BT Sport pundit and NLP columnist picks his National League team of the season – and he had some tough choices.
A tricky one to start with. Jake Cole and Scott Davies were in my thinking, but I’ve gone with Farman. Nine times out of ten for the team that wins the league, your goalkeeper will win you 15 points. Paul has won the Imps points when they should have drawn or lost. At key times, he’s made key saves. He’s played every game, he was fantastic at Burnley in the FA Cup and against Arsenal he made some excellent saves. He’s been very, very good for Lincoln this year.
Offensively he’s the best right-back in the division. When Micky Mellon switched to a 3-5-2 formation, he really flourished with Liam Ridehalgh on the other flank. Every game I’ve seen him – apart from Sutton – he’s been excellent. He seems a lot more settled this year and Micky takes a lot of credit for that. It’s such a shame he broke his leg at a crucial time of the season ahead of the play-offs.
I don’t think this choice needs much explanation. I was surprised Lincoln managed to get him from Dover last summer. A great signing. I knew about his potential but the only worry I had was when he was up against pace. Against Burnley in the FA Cup he marked Andre Gray out of the game. Yes, he got the goal that day, but his all-round performance showed me what a talent he is. He’s scored some big goals too. I’ve never seen him bullied, out of position, and he seems a grounded lad. I’d be amazed if he’s at Lincoln next season. He might not be the next Jamie Vardy, like everyone asks about, but he’s certainly the next player out of the National League like that. Maybe similar to Chris Smalling.
I can’t have a back four without an Aldershot player in it – their defensive record this season has been outstanding. I know Will Evans has scored more goals but I’ve spoken to quite a few people about this choice and all bar one said Callum. His positioning as a player is very good and I see him as a genuine leader.
Last season I had him as the best left-back in the league along with James Jennings. This year he’s gone on to become even better. He could easily play in the Football League – even the Championship – no worries at all. He’s so consistent, the overlaps he makes, the set-pieces, defending one-on-ones, he’s a very good player. Liam Ridehalgh at Tranmere has impressed me too, but I just think Sam shades it.
Another easy one. The thing I love about him the most is that he doesn’t over complicate his own game. I’ve never seen him spray a 70-yard diagonal, he doesn’t lose the ball often, his work-rate is exceptional and he breaks up play. He’s another who has come from a smaller club at Braintree and is playing in front of 10,000 with no problem. You look at the first-half against Arsenal, that’s how you judge players. In the end the quality and fitness showed, but they were excellent that day and so was Alex. The fact they’ve tied him down to another year is massive.
Dagenham & Redbridge
There were a few I could have picked here, but Whitely has been excellent. He’s stepped up from Enfield Town, scored goals and shown he’s got pace and power. He’s 25 and we asked on BT recently, ‘Why hasn’t he played higher earlier?’ Sometimes it just works like that, but John Still seems to find these gems more often than not. I’ve been impressed every time I’ve seen him.
Forest Green Rovers
If a manager came to me and said, ‘Pick one player in the National League,’ I’d say Liam Noble. In my opinion, Noble is the best player in the division, ability wise. He’s had 20 assists in the league. He set up a goal against Dover where he came in off the line, played a ball around the corner, got it back and played a little through ball to Christian Doidge. I thought, ‘That’s not National League, you see that in the Championship’. I know his disciplinary record in the past has been iffy but Mark Cooper has given him the captaincy and he’s thrived. He’s so talented.
This is maybe the first surprise in my team, but there are players outside the top five or six who have been excellent. I enjoy watching him play. He’s been at the top of the game with Arsenal and dropped down, but hopefully he is on the up again. He’s played out of his skin, did well in the FA Cup run and he’s got bags of ability.
He’ll do really well at Peterborough. I’ve been covering the National League for three years now and he’s the most natural finisher I’ve seen. He didn’t actually play as a No.9 for Dover. He’s out on the left, out on the right, but he’s been outstanding. He’s been pretty loyal to Dover and his scoring record, 42 this season, over the last two years has been brilliant. I don’t think anyone can say Peterborough signing him is a gamble. He’s proven himself and if he keeps the same attitude he’s had at Dover he will be a very accomplished Football League striker.
To have scored 20 goals in a struggling team that ended up getting relegated, it would be unfair to ignore him. I’m amazed a top-half National League team didn’t take him last summer. It wasn’t all that long ago he was playing for Stanway Rovers. He’s had two very, very good seasons at Braintree and I really like him.
Manager of the Year
Gary Waddock has done a great job at Aldershot and Adam Lockwood turned Guiseley around at the other end, but it’s got to be Danny. When he took the Lincoln job the highest they finished since relegation was 13th. They’ve been nowhere near it. When he signed Nathan Arnold, I thought, ‘This is going somewhere’. He got Woodyard, Raggett and Habergham – they’ve all made a big difference and know this league. He’s used the loan market well at the right time and the players already there have become better. To win the league, reach the quarter-final of the FA Cup and have a good FA Trophy run has been unbelievable.
Tagged Adam Virgo, Aldershot Town FC, Braintree Town FC, Dagenham & Redbridge FC, Danny Cowley, Dover Athletic FC, Liam Noble, Lincoln City FC, Michael Cheek, National League, Paul Farman, Ricky Miller, Roarie Deacon, Sean Raggett, Sutton United FC, Team of the Year, Tranmere Rovers FC