For the second consecutive season, Salford City has reset the bar for reaching their highest level of English football. The squad, partially owned by members of the 1992 Manchester United squad, are well on the ownership’s stated goal of reaching the Championship by 2030, earning promotion from the National League through the playoff after a third-place finish this season.
With a committed ownership group, there shouldn’t be any reason to expect that the club will have a short stay in League Two, though it will take some smart investments in the transfer and loan markets. With a solid manager in place, and a recent history of winning – four promotions over the past five seasons – Salford City could indeed be a club to reckon with at the upper echelons of the Football League within the next few years.
Here’s a quick look at how the Ammies ended up in this position:
What Went Right
It was a season of streaks for Salford City, with numerous winning, unbeaten, and losing stretches occurring throughout the season.
The first such streak started after the Ammies began the season 0-1-2. With a 2-1 victory over Halifax Town started a 20-match unbeaten streak through the first match in December, with the club going 14-6-0 over the stretch with a +30 goal differential. Another shorter streak commenced after the club went 0-for-February, with a ten match unbeaten streak (9-1-0) from March until the final two games of the season.
Due to their third place finish in the league, the Ammies went straight to the playoff semifinals, and they had to fend off 7th place finisher Eastleigh, prevailing on penalties. In the play-off final, the Ammies got a bit of revenge as well, defeating AFC Fylde, who had defeated them in the penultimate match of the season and prevented them from catching Leyton Orient at the top of the table.
Irishman Adam Rooney led the Ammies in scoring with 21 goals, fulfilling the lofty expectations when he joined the club as it’s highest-paid player prior to the season. His scoring helped the club notch the second-most goals (77), as well as the second-best goal differential (+32) in the league, and he is expected to continue to lead the club as they begin competition in the Football League, as he is signed for the next two seasons.
What Went Wrong
The club’s ten losses on the season tended to come in bunches as well. As mentioned earlier, they lost two of three to start the season, then followed up the subsequent 20-match unbeaten streak with a four-match losing streak – including a 5-1 loss to Wrexham on Boxing Day – to close out 2018. A three-match slide resulted in a pointless February, and when they still had a chance to win the league, they lost their final two matches of the season.
Those ten losses came to clubs up and down the table, though fortunately not to any of the four relegated clubs. The average ending position of the clubs they lost to was 11th, and includes losses to the clubs that finished 16th (Hartlepool United), 17th (Gateshead), and 18th (Dagenham & Redbridge). But it was pretty difficult to find a time when the club was not at least in playoff position on the season.
Recent English Football League History
As mentioned, the 2019-20 season will be Salford City’s first ever visit to the Football League, one that they hope extends beyond one season. Should they be able to stay in the Football League, they would join a list of pretty successful clubs that have avoided a return to the National League.
Of the last ten clubs promoted from the National League (either through a league title or playoff win), only two – 2015 champion Barnet FC and 2016 playoff winner Braintree Town – will not be in the Football League next season. Three of the ten clubs earned promotion this season, including Tranmere Rovers, who won the National League playoff last season and the League Two playoff this season. Lincoln City (2017 champ) and Luton Town (2014 champ) won their respective leagues this season – League Two and League One, respectively – giving Ammies’ supporters something to hope for in the upcoming season.
Who’s Playing Elsewhere Next Season?
The club’s ownership seems to be committed to building a ultra-competitive squad, and the contract of Adam Rooney is a prime example. Whereas most non-Football League clubs fill out their rosters with free transfers or loans from the upper tiers, the Ammies were not afraid of paying for top talent. It’s already started this season, with Salford City adding midfielder Richie Towell, who spent the past two seasons playing on loan (from Brighton & Hove Albion)with Rotherham United in League One (2017-18) and the Championship (2018-19).
Towell joins three other signings of potential departures – Scott Wiseman, Emmanuel Dieseruvwe, and Lois Maynard – to add form a solid veteran base on the club. They all have experience in leagues above the National League, which will be beneficial in helping the club transition to the rigors of a new league.
Chances of a One-and-Done?
With an ownership group determined to find Football League success, I think it will be hard to bet against the Ammies going into the season. We’ll have to see what other changes happen over the summer with the squad, but they will definitely be a club that I keep my eye on over the next season.
As evidenced above, the National League has a pretty solid record of providing clubs that have some staying power in the Football League, though Salford City is unique in that they have never been before. But I don’t think that will be a hindrance for the Ammies, and if they aren’t competing for playoff position in League Two next season, I’d be totally surprised.
Until next time…