2018/19 National League Preview

Article by Johnnie Lowery
Information taken from www.transfermarkt.co.uk

So the National League returns for another season, with many arguing this time out it could be the strongest it’s ever been. Perhaps the main reason for this are newly promoted Salford City, champions of the National League North last season. Backed by the class of 92 and billionaire Peter Lim, the club have a rumoured budget of £4million and have made a number of marquee signings this season. Indeed striker Adam Rooney joined from Aberdeen, a side who soon face Burnley in the Europa League. With further signings including Danny Whitehead, a champion with Macclesfield last season, and Nathan Pond – a regular with Fleetwood in League One last season – Salford are understandably the title favourites with most bookmakers.

Coming down from League Two are Chesterfield and Barnet, with both clubs tipped to do well and end the recent trend of newly relegated clubs struggling to adapt to life in non-league football. Barnet’s manager last season, Martin Allen, is now in charge of Chesterfield. They have plenty of players with National League experience in their ranks, including Zavon Hines who lit up the division with Maidstone last season before earning a January move with coincided with the Kent side struggling for form. Perhaps the Spireites’ most valuable experience will come in midfield – Curtis Weston played all 46 games for Barnet when they won the National League in 2014-15 whilst Sam Wedgbury enjoyed a good season for Wrexham last year. Barnet have recruited well, bringing in two defenders from a strong Aldershot side of last season, as well as bringing in manager John Still in addition to five players from a financially crippled Dagenham. Much will depend on the performances of Dave Tarpey, who scored for fun for Maidenhead before leaving for Barnet where he immediately picked up a serious injury and has been out since. The loss of John Akinde is likely to be keenly felt

Leyton Orient have largely stuck with a squad that ended last season well, though with James Alabi they’ve gained someone with a point to prove after a frustrating last year. Arguably the key man is centre back Josh Coulson whose January signing from Cambridge United provided a catalyst for Orient’s season. Hartlepool have recruited well and will look for a big improvement on last season, Liam Noble the big name signing. The midfielder made and played in the League Two playoffs for Notts County last season, and has played a number of games in League One prior to that. Carl Magnay at right back will be significant in their playoff push.

AFC Fylde have largely spent the summer trying to keep hold of striker Danny Rowe, something they’ve been successful in so far. They have lost midfielder Sam Finley to Accrington but have made a few interesting signings, including left winger Joe Cardle off Scottish Championship club Dunfermline. With a small current squad you would expect Fylde to be delving into the transfer market further, though it would be interesting to see how potential 18 year old wonderkid Serhat Tasdemir develops after an encouraging season last year. Boreham Wood’s notable transfer business has involved the lengthy saga over the potential sale of Morgan Ferrier, which recently hit the news after the club published a long statement over intrusive agent involvement. Aside from that they’ve lost Bruno Andrade and Grant Smith, both to Lincoln, which comes as a large blow. However in Jamal Fyfield and Manny Parry they have a solid defence, while hopes still largely hinge on star winger Angelo Balanta at a side who impressed many with their strong counter attacking game last time out.

Sutton United will be aiming to make the playoffs again after a strong season last year. They’ve lost right back Louis John but replaced him with a regular for Forest Green in League Two in Dale Bennett, and have also moved to bring in former player Dan Wishart from the same club. Defence was perhaps a weak point last season so the signing of centre back Charlie Clough from Barnet could look to resolve this and give U’s a springboard to push on. A midfield including former Middlesbrough player Nicky Bailey, ex Arsenal trainee Craig Eastmond, and former Peterborough and Northampton man Harry Beautyman still arguably ranks as one of the strongest in the league.

Another side that made the playoffs last season, Aldershot Town, have been hit hard in the transfer market losing several players including Jim Kellermann, defenders Will Evans and Callum Reynolds, and full back Cheye Alexander. So far Josh Lelan has been brought in from Crawley to fill the void in defence but more work in that position is probably needed. The Shots will take confidence in the fact they have kept their strong frontline intact, adding Luke Wanadio to a squad already containing the talents of Scott Rendell and Shamir Fenelon. Ebbsfleet are likely to be there or thereabouts again having kept the majority of their squad, crucially keeping defensive pair Kenny Clark and Dave Winfield. They’ve made few singings but have brought in utility man Jack King who played 32 times in League two for Stevenage last season. Right winger Luke Coulson remains key to Ebbsfleet’s efforts.

One of my tips for surprise success next season are Eastleigh. Despite the loss of their primary investor to Sunderland they haven’t lost too many players and have brought in two strong defenders in Alex Wynter off Maidstone and Joey Jones from Woking. The team can rely upon experienced midfielder Danny Hollands to impress while Ben Williamson will score goals. Solihull Moors too could have a stronger season than many predict. They’ve kept the core of a team that finished the season well to stay up last season, and have added Alex Gudger off National League North playoff final losers Brackley. Exciting young midfielder Luke Maxwell has joined on loan from Birmingham.

After disappointingly slipping away from a playoff spot last season Wrexham will be hoping for better. Their centre back partnership of Manny Smith and captain Shaun Pearson remains strong, but the loss of Wedgbury to Chesterfield was certainly a blow. There will be hope that Luke Summerfield, brought in from Grimsby where he was a regular last season, can be an adept replacement. Midfielder Luke Young, arguably one of Torquay’s few rays of light in a poor season, has also joined the Welsh side. Most of Dover’s business has been in the defensive department with four defenders leaving and two coming in. Moussa Diarra, signed from Barrow, is useful in both boxes with his height whilst Kevin Lokko returns to the club after a brief spell at Stevenage. Left winger Kadell Daniel impressed last season and looks to be important for Dover as they target a playoff spot they so narrowly missed out on last season.

Bromley have had an interesting transfer window, the biggest blows being the loss of Louis Dennis to League One Portsmouth and last season’s top scorer Josh Rees to Gillingham. Something of a wildcard signing is the move for Kyle De Silva from FC Eindhoven, a left winger who has previously appeared for Notts County in League Two. Centre back and captain Jack Holland remains key. It will be interesting to see where goals come from with Brandon Hanlon’s loan expiring and Dennis leaving, especially as George Porter is the only out and out striker currently in the squad. Maidenhead will be looking to build on a solid first season but have lost two key players, Harry Pritchard joining Blackpool and young attacking midfielder Sam Barratt heading to Southend. The two most regular starters up front last season in Sean Marks and Jake Hyde have also left, both to clubs in lower divisions. Young Portuguese striker Herson Alves has been brought in from Brentford to fill the void, with further transfer activity possible. Ryan Upward and Harold Odametey, both regulars last season, will be hoping to step up to fill the void left by Pritchard’s departure.

Havant and Waterlooville have had a turbulent few years, relegation out of the National League South followed by two straight promotions to reach their highest ever level. The South Coast side have a fearsome frontline strengthened with the arrivals of Alfie Pavey from last season’s title rivals Dartford, and Nicke Kabamba from Portsmouth. These signings make up for the loss of Jason Prior who has dropped down two divisions to Dorking Wanderers. The signing of experienced defender Paul Robinson will add steel to a decent Havant side who should have little trouble staying up this season. Harrogate are likely to be in a similar position, and will maybe hope of an outside playoff chance. Their marquee signing is Jack Muldoon, a left winger who impressed for AFC Fylde last season. There will be a new look defence including the experienced Kelvin Langmead and Callum Howe, looking to recover his career after a frustrating spell at Port Vale. Dominic Knowles is the man to look out for in terms of a goalscoring threat.

Maidstone fell away after a strong start last season, and have responded by making significant changes to their squad. Their defence has an entire new look to it, Alex Finney brought in from QPR and Will De Havilland from Wycombe likely to be first choice. George McLennan, who had a short but impressive spell at Sutton United a few years ago, joins at left back. Crucially both Blair Turgott and Jamar Loza remain at the club, and will be the main source of goals in Maidstone’s quest for survival. 21 year old Joe Quigley, who spent part of last season at Boreham Wood, could also provide a spark. Halifax have also made significant changes, excitingly bringing in Mekhi McLeod from Accrington and Sanmi Odelusi from Cheltenham. This will give the team some much needed width as they push for a top half finish. Matty Kosylo, who starred last season, remains key, whilst captain Matty Brown is likely to remain at the heart of defence.

Gateshead have suffered from their main investors cutting back, and have gone part time as a result. This has meant they’ve lost the majority of their squad and are still rebuilding now, albeit with a much younger look. Three players have come in from Middlesbrough’s U23 side with another from Newcastle’s as the Tynesiders make the most of what they have got. One of those signings, defensive midfielder Robbie Tinkler, has spent time on loan at Gateshead before so will know what it takes to play at this level. Striker Scott Boden represents an interesting signing – 34 appearances with Wrexham in the league last season brought just three goals but the striker adds vital experience to a young side. Several of the defenders from last season remain in the squad and will provide a solid base on which to build on with survival the priority for Heed this season. Dagenham are also in something of a financial crisis, but are in capable hands with Peter Taylor as manager and retain a couple of important players from last year, including goalscorer Michael Cheek and right back Ben Nunn. Alex Davey from Boreham Wood will help sure the defence up, and Gavin Hoyte from Eastleigh adds experience to another young team. Youngsters such as Liam Gordon and Tyrique Hyde may get a chance this season.

Barrow too have made significant squad changes, with the loss of tall centre back Moussa Diarra to Dover particularly significant. The loss of striker Jordan White to Inverness will also come as a blow as the Cumbrian side look to financially restructure. They have brought in a number of players however, with John Rooney from Guiseley arguably the most notable. Midfielder Jason Taylor joins having been on the fringes of the Fylde side last season while right back Brian Wilson adds experience having played for Oldham in League One last season. Not many remain from last season so it will be interesting to see how this new look side gel in the first few games. Braintree took advantage of the expanded playoff system last year to win promotion despite finishing in 6th place in the league. Most of their business has been for National League South players such as winger Lyle Della-Verde from Dartford, but the Essex club will hope their side can step up and avoid relegation this season. Skilful midfielder Mahrez Bettache is one to watch having had a rapid ascent through the divisions to play in the National League for next season.

1.       Ebbsfleet
2.       Salford
3.       Chesterfield
4.       Barnet
5.       Sutton United
6.       Leyton Orient
7.       AFC Fylde
8.       Eastleigh
9.       Wrexham
10.   Boreham Wood
11.   Harrogate
12.   Dover
13.   Hartlepool
14.   Aldershot
15.   Bromley
16.   Halifax
17.   Solihull Moors
18.   Havant and Waterlooville
19.   Maidenhead
20.   Dagenham and Redbridge
21.   Gateshead
22.   Maidstone
23.   Barrow
24.   Braintree