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Last Updated: Sunday, 30 March, 2003, 14:57 GMT 15:57 UK
The fight for survival
By Paul Fletcher

If dropping out of the Premiership is disaster then relegation from Division Three is catastrophe.

The Nationwide Conference is littered with clubs that dropped out of the League and have been forced to go part-time.

A Chester City supporter shows the pain after his team are relegated to the Conference
Relegation is a painful experience for supporters
Doncaster, Halifax, Scarborough, Hereford, Chester - all have been relegated from the League in recent seasons, none have reappeared.

Two go down this season and the situation at the bottom is oppressively tight - just three points separating the bottom six.

So who will stay up and who will go down?


Boston

Boston started their first season of League football with a distinct disadvantage.

The Lincolnshire club were docked four points for irregular payments to players during their promotion campaign from the Nationwide Conference.

In these terms Neil Thompson's side have had the best season of all those struggling against the quicksand at the bottom end of Division Three.

And they have by far the best goal difference, which with so few points between so many teams could become massively important.

Games left: Seven
Points: 41
Position: 19th


Swansea

Swansea were bottom of the table last week, but Friday's 3-2 win over Oxford has breathed new life into their battle against the drop.

Swansea City manager Brian Flynn
Swansea have improved under Flynn
The victory lifted them four places up the table - which shows just how tight it is down there.

The Swans have improved under Brian Flynn, losing just two of their last nine Leagues games - and might just avoid the drop.

Their battle for survival is a far cry from the John Toshack days, when the Swans climbed from Division Four to the old First Division in four spectacular seasons.

It has been more or less all downhill since the glory days of the early Eighties - and the fact that Swansea have only six games left and a goal difference of minus 17 could yet prove fatal.

Games left: Six
Points: 41
Position: 20th


Bristol Rovers

It was a miserable Christmas Day for Rovers fans with their team propping up the entire League.

But a belated present came in the form of a crucial 2-1 win over Swansea on Boxing Day and Ray Graydon's team have slowly hauled them up the table since then.

Rovers downfall has been a lack of goals but the boss strengthened his squad with experienced striker Andy Rammell on transfer deadline day.
Andy Rammell has just joined Rovers
Rammell could be key for Rovers

And the feeling at the Memorial Ground is that although the club are still firmly in the mire, they should just about have enough to avoid the unthinkable.

But their defeat at Lincoln last Saturday means only goal difference separates them from the drop zone.

Games left: Seven
Points: 40
Position: 21st


Shrewsbury

That FA Cup third round win over Everton at Gay Meadow seems an awful long time ago.

Nigel Jemson - who scored both goals against the Toffees - said at the time that the Shrews must start reproducing their excellent Cup form in the League.

Nigel Jemson celebrates scoring against Everton in the FA Cup third round
Few celebrations at Shrewsbury recently
It didn't happen and now Kevin Ratcliffe's team have found themselves embroiled in the end-of-season battle of nerves.

The Shrews have drawn three and lost three of their last six League games and Ratcliffe brought in four faces on transfer deadline day in a last ditch effort to freshen up his squad.

In Shrewsbury's favour is the fact that they have nine games left - more than anyone else in trouble.

Games left: Nine
Points: 40
Position: 22nd


Carlisle

If experience in these matters counts for anything then Carlisle should be okay.

The perennial strugglers had just about the most amazing escape ever in 1999, coming closer than just about any team ever to losing their League status.

On-loan goalkeeper Jimmy Glass scored six minutes into injury time against Plymouth on the final day of the season to save the Cumbrians.

Scarborough had already started celebrating their escape from obscurity only for their champagne to quickly turn flat.

The following year Carlisle survived on goal difference with Chester kissing League football goodbye.

Games left: Eight
Points: 40
Position: 23rd


Exeter

Exeter are currently propping up the Football League - and given the season the Grecians have endured it's perhaps not surprising.

Current boss Gary Peters is their third manager of the season and although mega-rich superstar Michael Jackson may be a fan, Exeter have all too familiar cash problems.

Peters' team lost at Rushden & Diamonds on Saturday, have fewer points on the board than their rivals and only six games left to save their skin.

Games left: Six
Points: 38
Position: 24th






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