Written by Scott W (Twitter: @ScottMHC14)
Hello & welcome to a ‘one-off’ piece previewing the beginnings of what should be a hugely-competitive season in the National League Premier, as the ‘carrot’ of promotion into the Football League (EFL) is dangled just that bit more as the end-of-season play-offs extend to six teams this season.
The division winners will still go up automatically. Teams that finish 2nd and 3rd will go straight through to the semi-finals, whilst the sides finishing 4th-7th go into the ‘qualifying round’. Four teams will still be relegated into National League North or South from the division at the end of the campaign.
So, below are the fixtures on Matchday one.
Saturday 5th August (3pm KO’s unless stated)
Sutton Utd v Leyton Orient (12.30pm KO) Venue: Gander Green Lane
The U’s welcome the O’s in the early kick-off on the artificial pitch at Gander Green Lane. New-look Orient will want to begin the season well though face a tough test against Paul Doswell’s determined side, who of course had such a superb run in the FA Cup last term. Orient fans will undoubtedly just be happy that the new season is here, though they have made good signings during the summer.
AFC Fylde v Boreham Wood Venue: Mill Farm
Newly-promoted Fylde begin their campaign as they welcome Boreham Wood to Mill Farm. Dave Challinor’s men will get a good indication of what this division is like here given that ‘Wood have signed some experienced players in the summer, including Dag & Red legend Paul Benson.
Bromley v Eastleigh Venue: Hayes Lane
The hosts have added a 3G pitch in the summer though have a tough start to this campaign. The Ravens do have a new-look squad though they may feel they can quietly make a push for the play-offs. They take on Eastleigh and a club which will be looking to right some wrongs from last term. Richard Hill has added a number of players who have played higher up the footballing pyramid, though also lost a number of players in the summer. This could be some match to begin their respective campaigns.
Dagenham & Redbridge v Barrow Venue: Victoria Road
Dagenham & Redbridge welcome the Bluebirds to Victoria Road. When you think of Dagenham, you invariably think of manager John Still and all his accomplishments. The Daggers haven’t really been mentioned that much in the build-up ‘promotion talk’ though D & R have added some good players who’ve done well in this division during the close-season. Paul Cox’s side will also have a target to reach the expanded play-offs this season and have added a few players with EFL experience in the summer.
FC Halifax Town v Aldershot Town Venue: The Shay Stadium
Halifax won the NL North play-off final last term to return to the National League and entertain Aldershot here. Billy Heath’s side will want to start well as they seek to stay in the division this season. Aldershot though will want to replicate last season’s finish, which saw them end in the play-offs and in Gary Waddock, they have a seasoned manager who nobody will want to write-off having led the club to promotion back in 2008.
Guiseley v Ebbsfleet Utd Venue: Nethermoor Park
Guiseley welcome newly-promoted Ebbsfleet to Nethermoor Park. The Lions did survive the tight relegation scrap last term though only time will tell what they will achieve this term. Ebbsfleet won a return to this division after defeating Chelmsford in last season’s NL South play-off final. Under Daryl McMahon, the visitors here may be another of the sides that will go about their season quietly though they have brought in some EFL experience during the summer.
Hartlepool Utd v Dover Athletic Venue: Victoria Park
Hartlepool are another club looking forward to banish the memories of last season’s relegation. Craig Harrison’s side enter the realm of non-league football for the first time in their history and will be hoping it’s a fleeting visit. Dover have a much-changed side this term though will be buoyed by their impressive top-six finish last term.
Maidstone Utd v Maidenhead Utd Venue: Gallagher Stadium
Maidstone welcome last season’s NL South champions Maidenhead to the Gallagher Stadium. Jay Saunders’ side have added some experienced players to the squad and will be looking to avoid the fabled ‘second season syndrome’ though last term’s mid-table finish does provide building blocks for this season. Maidenhead, under the management of wily boss Alan Devonshire, will be looking to avoid any brush with the bottom four in what is a new adventure for his side.
Solihull Moors P – P Chester Venue: The Auto Technology Group Stadium
The Blues travel to Solihull as they look to build on their unpredictable season last term. Manager Jon McCarthy has added a number of experienced campaigners to his squad though lost top-scorer James Alabi to Tranmere in the summer. Solihull finished in a decent mid-table position last term and boss Liam McDonald will be looking to build on that in his first full season as boss.
Update: This match has been postponed due to safety concerns concerning the stadium.
Torquay Utd v Tranmere Rovers Venue: Plainmoor
The Gulls narrowly avoided the drop last term and with a new-look squad, manager Kevin Nicholson may well have an interesting season ahead having added a few experienced players to offset the number of players that unfortunately departed in the close-season. Tranmere are one of the favourites for promotion, though boss Micky Mellon has tasted the success of promotion with Fleetwood Town and has added some astute signings & has an enviable forward line too.
Woking v Gateshead Venue: Kingfield
It’s all change for Woking as experienced boss Garry Hill left in the summer. New boss Anthony Limbrick has apparently put his focus on youth after losing a number of experienced faces during the close-season. Gateshead may well be looking to build on last season’s 8th place finish, though with an altered squad this term, it may take a little time.
Wrexham v Macclesfield Town Venue: The Racecourse Ground
Dean Keates’ side begin this campaign looking to improve on last term’s mid-table finish with a much-changed squad this time around. With at least some of the focus on other clubs, the Red Dragons may slip under the radar for some. Among the new faces is Chris Holroyd, who played in the FA Trophy Final for Macclesfield at the end of last term. Speaking of Macclesfield, John Askey’s men are also much-changed from last term as they look for another season in the top-ten at least.
Thank you for reading, feel free to leave comments and I wish every club in the division a good season.