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The NLP predicts… Part Three

In Part 3, Gateshead midfielder Russ Penn and former Margate boss Nikki Bull gives us their two cents on the season to come in the National League…

Who’s going to be challenging for promotion?

Tranmere Rovers have got to be the favourites, just because of the sheer size of the club. It’s easier said than done, however, because there are some big clubs in this league. They’ve done some good summer business while keeping the nucleus of the squad.

Who could be a surprise package?

I’ve got a feeling for AFC Fylde. They’ve got winning momentum and kept their leading scorer Danny Rowe. Whether that’s top seven or top ten, we’ll see, but they’ve got a good set-up and good backing.

As for Gateshead, we’re definitely happy to go under the radar. Even though we had a successful season last year we kind of blew getting in those play-offs. If we can manage that a bit better then who knows…

Player to watch out for?

James Alabi is a good signing for Tranmere from Chester. He could be top scorer this season given the level of service he’s likely to get at Prenton Park.

National League signing of the summer?

Hartlepool have signed Jack Munns from Cheltenham. He’s a very decent footballer. Jake Cassidy is another good signing – they’ve been shrewd. Wrexham, where I spent four months on loan last season, have recruited well, too. Grimsby club captain Shaun Pearson has gone there, Manny Smith from ourselves, Chris Holroyd from Macc. Sam Wedgbury is a very good addition for them. I’ve played against him in midfield, he can play in defence as well, and he’s got promotion under his belt. He might not score ten goals a season but he’s tough to play against.

FA Trophy winners?

It really depends on how teams are getting on in the league, although Lincoln City did well in it last season – they were going for the quadruple at one stage! I’ve been lucky enough to play at Wembley twice. I lost an FA Trophy final with Kidderminster ten years ago and lost a League Two play-off final with York. Let’s hope it’s third-time lucky and I’m there with Gateshead.

Place you are most looking forward to going next season?

All players like to play in big arenas with big crowds so I’m probably speaking for 90 per cent of the league when I say Tranmere Rovers and Wrexham. You can say having more than 4-5,000 fans is a plus but it can work the other way because teams step up their game. It’s why this league is so mentally tough. A few days later you could be playing in front of 400 against another good team who like a physical battle. You’ve got to be switched on every game.

Who’s going to be challenging for promotion?

For me, Tranmere will win it comfortably. Taking away what happened in the play-off final, they were mightily impressive for long spells last term and with the benefit of a full pre-season behind him, I expect Micky Mellon to take them onto the next level and get it wrapped up by Easter. As for the play-off places, it’s wide open. With the additional play-off spots available, I’d imagine there will be plenty of chairmen and managers out there harbouring ambitions of gatecrashing the top seven

After finally managing to climb out of National League South, I think Ebbsfleet United will be a different animal this year. The owners deserve huge credit for sticking with manager Daryl McMahon and I think they will really start feeling the benefit of that by kicking on and fulfilling the club’s lofty ambitions. Ebbsfleet are a good footballing side who have bought extremely well this summer. They’re ones to watch.

Who could be a surprise package?

Maidstone United showed top-six form from January onwards and under manager Jay Saunders, I think they can kick on again this season. By Christmas, things weren’t going too well for the Stones, but Jay remained patient, brought in a couple of experienced heads and reaped the rewards in the second half of the season. The club have also spent well off-the-field on their new stadium, and playing in front of 4,000 home fans will certainly lift them to new heights.

Player to watch out for?

As a goalkeeper, I will have to go with Nathan Baxter, the Chelsea Under-21 who has joined Woking on a season-long loan. Nathan is a great prospect who did very well on loan at Met Police last season. I looked to sign him as manager of Margate but he went to Solihull Moors for valuable National League experience and didn’t look out of place. I suspect he may have a lot to do this year as I fear for Woking, but with him between the sticks, they have half a chance.

National League signing of the summer?

Maidstone’s capture of my former Wycombe team-mate Stuart Lewis is a very shrewd one. Stuart and I won promotion together at Wycombe and I know what a good player he is. He’s a good leader who tells it how it is, and it was no coincidence that the Stones picked up once he joined on loan from Ebbsfleet last year. Macclesfield’s signing of Tyrone Marsh from Dover is also an excellent bit of business.

FA Trophy winners?

I’m thinking outside the box here and going for Billericay Town! For me, the Bostik Premier title is over before it has started and you wouldn’t bet against Glenn Tamplin ending the season with a dream Wembley appearance. Glenn is not messing about. He’s not only invested on the pitch but off it, in the academy and stadium, leaving a solid infrastructure. He deserves every success.

Place you are most looking forward to going next season?

It has to be Aldershot. The EBB Stadium is a very special place for me from my playing days, the atmosphere there is tremendous.

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