At 1PM yesterday, the fixture list for the National League South was released. So, I have decided to take a look at the fixtures to keep an eye on throughout the course of the 2017-2018 campaign:
Opening day: Eastbourne Borough vs Braintree Town (5th August 2017-15:00)
Eastbourne vs Braintree is certainly one of the more eye-catching fixtures on the opening day heading into the new season and this game gets my pick as the fist fixture of the season to neutrally keep an eye on. With Eastbourne heading into their first season for five years without Tommy Widdrington, Jamie Howells is the man who takes over the reigns. He hasn’t wasted much time in bringing in experienced Argentinian Sergio Torres, however, goalkeeper Lewis Carey sees himself out the door after being released at the end of last season. This summer, Braintree have arguably undergone the largest rebuild that the National League South would see this summer, as only two players have been retained from their relegation season. Braintree’s new signings will need to gel quickly, with only one player being signed from a National League South club (George Craddock from East Thurrock) and they will want to get their season off to the best way possible.
August Bank Holiday: Wealdstone vs Hemel Hempstead (28th August 2017-15:00)
This London derby is one that fans from both sides look for as soon as the fixture list is released and this time’s no different. With fan trouble last season between the sets of supporters, the players will look to lay a sucker punch towards their opponent’s playoff chances, Hemel’s looking slimmer than Wealdstone’s, with 2017-2018’s campaign just a month away. Wealdstone are a side that will be looking to begin strongly after finishing the last season on a superb run of form, but with the acquisition of Josh Hill from title favourites Chelmsford. Wealdstone supporters are becoming increasingly frustrated with the lack of signings. Hemel have improved their squad since their 5-0 drubbing at home to Weston-Super-Mare on the final day of 2016-2017 and Tom Hamblin will certainly look to get one over his former club when Hemel visit his old stomping ground at the end of August.
Non-League Day: Oxford City vs Poole Town (7th October 2017-15:00)
With these two sides being dark horses for automatic promotion and Playoff contenders, this encounter could be a great spectacle for Non-League football and draw neutrals in through the turnstiles if their seasons begin strongly, as expected. Oxford have boosted their strikeforce considerably, with new additions Justin Bennett and Matt Paterson having scored 110 goals between them in the past two seasons, with former Gosport Borough captain Joe Oastler also being a solid addition to the Oxford backline. Poole were certainly a surprise package last campaign, finishing 5th in the league but being ruled out of a Playoff place due to themselves needing ground improvements. Poole will need another midfielder/striker to replace the goals of Marvin Brooks, who opted to join Salisbury City this summer, but with Tommy Killick’s adaptability in the transfer window, this is something which certainly seems doable.
Boxing Day and New Year’s Day: Concord Rangers vs East Thurrock United (26th December 2017 and 1st January 2018-15:00)
These two teams are the current sides tipped to fill the relegation slots alongside Somerset outfit Weston-super-Mare, with the festive fixtures throwing up two exciting clashes for fans to feast upon over the Christmas break. Concord narrowly avoided the drop last season after a dismal second half of the season, whereas East Thurrock proved to be a solid mid-table outfit, thanks to the goals from midfielder Tom Wraight, who has earned himself a move to Maidstone United following 18 league goals last season. Concord Rangers have brought in title winner with Maidenhead last season, Jordan Cox, to boost their attacking options while they have lost poacher Jordan Chiedozie, due to him looking to trial at a pro club.
Easter weekend: Dartford vs Hampton & Richmond Borough (31st March 2018-15:00)
The Easter weekend will likely be the one weekend of the season that makes or breaks everything for these two sides. Dartford are expected to be in the running for automatic promotion come the end of the season, but with very few additions so far, Dartford may struggle to do as well as they hoped. Hampton & Richmond, on the other hand, were riding on the crest of a wave for the majority of last season and having taken Poole’s place in the Playoffs, they certainly put up a strong fight against eventual Playoff winners Ebbsfleet United, showing Hampton have certainly got what it takes to challenge with the likes of Chelmsford and Dartford.
Final day: Poole Town vs Oxford City (28th April 2018-15:00)
This game featured before as our game to watch on Non-League day, but with this being the final day and two very strong sides coming face to face, it would have been rude to miss this off! With so much on the line heading into the final day every single season, there’s always one game that captures Non-League fans across the country to keep an eye on it, and this may be it. With both sides potentially needing a win to secure a Playoff place, nothing more needs to be said really…
So, with the Vanarama National League South games having been released, the season is set to be an entertaining, thrilling, joyful and in some cases, upsetting, season. These games are certainly ones to keep an eye on…