National League set for fierce promotion battle in 2018/19


With the National League season complete we now know the line-up of teams for the 2018/19 season.

Macclesfield Town and Tranmere Rovers both secured promotion to the Football League, while Chester, Guiseley, Torquay United and Woking have all been relegated.

Chesterfield have dropped into non-league football after spending 97 years as a league club, while Barnet return to the National League after a three-year stay in the EFL.

Salford City and Harrogate Town won promotion from National League North, with Havant & Waterlooville and Braintree Town matching the feat from the southern division.

Read on as we take a look at four clubs who could challenge for honours in the National League next season.

Chesterfield

Relegation was never on the agenda when Chesterfield moved from Saltergate in 2010 and targeted the Championship in their new 10,000-seat stadium.

That dream has quickly collapsed as budget problems with the stadium, a boardroom walkout and a string of unsuccessful managerial appointments took their toll.

Promoted to League One in 2014, Chesterfield reached the play-off semi-final for another rise to the Championship as recently as three years ago but lost to Preston North End.

Manager Paul Cook left for Portsmouth, key players were sold and the collapse since then has been spectacular.

The club has already made five new signings as it bids to bounce back at the first time of asking. If you think they can achieve the feat use this promo from 10bet to wager on the outcome.

Wrexham

Wrexham have appointed the former Wales international Sam Ricketts on a three-year contract, his first managerial job.

The 36-year-old left his role with Wolverhampton Wanderers’ youth set-up to succeed Dean Keates at the Racecourse Ground.

The Dragons, owned by Wrexham Supporters Trust, missed out on this season’s play-offs by three points having been top of the table as recently as February.

Ricketts won 52 caps for Wales between 2005 and 2014 and played in the Premier League for Hull City and Bolton Wanderers as well as spells with Swansea City, Wolves and Coventry.

His main objective in North Wales will be to gain promotion to the Football League after an 11-year absence and his leadership skills should see Wrexham mount a serious challenge for success next season.

Barnet

Barnet have re-appointed John Still as their new manager following their relegation to the National League.

The 68-year-old replaces Martin Allen, who left the Bees after failing to keep them in League Two.

Barnet were seven points adrift of safety when Allen was appointed on March 19 but they were relegated on goal difference on the final day, despite the former Brentford, Cheltenham and Gillingham manager winning five of his eight games in charge.

Still has agreed a two-year deal at The Hive and returns to Barnet for his third spell in charge of the club.

He has previously guided Maidstone, Dagenham and Luton Town to the title in what is now the National League.

Salford City

Salford City, the club co-owned by Manchester United’s ‘Class of ’92’, have continued their rise up the ranks by securing their third promotion in four years.

Joint managers Bernard Morley and Anthony Johnson celebrated promotion to National League for the first time in the club’s history last month, but ‘irreconcilable differences’ over personal terms have seen them depart.

The duo have been replaced by former Scunthorpe and Fleetwood boss Graham Alexander and he has been tasked with taking the club into the EFL.

Alexander made 981 appearances in a 23-year club career that included spells at Scunthorpe, Luton, Preston and Burnley. He was sacked by the Iron in March following a winless run of eight games.

The 46-year-old has already added Fleetwood captain Nathan Pond to his squad and it would be a major surprise if they are not challenging for another promotion next term.

New National League play-off format already adding to end-of-season drama


The battle to reach the play-off finals across three National League divisions is underway, with clubs across the country striving to secure promotion to the next level in the pyramid.

There is a new format this season, with the champions going up automatically and the next six clubs in each division taking part in an extended play-off format.

Two eliminator matches take place before the semi-finals and the set-up is sure to add even more drama to the end-of-season showdowns in each section.

Read on as we take a look at the National League play-offs.

Vanarama National League

Ebbsfleet United finished a point behind Aldershot Town during the regular season, but it was the Kent side who progressed to the semi-finals after a dramatic penalty shoot-out.

United were awarded a penalty during the second-half, but top scorer Danny Kedwell was superbly denied by Lewis Ward.

The game eventually went to extra-time, it was Aldershot who finally managed to break the deadlock in the 109th minute when Nicke Kabamba headed home.

It looked as though that goal would be enough to take the Shots through, but in the last minute of extra-time, Dave Winfield headed United level to take the game to a shoot-out.

Ward saved two penalties to leave Aldershot with two chances to win it, but Lewis Kinsella and Fabien Robert fluffed their lines.

Dean Rance fired home the decisive spot kick to book United’s place in Saturday’s semi-final against Tranmere Rovers at Prenton Park.

Boreham Wood face AFC Fylde in the second elimination game on Thursday, with the winners going on to meet Sutton United in Sunday’s second semi-final.

If you’re inclined towards betting check out these football betting predictions before wagering on the outcome of the play-offs.

Vanarama National League North

League positions went out of the window in the National League North play-off elimination games on Wednesday, as Bradford Park Avenue and Chorley defeated Kidderminster Harriers and Stockport County respectively.

Kidderminster, who were beaten by Chorley in the play-off semi-finals last season, suffered more heartbreak against Park Avenue at Aggborough.

Adam Boyes bagged an early goal for the visitors after 10 minutes and although Harriers dominated for long periods they could not find an equaliser.

Oli Johnson’s goal 12 minutes from time sealed the victory and sent Bradford through to Sunday’s semi-final at Brackley Town.

Wednesday’s other eliminator between Stockport and Chorley attracted a bumper crowd of 6,230 to Edgeley Park and fans were treated to an excellent advertisement for non-league football.

Jason Walker settled the game with a fine header after 68 minutes to book Chorley’s place in the last four. Matt Jansen’s side now visit Harrogate Town on Sunday in the other semi-final.

Vanarama National League South

Sunday’s National League South play-off semi-finals will be between Chelmsford City and Hampton & Richmond Borough and Dartford and Braintree Town following Wednesday’s elimination matches.

Hampton had failed to beat Truro City in three attempts season, drawing 1-1 in both league games and losing 2-0 in the FA Cup.

Rocky Neal gave Truro an early lead, but Jack Cook’s 34th minute effort tied things up. City’s Connor Riley-Lowe had a penalty saved in the second-half, and Bradley Hudson-Odoi took full advantage in extra-time with a pair of goals to send Hampton through.

Hemel had won both of the games against Braintree during the regular season and with home advantage they began as favourites to reach the last four.

They had the better of the game in terms of possession and chances, but neither side were able to break the deadlock during 120 minutes of play.

Scott Shulton, David Moyo and Sanchez Watt all failed to convert their penalties for Hemel, while Marcel Barrington, Luke Allen and Dan Thompson scored theirs for Braintree to secure victory.

Which league is winning the sack race?


Question – Which English league has so far seen the most managerial sackings?

For those fans who live in the warm, safe environment of the Premier or Football League I don’t they will know the answer to hand.  For the record there have been eight managers leave their posts since the start of the season, although you could also bundle in the likes of Allardyce and Bruce who left their positions in the pre-season period.  The Championship actually leads the way with three manager’s fired so far this season – Nigel Pearson at Derby County, Paul Trollope at Cardiff City and Roberto Di Matteo at Aston Villa, with League One and Two only having two casualties apiece, whilst poor old Francesco Guidolin being the sole Premier League scalp so far.

However, take one step down from Football League Two and you will find possibly the most cut-throat managerial environment in England.  The National League Premier, aka The Conference Premier has so far seen seven of the twenty-four clubs lose their managers since the opening day of the season.  With almost a third of the season so far played, that number is ridiculous, but why is it over double that of any of the leagues above them?

26138079974_c44c4ab0bd_kThe clubs that have so far changed their managers on the whole would have expected to have been doing better than they had been at the time of the change:-

– Braintree Town – sacked Jamie Day in September.  After finishing in the Play-offs last season expectations would have been high but the loss of former manager Danny Cowley to Lincoln City was a big blow – borne out by the fact that Lincoln City are currently enjoying one of their best seasons in years, sitting in third place at the time of writing.  Day was fired with the club in 22nd place, one place lower that they are today.

– Eastleigh – sacked Chris Todd in August.  The season was only four games old when Eastleigh fired Todd after a shocking start had seen them bottom at the time.  Since appointing Ronnie Moore they have climbed up to 8th in the league, winning six and drawing three of their last ten games.

– Guiseley – sacked Mark Bower in August.  After surviving on the last day of the season with a win over Torquay United, it was somewhat of a surprise that the board at Guiseley decided to act so quickly, despite them being bottom of the league.  They are one of the smallest clubs in the league and keeping their head above water was always going to be a struggle with teams on significantly bigger budget.  Adam Lockwood was appointed as his replacement but they are still in the bottom four.

– Southport – sacked Andy Bishop in early September.  A similar situation to Guiseley where they have been just keeping their head above water for a while.  The former Football League club dispensed with Bishop’s services when the club were in 23rd spot.  He was replaced by Steve Burr and things are still not going to plan with the Sandgrounders currently propping up the rest of the league.

– Tranmere Rovers – sacked Gary Brabin in September, then replaced Interim manager Paul Carden in October.  It doesn’t seem that long ago since Tranmere Rovers were ripping up the Championship (or whatever it was called back then) and playing in a cup final at Wembley every year.  It must be hard being a Rovers fan today having those memories so vivid.  When they fell out of the league in 2015 they hoped to “do a Bristol Rovers” and bounce straight back up.  Under Brabin they finished last season in sixth place, missing out on the Play-offs by 2 points.  With the team in 5th place it seemed the decision to sack Brabin was harsh to say the least to an outsider.  Carden’s brief reign saw a win, a draw and a defeat before former Shrewsbury Town manager Mickey Mellon was appointed.

– Wrexham – sacked Gary Mills in October with the club in 15th place after defeat at Tranmere Rovers had left them in 15th place.  A subsequent home defeat in the FA Cup to Evostik First Division South Stamford, and a potential lucrative tie at Hartlepool United wouldn’t have particularly pleased the fans either.

– York City – Jackie McNamara “moved” upstairs in October.  There doesn’t appear to be much fun had supporting York City at the moment.  Earlier this week they crashed out of the FA Cup at Curzon Ashton, missing out on a tie against the lowest ranked side, Westfields, in the First Round Proper, whilst Chairman Jason McGill had to explain comments he made on national radio about the fans.  Whole situation with McNamara was bizarre to say the least.  He was given one game to essentially save his job, away at Braintree, which he drew and then appeared to have been sacked, only to them be appointed Chief Executive which begs the question why did they go public with the ultimatum in the first place.  Gary Mills, fresh from leaving Wrexham, was appointed this week as the new manager with York in 19th place.

So why has the National League Premier so far produced so much managerial upheaval?  Could it be that the Football League is due to decide next year on whether to completely revamp the structure of leagues, going from 3 divisions of 24 teams to 4 of 20, which would mean an additional 8 teams would join the professional game.  There had been some concern that the proposal may have been a back-door to try to sneak in Celtic and Rangers or some of the Premier League Development Squads, such as had happened in the failing and flailing Football League Trophy.  The “Whole Game Solution” was discussed at a meeting in September where it was agreed by a majority vote that it would NOT include the two previous options of the Old Firm and Premier League DS teams.  At that point the Non-League sides obviously started to rub their hands together, especially when a suggested was tabled for a 14 team expansion, making a Championship to twenty sides and then 22 in Leagues One, Two and Three.  If the Football League had any sense they would have already started down this route by allowing the National League sides to play in the laughable Football League Trophy rather than the Premier League DS sides but that’s another story for another day.

Consequently, clubs in the National League are eager to finish as high as possible to stand a chance to finish above whatever cut-off point is put in place.  Prize money, sponsorship money, TV revenues and so on are significantly higher in the Football League than the Non-Leagues and so clubs appear to be more prepared to make a change earlier in the season when things aren’t going their way (bar perhaps Tranmere who dispensed of Brabin when they were in 5th place).

With the proposals not now due to be discussed until June next year, the chance of any changes happening for the start of the 2017/18 season are very slim indeed.  However, that doesn’t appear to have stopped some teams where ambition may be significantly higher than reality in making managerial changes.  What some of the “traditional” Football League clubs may be missing is that some of the clubs now challenging in the National League are doing so from a stronger position both on and off the pitch.  Current leaders Forest Green Rovers have a multi-millionnaire owner who has invested in the infrastructure and squad over a number of years and it is only a matter of time before they reach the Football League either on their own merits or through the inevitable reorganisation.  Eastleigh and a wealthy backer who wants to deliver Football League status to the club, Maidstone United, Sutton United and Boreham Wood all have business models that have enabled them to build excellent facilities and continue to improve on the pitch.

Currently six points separates six former Football League sides in places 2 to 7 in the table.  Undoubtedly there will be more managerial merry-go-rounds before the year is out as boards of directors all across the league can almost touch the opportunity to play in the Football League (again).