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The Non-League Football Paper

Sam Elliott Column: Time to stick my neck on the line

By Sam Elliott

IT was a little over a few hours after the call came urging me to stick my head on the block and offer my season predictions that my eyes wandered to twitter.

“Failed player, failed manager and now a f*****d pundit.” Not an irate supporter, no.

That was the reasoned view of Aston Villa’s new multi-millionaire owner Dr Tony Xia. Ian Holloway’s crime? Forecasting his club may struggle to finish in the top half of the Championship. Prediction casting is a dangerous game.

I’ve had managers with the hump that I didn’t tip his team for promotion, and a day later one dodged my calls because I did – apparently heightening the pressure on him by doing so.

Accurate prophecy is quickly forgotten as the dropped clangers always live longest.

Remember, if football was that easy to predict we’d be the rich ones, not the bookmakers!

So here we go then. Just over half of the top divisions kicked off yesterday – needless to say this was written well before the opening day of the season, so feel free to point out any of the tipped team’s 5-0 defeats in writing at the usual address!

National League

Perhaps the most telling signing arrived at Eastleigh the week before the season. Defender Ryan Cresswell 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 Cowley brothers.

Forest Green have possibly made their best ever managerial signing in Mark Cooper. Their season could depend on if he’s signed the Matt Tubbs of last year – unfit and uninterested – or the most deadly finisher around of years gone by.

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 and unless they get their takeover done the play-offs may be a tall order.

Sutton United may surprise, keep an eye on Gateshead, I like the look of Wrexham under Gary Mills and, on paper, Aldershot have a team with half a chance. Boreham Wood will push on.

But I have to fear for Torquay after their takeover collapse, and Jamie Day has a job on repeating Braintree’s success.

National League North

Watch out for this league. It could be the best anywhere around this season. Where do you start? If the club isn’t a big one, it’s a 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 without really having the know-how to be in contention for the title.

Altrincham know the league, but it’ll be play-offs at best. Kidderminster Harriers 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.

heath

National League South

Just when we were thinking this is not the money league it once was, Chelmsford City go and secure huge investment.

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 – providing the loss of Matty Godden doesn’t show.

The cash injection may not have arrived in time to make Chelmsford title contenders but expect them to sit in the top five throughout.

Hampton & Richmond love to 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 turnover at Whitehawk –  you get the feeling the foreign invasion on the south coast is either going to work brilliantly or they’ll belly flop.

Ryman League

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 class, and in Bognor’s front two Alfie Rutherford and Jason Prior, a good 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, while the South seems stronger. Hythe Town are a good tip but Lewes under the excellent Darren Freeman should do well.

Evo-Stik NPL

The division seems to be more balanced now Salford’s spending 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 – Stafford Rangers could be up there, adding George Bowerman is good business, and 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 an unknown quantity.

In the North, Hyde, if they can stop their three-year rut, should make the play-offs. Glossop and Burscough may be in contention.

Robert Dale of Blyth Spartans scores against Mickleover

Evo-Stik Southern

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.

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.

Hayes & Yeading back at home will threaten the play-offs, as will Hitchin who are unlikely to aim much higher after losing key players Kane Smith and Jonny McNamara.

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 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 in the Central too.

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