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Graham Stack – Sam’s Off to a Flier

It is still very early days in the National League so it would be naïve for me to start picking the champions and writing anybody off. Some, however, have settled in and started better than others.

Ex-Wales international Sam Ricketts will be delighted with the way his first managerial job has started with promotion hopefuls Wrexham. The young manager’s defensive experience certainly looks to rubbing off with the assistance of former Bolton stopper Jussi Jaaskelainen.

Having recently played against his very organised, hard-working and disciplined side, I was impressed with how they started and how professionally they saw
the game out.

They have a strong, quick, powerful striker in Mike Fondop-Talom who has a hunger to score goals and lead the line with his physical presence. He has similar attributes to ex-Barnet talisman John Akinde. If he is able to continue his fine goal-scoring form he will be invaluable over the course of the season and a handful for defenders up and down the country.

At the opposite end of the pitch, the experience and know-how of Shaun Pearson and the mobility of Manny Smith combine to make a pairing that is difficult to breach.

It was no surprise that they hadn’t conceded with four shutouts in their first four games. The Dragons supporters will be upbeat and buoyant with the start their team have made and if results continue the Racecourse ground will inevitably become the fortress it can be.

The early signs of John Still’s reign at my old club Barnet have not gone to plan and a poor start has already caused unrest and negativity amongst the Barnet supporters. The hangover and disappointment of relegation from the Football League can often take players a while to get over.

The expectancy to bounce straight back up is always there from supporters, but the challenge is far greater than before with the league being more competitive than last time round.

Cult hero

Still has vast experience at this level and deserves time to put his team together and a chance to find
a run of form. The club has had five managers in just over a year and I think it’s this lack of continuity and change in philosophy that can hinder a team’s progress.

Early favourites Salford seem to have found their feet after a slow start and striker Adam Rooney is well on his way to justifying his heavy price tag and enhancing his reputation even further. The striker is someone I have played against a number of times during my time in Scotland with Hibernian.

I was always impressed with the Irishman’s willingness to run and pressurise defenders while having undoubted ability to find the net with both feet inside and outside
of the box.

The 30-year old turned plenty of heads when he decided to join the revolution at Salford City under the new guidance of manager Graham Alexander and walk away from the opportunity to play in Europe for Aberdeen.

Rooney is already on the way to becoming a cult hero and silencing his critics with a number excellent goals and fine performances. It is leaking goals at the other end that has surprised me most and will be top of Alexander’s list to improve on.

Frailties

I am sure he will be aware his defensive frailties need addressing, but will be delighted at his teams ability to score goals. This new look Salford team seem to be warming to life in the National League nicely and seem to be over their early stutter.

In contrast to Salford, fellow promoted team Braintree have found it a much tougher start. The Essex based club have nowhere near the riches of Salford and many players within the squad will be juggling the demands of training and playing with full or part-time jobs. The budget, facilities and support are worlds apart, but I have no doubt a trip to Cressing Road will have its challenges for the very best in the National League.

Manager Brad Quinton will no doubt use these motivational tools to motivate his players against bigger clubs and create a siege mentality and build a strong team spirit.

The Iron haven’t had the easiest of starts, but will need to start putting some points on the board sharpish, especially at home.

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