Drama. Tension. Excitement. Glory. Upset. Tearful. All these words help sum up the National League South and these words are sure to sum up yet another season. Following Maidenhead and Ebbsfleet achieving promotion last season, I have decided to predict the National League South rankings from 1-22 ahead of the big kick-off:
The side that missed out on promotion thanks to two late Ebbsfleet United goals in the Playoff Final last season will be looking to win the title and earn automatic promotion this time around, after recruiting strongly during Pre-Season and having kept the main base of their side from the 2016-17 season. And with the more-than-able Rod Stringer in charge, Chelmsford fans will be watching their side week in and week out with certain expectancy. And where there is expectancy, comes a certain amount of pressure. Whether Chelmsford can handle that pressure across the season, only time will be able to tell.
Manager: Rod Stringer
Stringer has been in charge of the Clarets for the past year, guiding the side to the Playoffs during his only season in charge. And with experience of getting out the league before, in the 2010-11 season with Braintree during his only season there, so he knows what it takes.
Ins & Outs
Ins: Lee Barnard (Braintree Town), Scott Davies (Oxford City), Paul Rodgers (Bishop’s Stortford), Mike West (Whitehawk), Kudus Oyenuga (Greenock Morton), Matt Johnson (Billericay Town), Aaron Johnson (Bishop’s Stortford), Craig Braham-Barrett (Welling United), Elliot Omozusi (Whitehawk), Jim Stevenson (Dover), Sam Beasant (Braintree Town), Shaun Batt (Barnet), Jake Jessup (Norwich United), Jonny Giles (Oxford United).
Outs: Robbie Willmott (Newport County), Louie Theophanous (Billericay Town), Matt Young (released), Max Cornhill (East Thurrock United), Harry Morgan (Heybridge Swifts), Josh Hill (Wealdstone), Elliott Buchanan (released), Bagasan Graham (Ebbsfleet), Josh Rees (Bromley), Harry Lee (joined from Braintree Town, left before kicking a ball), Ashley Miller (Signed new contract, released during pre-season), Danny Blanchett (Signed new contract, released during pre-season).
Retained: Mark Haines, Chris Bush, Michael Spillane, Luke Daley, Kane Haysman, Max Porter, Anthony Church, Chris Dickson.
Key Player: Lee Barnard
The 33 year-old striker can be expected to be one of the main players Chelmsford manager Rod Stringer looks towards this season if the Clarets want to get out of the Vanarama National League South. With a decent goal ratio in leagues higher up, Barnard will be asked to score 15+ this season.
Bath City are a side that have made major improvement in this past season, with their top-half finish last campaign being a good stepping stone for manager Gary Owers to build upon. Owers has been busy recruiting some coups for the National League South side, and with money now backing him, there’s no reason why the Romans can’t push on to do great things this season. However, Bath don’t look like they have the ability to really push for the title just yet, and with no signed-on goalkeeper, Owers is seemingly desperate to finish off the jigsaw at Twerton Park.
Manager: Gary Owers
Gary Owers is enjoying his second spell in charge of Bath City, and has a whole range of contacts within the local area of Somerset, Devon & Bristol to recruit the best available players for the upcoming season. And with guiding Bath to a solid finish last season, the same can be expected this time around.
Ins & Outs
Ins: Anthony Straker (Aldershot), Darren Jones (Newport County), Jamie Lucas (Bristol Rovers), Nat Jarvis (Hungerford Town), Miles Welch-Hayes (Oxford United), Marvin Morgan (Made loan from Havant & Waterlooville permanent), Matt Cafer (College Europa), Ryan Case (Free agent), Connor Lemonheigh-Evans (Bristol City-Loan).
Outs: Steve Phillips, Stuart Fleetwood, Lee Marshall, Josh Hutchinson, Shaquille Hunter (all released); Chas Hemmings (Frome Town).
Retained: Naby Diallo, Jack Batten, Frankie Artus, Nick McCootie, Billy Murpy, George Rigg,
Key Player: Jamie Lucas
Lucas scored 13 goals in 21 games for Weston-Super-Mare back in the 2014-15 season while on loan there, so with a whole season to play at the same level, he can be expected to score 20+ goals for Gary Owers and his compatriots. Having signed following his release from Bristol Rovers, the striker can be relied upon to hit the net.
The Darts managed to reach the Playoffs last season, suffering a play-off defeat to rivals Chelmsford City. The side will be looking to get themselves back on track for the upcoming season and earn promotion back to the National League where they would compete against Non-League’s elite, but for now, they have to battle it out amongst Chelmsford and Bath to try and lift the National League South title. Anything but a Playoff finish for Dartford will surely do, but with the league being the most open it’s been for years following Ebbsfleet’s promotion, anything is possible throughout the campaign.
Manager: Tony Burman
The experienced manager takes charge of his 13th season over at Princes Park, and he knows what it takes to achieve promotion out of the National League South having won it three times before. This season could be make-or-break for the Darts, with promotion the ultimate aim during the season.
Ins & Outs
Ins: Lyle Della Verde (Concord Rangers), Mark Onyemah (Thurrock), Warren Mfula (Croydon Athletic)
Outs: Luke Wanaido (Bromley), Tom Wynter (Margate), Kaka Dembele (Welling United), Ben Francis (released), Alfie Pavey (Welling United).
Retained: Deren Ibrahim, Danny Harris, Keaton Wood, Elliot Bradbrook, Lee Noble, Alex Brown, Tom Murphy, Ryan Hayes, Andy Pugh, Duane Ofori-Acheampong, Tom Bonner, Ronnie Vint
Key Player: Lyle Della Verde
For his young age at 22, Della Verde is an excellent signing for Dartford. With Football League experience under his belt, along with National League South spells, the former Tottenham youngster will seek to impress upon his debut season at Princes Park.
Despite being expected to struggle this season and be embroiled in a relegation battle, I feel that Braintree have what it takes to do better than what is expected of them and mount a push for the Playoffs this season. With an entirely new squad, a new league to contend with and a change of management during the summer, the relegated side could cause a shock to may onlookers of the National League South and put up a brave fight when it comes to the Playoffs. And with the squad not exactly being strangers to eachother, it could be an interesting season for Braintree.
Manager: Brad Quinton
Braintree’s all-time appearance maker has already gone on record and saying that he expects his side to play a passing game with lots of energy and pace this season, and after recruiting plenty of players from the Ryman Premier League, he’s certainly used his contacts to full use already.
Ins & Outs
Ins: Nathan McDonald (Enfield Town), Xavier Vidal (Mertsham), Roman Michael-Percil (Met Police), Jonathan Muleba (Enfield Town), George Sykes (Canvey Island), Scott Schulton (Enfield Town), Samir Bihmoutine (Enfield Town), George Craddock (East Thurrock United), Marc Okoye (Dulwich Hamlet), Ricky Gabriel (Enfield Town), Nigel Neita (Enfield Town), Connor Bolton (Enfield Town), Liam Enver-Marum (Hemel Hempstead), Billy Crook (Enfield Town)
Outs: Lee Barnard (Chelmsford City), Michael Cheek (Dagenham & Redbridge), Manny Parry (Dover), Jack Midson (Leatherhead), Sam Beasant (Chelmsford), Harry Lee (Chelmsford), Jerome Okimo (Wealdstone)
Retained: Joe Maybanks, Ben McNamara
Key Player: Xavier Vidal
The 22 year-old attacking midfielder is expected to be a Football League star of the future after trials with Birmingham, Bolton, Oxford, Norwich and Brentford. The midfielder is described as having blistering pace, quick feet, an eye for a pass and a good shot, marking him out as a player to watch this season.
5-Hemel Hempstead Town
The Tudors have put together a very strong squad on paper ahead of the 2017-2018 National League South season, with a mix of youth and experience marking Hemel down as Playoff contenders with the new season just around the corner. Following their 5-0 defeat to Weston-Super-Mare on the final day last season, Hemel’s new-look defence will surely be up to the test of Playoff contenders, with new striker Charlie Sherringham being the one which Hemel management, board and fans alike look towards in order to push for the Playoff spots. But whatever happens this season, a Playoff finish is what Hemel want.
Manager: Dean Brennan
The Irishman has been building up to something great at Vauxhall Road, with a Playoff push in 2015-16 being halted on the final day. After carefully restructuring his squad throughout the summer, Brennan finally looks ready to lead Hemel into a Playoff place for the season.
Ins & Outs
Ins: Tom Hamblin (Wealdstone), Ismail Yakubu (Woking), Joe Howe (Leatherhead), Taylor Miles (Lincoln City), Alex Osborn (Whitehawk), David Moyo (Brackley Town), Phil Walsh, Laurie Walker, Callum Driver (Maidstone United), Charlie Sheringham (Ebbsfleet United)
Outs: Mitchell Weiss (King’s Langley)
Retained: Kyle Connolly, Ben Greenhalgh, James Kaloczi, Jonathan McNamara, Jordan Parkes, Matt Saunders, Cameron Brooks (promoted from academy), Ben Johnson (promoted from academy) and Colm Parrott (promoted from academy)
Key Player: Taylor Miles
The former Lincoln City player is a creative midfield player, who helped keep Concord Rangers in the division last season while on loan from the newly-promoted League Two outfit. Miles is known to score goals from attacking midfield, similar to players like Kevin De Bruyne, and could be an asset for the Tudors.
Poole Town continue to rise up the leagues and having been a Playoff side last season, if it weren’t for them not being able to compete in the Playoffs due to ground regulations, I fully expect the Dolphins to be there again this season, with the National League including two more Playoff spots. Tommy Killick has put together an impressive side, and with Poole being arguably the most stubborn side last season when it came to defending, their fans, and the rest of the National League South fans, will be keeping an eye on last year’s surprise package.
Manager: Tommy Killick
Killick hasn’t hidden the fact that he wouldn’t mind continuing the season with the same group of players that he had at his disposal last season. But with sides coming and looking for his players, Killick hasn’t had the off-season that he would have wanted, but has still managed to put together a strong side able to compete.
Ins & Outs
Ins: Tony Lee
Outs: Marvin Brooks (Salisbury)
Retained: Jamie Whisken, Carl Pettefer, Steve Devlin, Jake Smeeton, Luke Roberts, Will Spetch, Corby Moore, Tom Rees, Nick Hutchings, Shaun Cooper, Lewis Lindsay, Michael Walker, James Granger, Abdulai Hindolo Bell-Baggie, Luke Burbidge, Olly Balmer, Richard Gillespie.
Key Player: Luke Roberts
Loyalty counts for a lot in Non-League football these days, and Luke Roberts has found himself on the Poole Town team-sheet 147 times. The winger has scored 38 times for the Dolphins upon their rise up the Non-League pyramid, and he can be counted upon to help their attack this season.
7-Hampton & Richmond Borough
After qualifying for the Playoffs last season, thanks to Poole and Hungerford’s ground irregularities, Hampton & Richmond will be hoping to just edge in this season, thanks to seventh now being a Playoff spot. The London-based side have recovered well since losing Jamal Lowe and Nicke Kabamba to Portsmouth in January, but their management team have been working hard across the whole summer in order to recruit a goalscoring striker, and have come up trumps by adding Ryan Moss from Kingstonian Town, where he managed to score 25 goals in a side that just about managed to avoid the drop last season.
Manager: Alan Dowson
The experienced manager put pen to paper on a full-time contract this summer in order to spend his time scouting and doing his best for the Beavers, with it being a big season for the club based in Hampton. And with Dowson now at the helm full-time, the only way is up.
Ins & Outs
Ins: Ryan Moss (Kingstonian), Charlie Wassmer (Maidenhead United), Harry Crawford (Welling United), Claudiu Vilcu (Wingate), Max Kretzschmar (Woking), Sam Howes (Watford-Loan)
Outs: Jay Gasson, Joe Hicks, Charlie ten-Grotenhuis, Stiven Rivic, Shaquille Hippolyte-Patrick (Wealdstone), Jermaine Osei, Harold Odamatey (Maidenhead United).
Retained: Billy Bishop, Josh Casey, Sam Gallagher, Tom Jelley, Kieran Murphy, Michael Kamara, Leon Solomon, Nathan Collier, Jerome Federico, Brendan Kiernan, Duncan Culley, Christian Jolley
Key Player: Max Kretzschmar
The new signing will be determined to get off to the best start for his new club. The 23 year-old left winger has played 73 times for Wycombe Wanders in League Two and played 23 times for Woking in the National League next season, so therefore brings tonnes of experience with his signature.
Wealdstone narrowly missed out on the National League Playoffs last season and will be hoping to go one better this season, but unfortunately for them, I don’t see the Ruislip-based side managing to complete that feet of breaking into the top seven sides. Of course, the Stones will put up a tough fight towards the end, no doubt about that, but if their key players don’t end up performing for marginal spells of the season, Gordon Bartlett’s squad may find themselves falling short once again. And with growing beliefs that Wealdstone could make it to the National League, results are needed.
With there being differing opinion on how and where the experienced manager was taking the club last season, Bartlett could have potentially been on the verge of the sack until he guided his side away from mid-table obscurity and towards the Playoffs with nine wins from their final 15 games.
Ins & Outs
Ins: Benji Crilley (Chesham United), Abobaker Eisa (Uxbridge), Josh Hill (Chelmsford City), Shaquille Hippolyte-Patrick (Hampton & Richmond), Jerome Okimo (Braintree Town), Liam Harwood (free agent)
Outs: Sahr Kabba (Mertsham Town), Tom Hamblin (Hemel Hempstead Town), Joshua Urquhart (Billericay Town), Liam Goulding (mutual consent), Wes Parker (Wingate & Finchley), Johnny Wright
Retained: Danny Green, Ryan Sellars, Ciaron Brown, Dan Fitchett, Omar Koroma, Jonathan North, Matty Whichelow, Sam Cox, Ricky Wellard, Elliott Benyon, Eddie Oshodi, Elliot Godfrey
Key Player-Elliot Benyon
Despite spending around half of the season out injured during Wealdstone’s late surge toward the cuffs of the Playoffs, Benyon has proved countless times that he is capable of scoring at National League South & higher, with 38 goals coming in 82 games at this level in the past three seasons.
After finishing 10th last season, I expect St.Albans to go one better this season and finish 9th, just missing out on the Playoffs by two spots. Following the departure of Louie Theophanous midway through the last season, the top-half side will be hoping to keep their key players from the first whistle to the final whistle during the 2017/18 season. Another aim of the club is to keep up momentum throughout the season, with a mid-season nosedive seeing them see their title hopes slip away from them. But whatever goes on at Clarence Park this season, St. Albans will be hoping for a positive season.
Ian Allison knows what it takes to win the National League South, having won it with Boreham Wood three seasons ago. With his second full season at the Clarence Park helm now quickly approaching, the manager has used his wide range of contacts to bring together a strong squad on paper.
Ins & Outs
Ins: Zane Banton (Luton Town), Percy Kiangebeni (Enfield Town), Harold Joseph (Enfield Town), Layne Eadie (Harlow Town), Rhys Murrell Williamson, Dean Snedker (Cambridge City),
Outs: Matt Ball (Hendon), Lee Chappell, Ben Martin (both released).
Retained: Tom Gardener, Jack Savile, David Noble, Soloman Sambu, Charlie Walker, Sam Merson, Kieran Monlouis, Tom Bender, Jamie Cureton, Ben Herd, Shaun Lucien.
Key Player-Zane Banton
With various National League loan spells at Concord Rangers, Hemel Hempstead and his current side St.Albans, the former Luton Town youngster starts his first full permanent season away from Luton at Clarence Park under Allinson’s guidance. And with the striker eager for Football League experience again, you can expect him to be hungry for goals.
After a difficult season last term following relegation back to the National League South, Welling could finally push themselves back into the National League South top half and get themselves back on track. The Wings never really recovered after losing top goalscorer Adam Coombes to Sutton United in February, going on to win only three of their final ten games. Welling’s weakness last season seemed to be “second half syndrome”, where they lost more games than anyone else (9) when drawing in the division at the interval. They were also the only side in the league to not overturn a scoreline when they were losing at half-time.
Coyle will head into his first season as a football manager with Welling United down at Park View Road this campaign, after being appointed the new Wings Head Coach over the summer. All eyes will be on how the inexperienced manager handles the pressure of management, but he will certainly want to impress.
Ins & Outs
Ins: Bradley Goldberg (Bromley), Conor Dymond (Bromley), Joe Healey (Dover), Tom Bradbrook (free agent after having a year out, previously Dartford), Kaka Dembele (Dartford), Alfie Pavey (Millwall), Jack Parkinson (free agent previously with Dover, joins as player/coach), Jack Parter (Tonbridge), Ian Gayle, Christian Nanetti (Cork City)
Retained: Chris Lewington
Key Player-Tom Bradbrook
The striker has penned a deal with Welling as the former Dartford man looks to get back into football after taking a year out due to work and family commitments. Bradbrook is capable of scoring 10+ goals a season, and with others chipping in around him, Bradbrook could be a successful first signing for Jamie Coyle.
Gloucester have to adapt quickly this coming season if they want to achieve their long-term ambitions quicker than expected. The Gloucestershire-based club have been moved down from the North into the South section of the sixth tier for the season, and with a new groundshare coming at Evesham United, a whole new pitch surface and stadium feel will make things tougher for the Tigers. However, Gloucester have been able to maintain the majority of their squad so therefore their fans, board, management and players will all be excited for the coming season and shall be determined to impress.
Harris is in his second spell of Gloucester City, and is very much an experienced manager. Having been in management since 1990, he certainly knows his way around the Non-League setup and knows how to get the best out of his players. Having been a solid force in the North division for years, Harris will be up for the challenge in the South.
Ins & Outs
Ins: George Forsyth (Kidderminster), Will Morford (Shortwood United – joins as player/coach), Kieran Parselle (Newport County), Alex Harris (Hereford), Edji Mbunga (Birmingham City)
Outs: Jack Deaman (Hereford), Luke Hopper (Hungerford), Jaz Singh (AFC Telford)
Retained: Darren Mullings, Lewis Hall, Spencer Hamilton, Zack Kotwica, Ethan Moore (back from year out with injury), Keiran Thomas, Sam Avery, Joe Hanks, Tom Webb, Chris Knowles, Reece King, Ed Williams, Joe Parker, Karnell Chambers.
Key Player-Will Morford
The goal poacher could be a huge asset for Gloucester this season following his move from Shortwood United in the summer, where he was player and assistant manager. Morford will be eager to plug the gap left by former top scorer Luke Hopper, who moved on to Hungerford, and Gloucester’s hopes of a top-half finish could be down to the new signing.
12-Havant & Waterlooville
I feel that the newly-promoted side can settle straight back into Vanarama National League South football straight away, with their vastly experienced squad seemingly looking like they will be able to compete for a top-half place on paper. A strikeforce containing the experience of James Hayter and new signing Matt Tubbs will surely be one of the strongest strike partnerships throughout the division this season, with their experience and knowhow of Non-League defences seemingly enough to push the Hawks on. Manager Lee Bradbury will be hoping that there isn’t a repeat of their final National League South season, where Havant were relegated by one goal on the final day.
The former Bournemouth player takes charge of Havant for the fifth season in a row, and will be aiming to consolidate Havant’s place in the National League South at the first time of asking. Anything better than that would be an achievement for the Southern side. And having signed a two-year contract extension in the summer, the Hawks board clearly believe in their manager.
Ins & Outs
Ins: Matt Tubbs (Eastleigh)
Outs: Matt Paterson (Oxford City)
Retained: Jordan Rose, James Hayter, Alfie Rutherford, Wes Fogden, Jason Prior, Ryan Woodford, Brian Stock, Rory Williams, Mike Carter, Bradley Tarbuck, Ed Harris.
Key Player-Matt Tubbs
The new signing from National League Eastleigh is thought to be the direct replacement for departed striker Matt Paterson, whose goals will need to be replaced. On a two-year contract at Havant, this may be Tubbs’ final chances to impress across the two years, with his age of 33 showing the amount of experience he brings.
Oxford will again be looking for another mid-table finish this time around, with their recent acquisitions of Matt Paterson and Justin Bennett doing their top-half chances no harm at all. The pair have scored 110 goals between them in the past two seasons, so clearly know where the net is. After a stable yet uneventful season last time out, the board over at Court Place Farm will be hoping that the squad assembled will be able to show progression on the pitch, the new 3G pitch that’s been laid in fact!, with Oxford seemingly expectant that they could be dark horses for a top-half finish come April.
The former Oxford City player got to take charge of his first pre-season this summer, and has shown no signs of keeping the same squad that achieved a mid-table finish last season. With a large turnover of players, Jones looks ready for the new season, and the task, he has been presented at hand.
Ins & Outs
Ins: Justin Bennett (Salisbury City), Joe Oastler (Gosport), Matt Paterson (Havant), David Pearce (Chesham), Eddie Jones (AFC Telford), Zac McEachran (Banbury United), Horatio Hirst (Sheffield United, loan deal), Mamadou ‘Mo’ Fofana (free agent, last club Barrow)
Outs: Scott Davies (Chelmsford), Jefferson Louis (Banbury), Mike Fondop (released), Shaun Macauley (released), Tommy Winters (Banbury) and Wilson Carvalho (released), Akin Abiola-Daramola (released), Jean Niate (released), Matt Peake-Pijnen (Banbury)
Retained: Reece Fleet, Craig Hill, Ezra Forde, Lee Henderson & Godfrey Poku, Guri Demuria, Freddie Grant, Sammy Khawaja, Jordi Ngathe, Jack Tutton.
Key Player-Justin Bennett
Bennett will rekindle his striker partnership with former Gosport Borough team-mate Matt Paterson upon making the move to Court Place Farm from Salisbury City, and the striker will be aiming to get his name into the list of top five goalscorers for this season. He’s certainly capable.
14-Bognor Regis Town
Bognor Regis are back in the National League South after being away since 2009. The side achieved promotion from the Isthmian Premier last season, managing to beat Dulwich Hamlet in the Playoff final after finishing as runners-up in the league. With the strength of the Isthmian this season, it may well be a blessing in disguise for the newcomers, as they enter a wide-open National League South, where anything appears possible for the majority of teams this season. But after undergoing a managerial change this summer, results will be key right from the off for the new man in the dugout.
Alongside his role as Head Coach of the England Collages team, Killpatrick was also appointed as the new Bognor Regis Head Coach, succeeding Sami El-Abd due to stepping down just weeks after being given the role. Killpatrick will be looking to help Bognor push forward.
Ins & Outs
Ins: Corey Heath (College football), Joe Lea (Yeovil), Pat Suraci (Gosport), Tommy Scutt (Portsmouth), Ben Swallow (Havant & Waterlooville)
Outs: James Fraser (Worthing), Darren Budd (Horsham)
Retained: Doug Tuck, Jimmy Muitt, James Crane, Gary Charman, Ollie Pearce, Harvey Whyte, Alex Parsons, Chad Field, Jimmy Wild, Sami El-Abd, Dan Lincoln.
Key Player-Alex Parsons
The central midfielder for Bognor makes things tick in the centre of the park, and he will be key to them securing mid-table security in their first season back at this level. Having netted four goals in the Isthmian last campaign, the midfielder will want to do better this season.
The only founding members of the National League South left without getting promoted or relegated, Weston manage to make it to 15th on my predictions. Following a mixed pre-season, where they underwent a managerial change and things looked particularly bleak at the start of July, new manager Marc McGregor has managed to bring in some players who look more than capable of playing well at National League South level. And having kept the same squad that Scott Bartlett left behind, WsM fans have a right to be hopeful of the forthcoming season.
McGregor returns to Weston, this time in the managerial capacity, after formerly being a player at the club, when he originally joined in 2002. McGregor has done well to steady the ship during pre-season and with the club searching for progression on the pitch as well as off it, McGregor has a job on his hands.
Ins & Outs
Ins: Danny Greenslade (Bristol Rovers), Jake Mawford (Dorchester Town), Ben Seymour (Exeter City-Loan), Jarrad Welch (Cardiff City), Tristan Plummer (Hereford FC), Aden Baldwin (Bristol City-Loan), Ash Harper (Bristol City-Loan).
Outs: Lewis Powell (Bristol Manor Farm), Rollin Menayese (Bristol Rovers), Jamie Chamberlain (Released)
Retained: Luke Purnell, Liam Kingston (Loaned to Cheddar FC), Jamie Laird, Jason Pope, Dayle Grubb, Ash Kington, Jacob Cane, Gethyn Hill, Jake Lee, Jordan Williams, Jake Reid.
Key Player-Jarrad Welch
During pre-season, McGregor seems to have found a gem of a midfielder, who was recently released by Cardiff City. The 18 year-old central midfielder has two goals and one assist to his name during six friendlies, and it looks as if Welch could be important to Weston this season, similar to Luke Purnell and Dayle Grubb in seasons gone by.
A managerial seat which is regarded as one of the safest in the country, Eastbourne will be hoping for another mid-table finish this season around. But a finish in the top half of the table isn’t completely out of their reach. An experienced National League South central midfielder in Sergio Torres has joined the side from league rivals Whitehawk, meaning that new Borough manager Jamie Howells has a stable squad to work with for 2017-18.
Howells has joined Eastbourne from newly-promoted Bognor Regis Town, and the new manager replaces Tommy Widdrington, who spent five years in the dugout at Priory Lane. Upon his appointment, the manager stated that he wants to add local Sussex-born players to his starting XI.
Ins & Outs
Ins: Sergio Torres (Whitehawk), Leon Redwood (Burgess Hill), Will Hendon (Worthing), Matt Drage (Dulwich Hamlet), Yemi Odubade (Maidstone United)
Outs: Lewis Carey (released), Mark Hughes (released), Craig Stone (Tonbridge Angels), Josh Hare (Maidstone United), Bouwe Bosma (Lewes), Miguel Baptista (Released)
Retained: Ian Simpemba, Jamie Taylor, Kiran Kinda John, Gavin McCallum, Nat Pinney, Billy Crittenden (academy), Adam Lovatt (academy), Josh Street, Ryan Worrall, Charlie Horlock
Key Player-Sergio Torres
The central midfielder is vastly experienced at Football League and Non-League level, having spent the past three seasons with Sussex rivals Whitehawk. Torres brings a calm figure and a leading personality to the centre of the park, so is a good signing for Eastbourne.
Chippenham won the Southern Premier last season, with a record tally of 103 points. And with their first season at this level on the horizon, they will be looking to consolidate themselves and get a feel for the league as early as possible. Results will certainly be important for the club, with a few early wins seemingly going to help the side settle down on the pitch. But with newly promoted sides comes momentum. Don’t take the newbies lightly!
Collier will settle down for his fourth season in the Hardenhuish dugout, and coming off of his best season in management, the Chippenham gaffer will be looking for a solid first season at National League level after he managed to maintain the bulk of last season’s squad.
Ins & Outs
Ins: Dean Evans, Mark Cooper, Jason Matthews (all Weymouth), Scott Donnelly (Farnborough Town), Jared Thompson (Chelsea-Loan), Alan O’Brien (Hungerford Town)
Outs: Darry Chitty, Matt Jones (Released)
Retained: Rhys Baggridge, Dan Bowman, Will Richards, Jon Beeden, Nuno Felix, Greg Tindle, Chris Allen, Gary Horgan, Alex Ferguson, James Guthrie, Michael Pook, Matt Smith, David Pratt, Andy Sandell.
Key Player-Andy Sandell
Coming off the back of a prolific 30-goal season, the experienced striker will be looking for even more goals in the National League South this season. Having played at higher levels than this, and with confidence running through his veins, he is an outsider for the golden boot.
The club managed to achieve 70 points last season following promotion to the National League South, but the goals of striker Nat Jarvis, who made the move to league rivals Bath City, could come back and hurt the Berkshire-based club. However, they have managed to recruit well over the course of the pre-season and may well be ready for battle once again after missing out on the Playoffs last season due to ground irregularities.
The manager who caught my eye last season, whose passion and excitement on the touchline reminded me much of Chelsea’s Antonio Conte, has certainly impressed during his tenure at the club. But with potentially his hardest task yet at keeping Hungerford up, his real managerial style will come to the fore.
Ins & Outs
Ins: Callum Willmoth (Newbury), Luke Hopper (Gloucester), Paul Stonehouse (Slough Town), Matt Partridge (Basingstoke Town), Tom Meechan (Newport County)
Outs: Nat Jarvis (Bath), Hary Goodger (Whitstable Town), Alan O’Brien (Released)
Retained: Marcus Beauchamp, Lewis Ward, Gareth Thomas, Kallum Thomas, Jon Boardman, Matt Day, Mike Jones, Louie Soares, Rhys Tyler, Luke Williams, Scott Rees, Ian Herring, James Rusby, James Clark, Warren Bentley, Nicholas Bignall, Stefan Brown
Key Player-Luke Hopper
The new signing at Bulpit Lane will want to hit the ground running and follow in Nat Jarvis’ shoes following the striker’s move from Gloucester City. Hopper clearly has an eye for goal, having netted 19 times for the Tigers in the National League North last season.
Having flirted with relegation last season, I predict another struggle ahead for Concord, with the goals of Tony Stokes going to be hard to be replaced. However, if Concord are able to pick up a few early points and show their fans what they’re capable of in a much wider South division, then hopes will be raised and expectations lifted with an assault on the league’s top half not out of sight for anyone in the bottom half of the table.
The manager, who was been in charge of the Beachboys for the past two seasons, will be aiming for success at the club this season. But to be successful, Flanagan will be hoping that one of his summer signings can emulate the goalscoring greats of former striker, Stokes.
Ins & Outs
Ins: Lewis Taaffe, Khale Da Costa, Jordan Cox (Maidenhead United), Jason Williams (Southend United), Jordan Sanderson, Billy Roast (Maldon & Tiptree), Jordan Brown (Welling United)
Outs: James White (East Thurrock United), Lyle Della-Verde (Dartford), Jordan Chiedozie (looking to trial at pro club), Tony Stokes
Retained: Steve King, Steve Cawley, Tom Stephen, Adam Topley, Rob Girdlestone, Audrius Laucys, George Marsh, Sam Carter, Finley Dopson, Jack Renew, Henry Sims, Bayley Newell, Amos Nasha, Jed Smith, Tom Ranger, Kyron Farrell, Louis Wells, Dexter Peter, Lewis Knight
Key Player-Jordan Cox
Cox, who joins from last season’s National League South champions Maidenhead United, looks like he has been tasked by Flanagan to be the man to carry the team forward as a goalscoring threat. But if Cox gets injured, then Concord don’t have many options to turn to for goals.
20-East Thurrock United
After a solid mid-table finish last season, in which they ended up finishing 16th, I predict East Thurrock to struggle considerably this season and find themselves battling against the drop over in Essex. East Thurrock have managed to keep the main spine of last season’s squad together with a few more additions, but they have equally lost the importance of left winger Tom Wraight, who netted 18 times last term for the Rocks.
Coventry has used his Non-League contacts to add a few physical players to his squad, the main stereotype used when discussing and describing semi-professional players these days. Coventry will be hoping to use his experience to try and guide East Thurock away from the drop.
Ins & Outs
Ins: James White (Concord Rangers), George Allen (Canvey Island), Brad Warner (Bowers & Pitsea*), Lewis Smith (returns from FA suspension for breach of betting guidelines prior to joining last Summer), Max Cornhill (Chelmsford City)
Outs: Tom Wraight (Maidstone United), George Craddock (Braintree Town), Michael Freiter, Ade Osifewa, Marvel Ekipeta (all released), James Walker (Canvey Island)
Retained: Lukas Lidakevicius, Ryan Sammons, Sammy Knott, Simon Peddie, Marvin Ekpiteta, Lee Burns, Ben Marlow, Reece Harris, Kye Ruel, Harry Honesty, Sam Higgins
Key Player-Lewis Smith
The winger could be set for his East Thurrock debut tomorrow, despite it being a year in the waiting following an FA suspension for gambling issues. Smith looks like he could be up to the task of replacing Wraight as a prolific left winger, but it remains to be seen how he adapts.
Cornwall’s best football side are another prediction for relegation. Quite frankly, I don’t see the side having the ability to keep their heads above water once the season comes to a close next April. However, if they manage to prove that they’ve turned things around defensively and their keeper is considerably better than the last one, then the White Tigers may find themselves celebrating survival once again this campaign.
Taking charge of his second season at Treyew Road, the manager has boldly stated that he feels Truro’s defensive and concentration issues were to blame for last season’s struggle. But with Hodges also stating whether Truro underperformed last season, that remains to be seen.
Ins & Outs
Ins: Jordan Copp, Stuart Yetton, Ben Gerring (Torquay United), Ben Harding (Gosport), Ed Palmer (Taunton), Jordan Copp (Weymouth), Alex Hartridge (Exeter City-Loan), Aaron Lamont (Kingstonian), Noah Keats (Returns from playing in USA), Billy Palfrey (Plymouth Argyle)
Outs: Arran Pugh, Les Afful, Martin Rice, Aaron Bentley, Ryan Brett, Ben Adelsbury, Ollie Knowles (all released)
Retained: Stewart Yetton, Tom McHale, Jamie Richards, River Allen, Cody Cooke, Niall Thompson, Rocky Neal, Fletcher Williams (youth team), Austin Booth (youth team)
Key Player-Rocky Neal
The striker’s form and fitness will be key to Truro keeping themselves above water this season, with his goals last campaign being just enough to see the Cornwall outfit keep their place in the National League South for 2017-18. He’s certainly a dark horse for the golden boot.
Five managerial changes last season, 47 players wearing their shirt last term, a new manager this summer, a 40% budget cut, club president jailed for racial abuse, key players departing and a host of academy players being promoted into the first-team squad. That only speaks a club in turmoil to me. I’ve predicted Whitehawk to go down because of these reasons, and because they have slid from Playoff candidates to relegation strugglers in two seasons.
Dack is thought to favour youth as a manager, and this has shown by various U18s being promoted from their successful U18 side of last season into the first-team squad for the National League South campaign. Dack will certainly have it tough in his first year at Whitehawk.
Ins & Outs
Ins: Connor Tighe (Brighton), Alex Tokarczyk (Basingstoke Town), Ed Sanders (Gosport Borough), Tom Cadman (Brighton & Hove Albion), Ed Wakley (Portsmouth FC), Bayan Fenwick (Selkirk-Scotland), Pape Gueye (Sutton United-Loan), Sean Roddy (Institute-Northern Ireland), TJ Elliot (Hayes & Yeading United), Richie Whittingham (Hayes & Yeading United), Ramone Rose (Gosport Borough)
Outs: Mike West (Chelmsford), Sergio Torres (Eastbourne), Elliot Omozusi (Chelmsford), Danny Mills (Ebbsfleet), Alex Osborn (Hemel)
Retained: Jordan Hawkins (promoted from U18s), Billy Barker (promoted from U18s), Finton Walsh (promoted from U18s), Lewis Broughton (promoted from U18s), Robbie Keith (promoted from U18s), Luke Emberson (promoted from U18s), Billy Barker (promoted from U18s), Lucas Rodrigues, Dan Harding.
Key Player-Ed Sanders
The defender looks as if he can bring an assured head to Whitehawk’s back four this season. Having served in various different academies across the country, Sanders may bring some of his learnings to the Enclosed Ground this season and help Whitehawk with a relegation battle.
Teams such as Truro City and Whitehawk have proven in the past that it’s so easy to go from Playoff contenders to relegation candidates. With the National League South kick-off just a day away, let’s hope that there are more thrills and spills in the South section of England’s sixth tier…
Feature image credit: Steveboswell at English Wikipedia