NON-LEAGUE nut Callum Jones (@Goaldust) returns with his ante-post views ahead of the new National League season.
National League 2016/17
The National League returns this weekend, and I for one cannot wait.
It seems a lifetime ago that Cheltenham deservedly clinched the title, and Grimsby Town finally overcame their play-off demons to join Gary Johnson’s side in the Football League.
BT Sport will again cover 30 live games from England’s fifth-tier this season, which is fantastic as they do a fabulous job of doing so. The first of which is on Saturday, as two sides who have come from different directions meet at lunchtime, in the form of Maidstone United and York City.
York are joined by Dagenham and Redbridge, after both suffered relegation from League 2 last season, while Maidstone are joined by Sutton United as last season’s successful South sides, with Northern members Solihull Motors and North Ferriby United completing the line up for 2016/17.
So let’s start at the top, and perhaps rather unsurprisingly, it’s Forest Green Rovers who are the pre-season favourites (4/1 Boylesports) to win the National League, and I’d say they deserve to be.
Their late season managerial farce at the end of the 2015/16 campaign somewhat overshadowed what was a fabulous season for the Gloucestershire side. Only champions Cheltenham managed more points than their tally of 89.
New manager Mark Cooper (best known for his spell at Swindon, post Paolo Di-Canio) has been able to retain the majority of last season’s squad, whilst adding the considerable ability of Matt Tubbs to his strikeforce.
Elsewhere, Gary Brabin’s Tranmere (7/1 Coral) side are looking for a much more positive display this year, after an underwhelming debut season in the National League.
Tipped by many (myself included) to bounce straight back in 2016, a chronic lack of consistency ensured Rovers never got close enough to really strike a blow in the play-off hunt.
Like FGR, they’ve kept their spine and added too, with Andy Cook and Connor Jennings joining the revolution. They should go closer this time round.
I must admit, I don’t particularly fancy either of the two sides coming down from the Football League. This division has proven time and time again how difficult it can be to bounce right back, and I think there’s plenty of teams good enough to beat them to a top-five finish.
Wrexham (11/1 Betway) have improved again under Gary Mills, Eastleigh (17/2 Paddy Power) and Dover (20/1 Betway) showed their qualities last term, while I feel Lincoln (14/1 Bet365) have been knocking on the door for long enough, and this could be their chance to challenge.
With regards to the of the other end of the table, it’s easy to start with the four newly-promoted sides, who will no doubt be setting their sights at ensuring safety in their maiden season.
North Ferribly have been installed as 8/15 (Betfred) favourites for relegation, but the other three sides are all odds-against to go straight back down, which shows how competitive the division looks to be this season.
The likes of Guiseley (1/1 Betfred), Southport (13/8 Betfred) and Boreham Wood (9/4 Betfred) didn’t display a great deal of quality last year, and look set to become embroiled in another tenacious relegation battle.
I think it’s hard to oppose Forest Green for the title.
They’ve got the best squad, they’ve got a fantastic manager at the helm, and the disappointment of play-off defeat last season should stand them in good stead to go one better this term.
Rovers have shortened up mightily over the course of the off-season, and I’m totally on the fence as to whether the 4/1 (BoyleSports) is good value or not.
With that thinking in mind, I think the 6/1 about Matt Tubbs finishing as the league’s Top Goalscorer (BetVictor) is a great bet.
Tubbs notched 40 goals in 48 games the last time we played a full season in this division, and has scored plenty of goals amongst better company since.
With the likes of Elliot Frear and Keanu Marsh-Brown behind him, he should see plenty of chances, and as Jon Parkin has shown in the last couple of seasons, quality and experience really shines through in this league.
I’m going to steer clear of the Outright market, but I like a couple in the ‘Top-5 Finish’ market.
I’ve already mentioned Tranmere, and I must admit, I’ve still got a soft spot for that squad, which has only improved over the summer.
SkyBet go evens about the Super White Army finishing among the play-off places, and I think that’s a nice little bet to put through an ante-post acca – Betway are 8/13, and I think that’s much closer to the true price.
Another side I really like to get amongst it this season is Lincoln City, who just haven’t been able to put together a consistent campaign in recent years.
The Imps have got some genuinely quality in their ranks, not least in the form of big striker Matt Rhead, who I’ll happily back at 20/1 (Bet365) Top Scorer with four each-way places paid.
Rhead bagged 20 goals last term, despite his side’s relative mediocrity, and with a bit more guile around him, I could see him bettering that in 2016/17.
The Relegation market is a little tricky, and I could easily foresee all four promoted sides staying up, especially considering some of the opposition they face at the bottom.
One such side are Boreham Wood, who did wonderfully well to avoid the drop last season. Having said that, I’m not convinced they’ve got enough to survive another season, and the 9/4 (Betfred) about a bottom-four finish is big enough to interest.
Finally, a bit of a wildcard. There always seems to be a backlog of sides with a shot of a play-off place around March time, and one side I can see getting into that position this year is Woking.
They’ve shown glimpses of excellence over the last couple of seasons, and at 14/1 (SkyBet), I think they’re absolutely the value play in this market.
National League – Tranmere to finish in the Top-5 (1/1 SkyBet)
National League – Woking to finish in the Top-5 (14/1 SkyBet)
National League – Boreham Wood to be relegated (9/4 Betfred)
National League – Matt Tubbs to be top Top Goalscorer (6/1 BetVictor)
National League – Matt Rhead to be Top Goalscorer (20/1 each-way Bet365)