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The NLP’s Guide to the National League 2018/19 – Who’s going to be in the mix, dark horses, players to watch and best signings

Matt Badcock – The NLP’s senior writer

Who’s going to win the National League?

Here’s a hot tip – Salford City! Made some very good signings and everyone knows about their backing. If they get bogged down, suffer injuries or have a decent cup run, then they can easily go out and get some reinforcements. They will have to deal with the favourites’ tag and we’ve seen in the past that it can weigh heavy.

Leyton Orient are a lot more settled this year. They have a good squad and a top manager in Justin Edinburgh. If they get going their support will be huge.

Chesterfield and Barnet have the managers for the job and I feel Ebbsfleet and Fylde will be stronger for last year’s play-off appearances.


Surprise package…

Probably an insult to put Sutton in this category after such a good season. I guess that people will expect they can’t repeat it but they’ve got largely the same squad and were such a difficult side to beat last year.

The extra two play-off places have had such a dramatic effect on the league that it seventh spot is really open. Dover always seem to be up there and it will be interesting to see if Wrexham can combine the defensive solidity with more goals – a slim Goals For column hurt them last year. Solihull Moors have a good squad on paper too as do Havant & Waterlooville.


Player to watch out for…

James Brophy looked good when I saw him for Leyton Orient and the end of last season. Darren McQueen is an exciting talent at Ebbsfleet and I hope he can make up for lost time after the injury that ended his season last year. He’s like a new signing for them.

Matty Kosylo at FC Halifax is a match-winner and I’m looking forward to see Salford’s Tom Walker step up to the level.


Signing of the summer…

Danny Lloyd at Salford is a huge signing. He scored 16 goals for Peterborough in League One and got 8 assists. When he plays he tends to contribute. Let’s not forget he’s been in the muck and nettles most of his career. He won’t be fazed.

Ryan Croasdale for AFC Fylde – the England C international is a very good footballer.

James Alabi has a point to prove. If Justin Edinburgh can get him back to his Chester 2016-17 form at Orient alongside Macauley Bonne, it will be a masterstroke.


Club you’re looking forward to visiting?

Braintree because it’s near my house, Leyton Orient because they lay on sandwiches. Of the new clubs, I’ve not been to Chesterfield or Harrogate yet and they don’t require battling with the M25. Looking forward to the new media room at Ebbsfleet and Salford has been transformed since my last visit. I quite liked their old concrete stand.


Who do you fancy in National North and South?

Chester have recruited well under the most famous management duo in football, Anthony Johnson and Bernard Morley. They just get people playing and winning for them. York City, Stockport County, Darlo, then you’ve got to respect the management records of Liam Watson at Southport and Billy Heath at Alfreton.

The South is wide open too. Alan Dowson is a great appointment by Woking, Bath City have made some really good signings and I’m looking forward to seeing how Dulwich Hamlet step up. Dartford and Chelmsford should be up there, Welling boss Steve King knows the division inside out, Bobby Wilkinson could get Wealdstone going, while St Albans and Slough were among the best sides I saw last season – and have you ever heard of an Essex club called Billericay Town?


David Richardson – The NLP’s online editor

Who’s going to win the National League?

For a while the title race this season looked wide open until Salford City flexed their muscles in the transfer market. Of course, money doesn’t always guarantee success and while some of the alleged figures banded around have been eye-watering, Graham Alexander has spent wisely. Now just a promotion away from the Football League, the Ammies seem determined to join the 92 as soon as possible, and why not?  I am expecting the new play-off format to be even more exciting this year. I’ll stick my neck on the line and say that Boreham Wood, Ebbsfleet, AFC Fylde, Barnet, Chesterfield, Leyton Orient, Wrexham, Aldershot and Sutton will surely be battling it out for the six places. Bold.


Surprise package…

I fancy Hartlepool under Matthew Bates to place in the top-half and have a crack at sneaking into the play-offs.

He did a great job in steering Pools away from relegation last season while everything was falling apart off the pitch. It’s good to see that he’s been given the chance to continue his work and also the financial backing to sign the likes of Liam Noble.

The freshness of rookie Bates might just be what Hartlepool need right now as they start a new era under owner Raj Singh.  Of the promoted clubs, watch out for National League North play-off winners Harrogate. Few will relish heading to North Yorkshire and playing on their 3G pitch – we saw last season how difficult Sutton and Bromley were to beat on their own plastic surfaces. I like the way manager Simon Weaver has brought in experienced centre-backs Callum Howe and Kelvin Langmead to set a solid foundation.


Signing of the summer…

Danny Lloyd looked the part when I saw him make his Salford debut at Woking last weekend. Whatever his motives may be for dropping two divisions from Peterborough, the pressure is on Lloyd to play a key part in the Ammies quest to reach the Football League.

Manager Graham Alexander admitted after the Woking game that Lloyd was perhaps trying almost too hard to introduce himself with a goal but that is no bad thing. The 27-year-old knows what Non-League is all about having started out at Southport and then played for Colwyn Bay, Lincoln City, Tamworth, AFC Fylde and Stockport – there won’t be a prima-donna attitude here.

Typically a winger, Lloyd floated in-between the lines against Woking and was a step ahead of everyone – his set-piece delivery was often on the money as well. He should be a real star for Salford this season.


Club you’re looking forward to visiting?

If Martin Allen’s Chesterfield start well then the Proact Stadium will be bouncing. Already the experienced boss has transformed the mood around the club following relegation, now he just needs the results to come.

By late June the club had sold over 2000 season tickets which should give their mission to bounce back at the first attempt a big boost. The changes Barnet have made to their Hive Stadium since they last graced the National League will be worth checking out while Brisbane Road will be rocking if Leyton Orient continue to progress under Justin Edinburgh. Salford’s completely redeveloped Moor Lane should be impressive coupled with their boosted crowds.


Who do you fancy in National North and South?

Chester are probably still wondering how they managed to land the managerial partnership that won the National North title last season. Anthony Johnson and Bernard Morley love a challenge and this is a big one at the Blues.

They’ve recruited some of their old tried and tested favourites from Salford while shifting high-earners Ross Hannah and Kingsley James off the wage bill. It may take them some time to get going due to the number of new arrivals but Chester will have a good crack at bouncing back in their first year.

Elsewhere, I like the look of what Jim Gannon is building at Stockport. They finished in the play-offs last year for the first time in their five seasons at Step 2, operating on a full-time model. I expect them to be challenging again. Billericay will surely win the National South title with the £17,000 a week they’re spending.

The likes of Dartford and Chelmsford have become play-off certainties while, like Chester, Alan Dowson has been quietly rebuilding Woking, who will fancy a run at the top seven. I’m also expecting big things from Concord Rangers after an impressive summer of recruitment.


Jon Couch – The NLP’s news editor

Who’s going to win the national league?

Money doesn’t always talk in the National League, just ask the likes of Luton Town and Tranmere Rovers, but you can’t fail to be impressed with the transfer business of National League North champions Salford City this summer. Big-name signings like Nathan Pond, Danny Whitehead, Danny Lloyd and Adam Rooney to name but a few have been bought in by Peter Lim and the Class of 92 with one target in mind – a place in the Football League. Tranmere’s play-off success last season has left promotion wide open with the likes of Sutton United, Boreham Wood and AFC Fylde perhaps eyeing a golden opportunity to swoop.

Last season’s relegated pair, Leyton Orient and Hartlepool, will also be stronger for their year’s experience in the top tier, while this year’s new boys, Barnet and Chesterfield, have both spent well and have managers who know all about lifting the trophy.


Player to watch out for…

Sticking with Ebbsfleet, I’m looking forward to seeing how Jack King settles back into life in the National League, working under his former Farnborough teammate Daryl McMahon. The 32-year-old made a name for himself joining Preston North End as a combative central midfield player but took on a more defensive role for Stevenage in League Two last year.

McMahon believes King can still play in any position and with playmakers like Luke Coulson, Ebou Adams, Andy Drury, Jack Powell and Jack Payne around him, McMahon has a wealth of options available to him. It’s also great to see Dave Tarpey back from injury and leading the Barnet front line in pre-season after almost a year away. A proven goalscorer at this level, Tarpey will be like a new signing for new boss John Still.


Signing of the summer…

While all raised eyebrows are on new teammates Adam Rooney and Danny Lloyd, Salford City’s capture of Nathan Pond could just prove to be the shrewdest move of the summer. Pond left Fleetwood Town a legend after 15 years with the Cod Army, taking the club through the Conference system and up as far as League One. At 33, centre-back Pond still has plenty to offer and will no doubt prove a huge asset for the Ammies, both on and off the field. Looking elsewhere, Danny Wright is a shrewd acquisition for Solihull Moors, while Aldershot Town’s new loan midfielder from Huddersfield Town, Regan Booty, also comes highly-rated.


Club you’re looking forward to visiting?

I was lucky enough to pay a visit to Chesterfield’s Proact Stadium with Aldershot in League Two and was very impressed. Spireites fans have a home to be proud of but will be wary that playing in such an environment will only lift the smaller clubs in the division. Similarly, the feelgood factor at Leyton Orient under Justin Edinburgh could make Brisbane Road something of a fortress this season, while Maidstone United’s Gallagher Stadium is always worth a visit.


Kevin Nicholson – Former Torquay United manager

Who’s going to win the National League?

It’s hard to look past Salford City with the money they’re spending. I watched a Graham Alexander team play last year. He’s got a style of play I imagine will work in the National League – although it will be an eye-opener for him. League One is a very tactical, different type of game compared to the National League, which can be more blood and thunder. But it looks like he’s getting players together who can deal with it.

At the same time, you’ve got Barnet, Chesterfield and Leyton Orient who you would expect to be up there with their geography and backing along with the Aldershots and Suttons who are now used to being in the mix. It’s going to be quite a battle.


Surprise package…

Solihull Moors. A Great Escape like last year can often give you momentum.

They’ve lost manager Mark Yates to Macclesfield Town but his replacement Tim Flowers was there last season so he’ll understand the players. They’ve made some really good signings.

Nabbing Kyle Storer towards the end of last season was one of the biggest you could get. He knows this level, he’s been promoted from it and he established himself as a good League Two player. Having played with him, he’s a leader, a character and someone who gets people going.

Adi Yussuf, signed from Barrow, hit the ground running and now they’ve got Danny Wright. Along with the experience of Darren Carter I’d be surprised if they struggle. With seventh-place now in the play-offs, if they can be around the top ten in the New Year they’ll fancy a run at it.


Player to watch out for…

New Wrexham midfielder Luke Young. I managed him at Torquay and I know what he is capable of. He’s probably needed to get away from the south for a little while and reinvent himself. He’s signed with a big club that will have a level of expectation but it will be a clean break for him. At 25, he’s still very young and he can get better. If he can step up and show what he’s about, he’s more than good enough. He could step up at least one division, maybe two.


Signing of the summer…

Forest Green and Eastleigh signed players from higher up over the years and they didn’t necessarily all work out because they’re not used to this level. But Salford City’s Adam Rooney is certainly built to deal with National League football. He’s got a decent enough goal record and he’s going into a club that’s surrounded him with other good players. He should score goals at this level.


Russ Penn – York City and former Gateshead midfielder

Who’s going to win the National League?

Salford are obviously going to be favourites with the budget and the calibre of players they have bought in but for me never back against Martin Allen at Chesterfield. They are going under the radar with Salford but with signings of Sam Wedgbury, Will Evans, Michael Nelson and Curtis Weston alongside what they have already got, they will be a real threat. They will be my tip for the title chased by Salford, Ebbsfleet, AFC Fylde and Barnet.


Surprise package…

Wrexham will again be ok but with a decent starting 11 only I feel their depth will halt them in the latter parts of the season.

Leyton Orient will be strong under Justin Edinburgh’s first full season at the O’s. He has promotions on his CV so don’t back against them.

But my surprise package – although whether they are really a surprise as a recent former League team – are Hartlepool Utd. Matthew Bates has recruited excellently with Liam Noble, Andrew Davies, Paddy McLaughlin and Luke James to name a few and I feel the Pools could be in the mix.


Player to watch out for…

Luke Summerfield for Wrexham is my buy of the National League. The summer recruit from Grimsby Town was wanted by a host of Football League clubs but was taken aback by the size and potential of the Welsh outfit.

I know I like my experience but Andre Boucard following is ‘dad’ John Still to Barnet is an excellent bit of business. His calm and presence in the team will be needed for a return promotion to the Football League. He is the only player to have nutmegged me in every game we have played against each other.


Signing of the summer…

Nathan Pond is a great buy for Graham Alexander and Salford. The pair recently worked together at Fleetwood Town and have a trust there that will be vital for their objective, which is to be champions.


Club you’re looking forward to visiting?

Salford and Havant and Waterloovile are grounds I have never been too. Both clubs will have larger crowds than last year at the top level of the Non-League pyramid making a great atmosphere for the newcomers. I will be making a return to Kidderminster Harriers in the National League North after ten seasons away. Their pies still win all the awards!


Who do you fancy in National North and South?

I think any of the full-time teams can do something this season. Billy Heath at Alfreton have bought wisely in Tom Denton, Richard Peniket and Martin Riley all with experience at higher levels. Darlington look strong with Simon Ainge and Reece Styche leading there attack.

In the South, Torquay Utd have to use home advantage in their quest for a return to the national league.

And of course it will be interesting to see how Billericay do with their well-publicised backing.


*This article originally featured in The @NonLeaguePaper which is available every Sunday and Monday

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