By Adam Virgo, BT Sport pundit and NLP columnist
Picking my annual team has forced me into some tricky decisions – it’s probably been the toughest one yet!
All over the pitch, I’ve had to deliberate on some big calls. It just shows how many good performances there have been throughout the National League season.
I could have gone three at the back to get an extra defender in but then I’d be losing a midfielder. So in the end I’ve stuck with my usual 4-4-2 in diamond formation.
While it would be easy to pick an entirely different XI and it’s all down to opinion, I’d fancy this side to go all the way to the top.
There was a lot of competition here but Dean Brill is my No.1.
Like so many league titles, you can nearly always look at the goalkeeper and say he won some important points.
Wrexham’s Rob Lainton has been decent. He’s got a solid base in front of him because of the way Wrexham play and I like Ryan Boot at Solihull Moors – he’s come on a lot.
You can look at Sam Johnson at FC Halifax. I’ll admit I always thought he had a mistake but he’s had really good form this year. Then, for his kicking, I really like James Belshaw at Harrogate.
But I look at the overall effect Brill has had on Leyton Orient. Ironically he was at the club as goalkeeper coach but now he’s been integral to their title win. He’s made crucial saves and for that impact – where before Justin Edinburgh took over you look at the amount of goals they conceded in the first 15 minutes – he has made a huge difference.
This is one position, to be honest, I didn’t personally see some of the stand-out performances of recent seasons. On my list I’ve got Scott Wiseman at Salford and Harrogate’s Warren Burrell, but one of the things in Josh Hare’s favour is that Eastleigh play him as a wing-back. It helps him get forward and get decent assists for Paul McCallum.
Every time I saw Burrell I liked him. He’s got good pace and he gets up and down, but I just feel Hare offers a little bit more quality on the ball.
This is going to sound ironic, seeing as I haven’t picked him, but I still believe Shaun Pearson is the best centre-half in the league. Then I really like Liam Daly and Alex Gudger at Solihull Moors. Both have been outstanding. You could have those three at the back and be very happy.
But Josh Coulson has been immense for Leyton Orient. When he missed a few games through injury, Orient missed him.
He’s a leader at the back, he’s been a catalyst for taking the O’s forward and he’s marshalled Marvin Ekpiteta and Dan Happe on either side of him brilliantly. Josh has also scored some important goals this season which is huge.
That’s why I’ve gone with Carl Piergianni alongside him. I think he’s made one or two mistakes this year and it’s hard to leave Gudger and Daly out – they’ve been superb – but you can’t ignore the fact he’s scored ten goals. Playing alongside the experienced Nathan Pond at Moor Lane has helped Carl improve immensely this year and his set-piece threat is fantastic.
For me, Francis-Angol is the best left-back in the division. He’s got a great engine and a lot of Fylde’s play goes through the left hand side.
He gets nice and high and wide – that width is great for the way Dave Challinor likes to play.
Jamie Reckford has done well for Solihull and Ibou Touray has had a solid season for Salford but Angol takes it. The only area I’d like to see him improve is the number of assists he gets.
A lot of people have said to me that Craig Clay has been outstanding and I’m going with them. It could have been his Orient team-mate Jobi McAnuff or one of the Solihull duo Darren Carter or Kyle Storer, but the games I’ve seen Clay in recently confirmed he has to be in.
A holding midfielder often doesn’t get the accolades but he’s got great defensive and positional cover. He wasn’t a favourite at Orient last season but he is now and that shows great character.
Anyone who gets more assists than Messi has to be in there! I played with him when he came on loan at Brighton and also at Colchester in the Championship – he’s just a good footballer. He’s one of the most intelligent players in the National League, finds good positions and is great in possession.
He demands the ball and his set-plays have been vital for Eastleigh’s finish in the top seven. To have 26 assists is phenomenal.
What he’s brought to Solihull this year has been outstanding. He’s that bit of quality in the final third. You can’t hit direct balls and chase flick-ons all the time and when I see Solihull without him they’re not quite the same. When they get the ball on the floor and into him he’s a very efficient player. To finish second in the league you need good ball players and Jamey’s that.
This is a slightly false position as he plays a bit further forward but I’m going with Jack – how can I not have anyone from Harrogate after their brilliant season? He’s shown again what a good player he is and he’s been really important for them. He’s a good outlet for Mark Beck to play off – he’s just an intelligent footballer.
I liked him at Lincoln and remember how much Danny Cowley raved about him. He just said the only problem has been keeping him fit. But take him out of the Harrogate side and they’re not the same.
More tough decisions. Macauley Bonne was fantastic in the first half of the season for Leyton Orient but I’m just looking at the latter part of the campaign where, although he’s been important, he’s not been as consistent in front of goal.
It’s the same with Adam Rooney at Salford or Scott Boden – now at Chesterfield having moved from Gateshead – and consistency is why I’ve picked these two who have both scored 27 goals.
Danny Rowe has done it again – he’s also lucky he’s in a team where he can shoot from 40 yards and not get told off! He can do very little in a game and then score two worldies.
Sometimes I see him and think he must be frustrating to play with because he is so selfish in the final third. But that’s why he scores the goals he does at Fylde and you can’t knock that. People also forget he’s got a good left foot and a good right foot.
I honestly couldn’t say if he’d score the same amount in the EFL but as a genuine goalscorer in the National League, I haven’t seen anything like him.
McCallum is going alongside him in this team. He’s a player you’d always take a chance on because he has seasons like this in him.
Eastleigh play with wing-backs, they get crosses in the box and that suits him. At the start of the season would you have said he’d be in the top four goalscorers? He’s proved he does have quality and is a threat in a system that works for him.
SUBS: Shaun Pearson (Wrexham), Ryan Boot (Solihull Moors), Darren Carter (Solihull Moors), Macauley Bonne (Leyton?Orient), Jobi McAnuff (Leyton Orient).
Once again I look at what Alan Devonshire has done at Maidenhead. He reminded me recently I’d said they’d be relegated – they proved me wrong. It’s some achievement for any part-time team who stays in the National League.
Then Justin Edinburgh has done a fantastic job at Leyton Orient to lead them to the title as well as the FA Trophy final. From where the club were last year to this year is some turnaround.
But you can’t say Tim Flowers is undeserving either for Solihull Moors’ season. He gets the league and has an honest group of players. From where they were to finishing second and three points behind Orient, it’s tough to look past him.