NLP Column – 9th August 2016
The Non-League Paper’s chief reporter Sam Elliott looks longingly into his crystal ball!
GIVE us your predictions, they said. What could go wrong, they said.
A fair bit, actually. I’ve had managers with the hump that I didn’t tip his team for promotion, and a day later one dodge my calls because I did – apparently heightening the pressure on him by doing so!
Prophecy is not always welcome in football. Ask Ian Holloway, or as he’s now referred to as a “Failed player, failed manager and now a f*****d pundit”.
Not by a fan who has lost his head on twitter, but Aston Villa owner Dr Tony Xia. Holloway dared to suggest they may not finish in the top half of the table, you see. Maybe Ollie had a little smirk after Villa sunk at Sheffield Wednesday on Sunday.
It’s not easy sticking your neck out. But here are my thoughts with all the league up and running as of this weekend.
Perhaps the most telling signing arrived the week before the season. Defender Ryan Cresswell is on big money at Eastleigh but he and striker Mikael Mandron are top players. The title could be between the Spitfires, Tranmere – they’ve had a productive summer – and, if they start well, Lincoln City under the brothers Cowley.
Cheltenham came up and went down last year, Bristol Rovers the season before but I don’t expect a repeat. York City don’t have a manager with any Non-League experience, and the signing of Richard Brodie is a headscratcher. Dagenham & Redbridge have the best boss around but finances are tight.
Keep an eye on Gateshead, I like the look of Wrexham under Gary Mills – the play-offs for them this time – and on paper, Aldershot have a team with half a chance. Boreham Wood will push on.
National League North:
Potentially the best league around. Where to start? If the club isn’t a big one, it’s an historic one. If it isn’t either of those it’s probably a club like AFC Fylde with a benefactor and a new stadium.
The best summer signing is FC Halifax’s Billy Heath. Although Jim Harvey’s departure lacked class, at least they’ve replaced him with a winner. After taking North Ferriby up last year, I expect him to do the same.
Stockport County under Jim Gannon will be stronger, and the teams coming up – Darlington and Salford City will be predicted to challenge. I don’t think either will have the know-how to be in contention for the title.
Altrincham know the league, but it’ll be play-offs at best for Neil Young’s side. Kidderminster Harriers begun brilliantly but they need a good first season under John Eustace and I expect a top five push.
Chorley are my surprise tip to shine – Jason Walker is a great addition.
National League South:
Just when we were thinking this is not the money league it once was, Chelmsford City go and secure huge new investment. They may well have a go.
Ask Ebbsfleet fans if a wide wallet guarantees success. It certainly doesn’t, but past experience shouldn’t stop Daryl McMahon getting the job done this season – providing the loss of striker Matty Godden doesn’t show.
Hampton & Richmond with an eye-catching 4-2-1-2-1 formation love the get the ball down and play – the play-offs aren’t out of the question.
Maidenhead under Alan Devonshire are another to keep an eye on, there’s been huge turn over at Whitehawk and you get the feeling the foreign invasion on the south coast is either going to work brilliantly and they will be title contenders or they’ll belly flop.
Welcome to Lee Bradbury’s biggest season in football. Lucky to keep his job after Havant & Waterlooville were relegated with a huge budget, he knows the talking must stop for the big spending Hawks.
In Wes Fogden they have re-added class, and in Bognor’s front two Alfie Rutherford and Jason Prior 60 goals.
Dulwich need to get up this year, striker Gavin Tomlin is a great bit of business. Staines Town under Johnson Hippolyte should be up there.
The Swans lost top scorer Pat Cox to Merstham, who could make the play-offs – as should Lowestoft. Worthing and Harlow will make use of their 3G pitch and won’t struggle.
In the North there’s no stand-out team so AFC Hornchurch and Thurrock will fancy the title.
The South seems stronger. Hythe Town are a good tip but Lewes under the excellent Darren Freeman should do well. Guernsey will be better this year too.
The division seems to be more balance now Salford’s spending power and Darlington’s upward movement are gone. That should play into Blyth Spartans’ hands with Tom Wade’s fruitful summer.
Beware the teams coming up, last year told us that. Stafford Rangers could be up there, adding George Bowerman is good business, Warrington certainly won’t be worried about the step up.
Ashton United are play-off regulars but never seem to get over the line, they should be around the top five again. Stourbridge look a force and Workington could have a real go.
Northwich Victoria finished third in the North last year but now they’ve moved to the South they will be either be an unknown force or they won’t know the opposition.
Shaw Lane will have a say, but AFC Rushden probably would rather be down south.
In the North, Hyde if they can stop their three-year rut should make the play-offs on their new 3G pitch. Glossop and Burscough may be in contention with the league’s top three clubs from last year all gone.
A lot of eyes are on Terry Brown at Basingstoke after his shock appointment but this is a long-term project, so don’t expect a sustained challenge from the Dragons.
That may come from Leamington – who went so close to an instant Step 2 return last time – and Weymouth, who go in on the back of a good summer.
It’s may seem a lazy choice but there’s a history of go-again clubs taking Step 4 in their stride, so Hereford for me in the Southern League South & West.
Farnborough were very strong towards the end of their Ryman Premier season and would have stayed up if it wasn’t for CVA rules. Spencer Day finds good players but Egham, Bedford and Royston will all be up there.