favours is the fact that the duo have games in hand on those around them. A situation, thanks to the intervention and vision nine years ago of Mr. George Dowell MBE we, fortunately, no longer have to worry about.