BT Sport pundit Adam Virgo gives his expert opinion
It’s been another memorable year in the National League with the plaudits, quite rightly, going to Macclesfield Town for their impressive title success. It’s also been a year where a number of talents have emerged to take the division to another level. Here’s my Team of the Year.
His all round game this year has improved ten-fold – everything about him has been excellent. The modern-day keeper needs to know how to kick and he’s got a great ping on him. Where they play wing-backs, that quality gets them up the pitch.
His shot-stopping has been great too as is shown by his England C call-up. He had to take two steps back after being released by Brighton to move forward again. He went to Bognor Regis Town and is now excellent for Boreham Wood.
He’s been brilliant. A modern day full-back, he’s a great out ball and in that final third he has quality. At 22 years old, he’s a good age. He joined Boreham Wood from Hitchin Town, who turned him into an attacking full-back, and at the age a player should be starting to hit the heights, he’s doing that.
Sam Ling (Leyton Orient) and Jared Hodgkiss (Macclesfield) have pushed him close but I don’t think there are many National League managers who wouldn’t like him in their team.
Would get in any National League side and exactly the signing Wrexham needed last summer. I really liked him when he was at Grimsby but I think he’s improved even more, to another level.
He’s a solid defender, still wears black boots and does his job. Nowadays it can seem like defending is slowly creeping out of the football dictionary’s meaning for ‘Defender’.
But he has scored goals at vital times and he leads by example at a big club that brings big responsibility. He’s been excellent in the Wrexham rearguard alongside Manny Smith and that’s a big reason behind their sound defensive record.
Keith Lowe, at Macclesfield, and Sutton’s Jamie Collins have both had good seasons, and I like Jordan Tunnicliffe at Fylde too, but I’m sticking my neck on the line and going with Manny Parry.
He reminds me of Moussa Diarra at Barrow. He’s probably got a bit more pace, but he’s solid in the air and very athletic. I know Mitch Walker has had a good season in the Dover goal and Giancarlo Gallifuoco is a strong centre back alongside him, I just think Manny has shored up the defence. If they’d had him last season maybe they would have made the play-offs with the goals of Ricky Miller.
He’s been that good this season I can’t really think off too many other players in his position who would run him close to getting in my team.
Rarely gets beaten one-on-one, is comfortable on the ball – which is perfect for the way John Askey wants to play out from the back – and likes to get forward. He’ll enjoy the challenge of stepping up to the Football League.
Non-League’s Ryan Giggs – Whitaker is probably one of the best all-round players I’ve seen in the National League.
Good on the ball, at an age where he knows his game inside out, makes timely runs, breaks up play, vision, scores goals. There aren’t too many players in the division who pick out the passes he does.
The spine of Macclesfield’s team has been so important to winning the league and if you take him out I don’t think they are the same. That’s how important he is. He’s 37 years old and his fitness levels are as good as ever. I promise you, it’s not easy at that age to make the game look so simple.
I can’t leave out someone who has scored 16 goals from midfield. I like his energy levels to get in the box – when the ball is out wide, he’s looking to get in the penalty area. If it doesn’t happen, the way he reacts to get back is exceptional. That work-rate is invaluable to a side.
It will be interesting to see how he gets on next season and whether he can repeat this season. I hope he does.
Take him out of Boreham Wood’s side and you wonder where they would be – that’s how important he is. His goals have been absolutely vital Wood to finish fourth in the table. He’s carried them at times because he’s been absolutely excellent.
People often question him and wonder why he doesn’t get the moves he maybe should. Last season he carried Tranmere on his own. This season’s he hit another 20 goals – that’s not easy at a big club like Tranmere where the pressure is really on.
He always runs the channels really well, he complements Andy Cook brilliantly and he works so hard for his side. In the final third he’s been deadly – double figures for assists too – and that’s what I like about him; he’s very unselfish.
Scored a lot of goals in the National League North last year and then there was the question whether he could do it higher up. His 24 in the league suggests he can.
It’s not just the goals he’s scoring, the variety is unbelievable. When he’s 20 yards from goal, all he’s thinking about is scoring. When the Coasters came into this league, a lot was dependent on him. He’s exceeded those expectations.
Like Norwood, he’s helped carry Tranmere. Cards on table, I’m never sure how much Micky Mellon rates him and I’ll be interested to see if he’s there next season. But the fans swear by him. Has scored 26 goals – in less games than Danny Rowe – and, as with Norwood, that doesn’t just happen.
You’ve just got to look at the budget Askey has had to play with and the fact they had just four players signed in the summer. The way Macc have won the league has been outstanding and that’s down to him. He is the most underrated manager outside the Football League.
He’s very reserved, lets the players get on with it because he trusts them, and he’s surrounded the club with good people.Then he also improves the younger players.
A lot of managers can take credit this year. Mark Yates for turning Solihull around, Paul Doswell for Sutton’s third-place finish and Daryl McMahon and Dave Challinor at Ebbsfleet and Fylde can hold their heads high. But Askey gets the nod from me.
Mitch Walker (Goalkeeper: Dover)
Keith Lowe (Centre-back: Macclesfield)
Craig Eastmond (Midfielder: Sutton)
Louis Dennis (Striker: Bromley)
Macauley Bonne (Striker: Leyton Orient)
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