Chesterfield, Wrexham, Stockport County and Notts County among National League title favourites - big season preview
The new 2021/2022 National League season starts on Saturday and Chesterfield are among the favourites to win the title and return to the Football League after four years away.
We say it each year, but the leaguereally is going to be hard to get out of this time.
Several clubs, including the Spireites, have spent money and have strengthened their squads with some quality players.
The race for the title is set to be incredibly close, but unlike previous years, I do think one of the favourites will take the crown this season.
With a number of clubs battling it out for just two promotion spots, the National League is the division to watch with plenty of twists, turns and drama along the way.
WHO ARE THE TITLE CONTENDERS AND WHY?
Wrexham, Stockport County, Notts County and Chesterfield are the big favourites with the bookies.
Last season’s relegated pair Grimsby Town and Southend United are just behind those four, while play-off finalists Torquay United also make up the pack.
Wrexham, managed by experienced former Sunderland and Bolton manager Phil Parkinson, are the current favourites, having signed last season’s League Two Player of the Year, Paul Mullin, who scored 34 goals in 50 games, from Cambridge United, after he rejected a new contract.
The Red Dragons are fancied to be pushed close by Stockport County, who lost in the play-offs to eventual winners Hartlepool United last season. The Hatters have got some serious firepower up front in Paddy Madden and Scott Quigley, the latter scored 15 goals for Barrow in League Two in the previous campaign.
Notts County ended last season very strongly under new manager Ian Burchnall, finishing fifth but losing in the play-off semi-finals. The Magpies have brought in Joel Taylor and Kairo Mitchell from Chesterfield, as well as centre-back Kyle Cameron from Torquay United and former England youth international Ed Francis from Manchester City.
SO WHAT ABOUT CHESTERFIELD?
The Spireites are among the favourites but are not as fancied as much as Wrexham, Stockport and Notts County, which might work in their favour.
Having finished sixth last season, many fans just expected a few tweaks in terms of player recruitment, but manager James Rowe had other ideas about how he could take Town to the next level.
Grant Smith, Joel Taylor and Tom Whelan were surprise departures but, having watched every pre-season game, I think Rowe has improved the squad.
Goalkeeper Scott Loach looks steady and reliable, Jamie Grimes is a monster of a centre-half, full-backs Jeff King and Calvin Miller bring pace, goals and assists, central midfielder Saidou Khan is quick and can travel with the ball, Jack Clarke is blossoming, Stefan Payne is experienced and, the final piece of the jigsaw, arrived last week in sharp-shooter Kabongo Tshimanga.
Chesterfield have so much strength in depth you would not be worried about any of them starting. When injuries, suspensions and tiredness kicks in, would I have concerns about Alex Whittle replacing Miller? Jak McCourt coming in for Manny Oyeleke? George Carline replacing Jeff King? Absolutely not.
I expect things to be more settled compared to last season as well, there won’t be a need to bring in 18 players between November and April like last season, put it that way!
Also, we hardly ever saw Rowe name an unchanged starting XI last season for various reasons but I think we will see a more consistent line-up this year, which again will help their cause.
In terms of how they might set up, 3-4-1-2 appears to be the preferred formation, which is no surprise given the strikers they have to choose from. There will be times when they go with two ‘number 10s’ like last season, but I think that will be an in-game tactic to see out the last 10 minutes of certain matches.
Do I think they can win the league? Yes, especially after adding 15-20 goals into the side with Tshimanga.
The next nine months are going to be a LOT of fun.
HOW WILL THE RELEGATED SIDES COPE?
It is always tricky to predict how teams coming down from League Two will do and this year is no different.
Grimsby had six years at this level from 2010 to 2016 so their fans will know how hard it is. It was their current manager, Paul Hurst, who got them promoted from this division so he knows what it takes. Having watched them against Chesterfield last Saturday, I think they will win games but they lacked an out-and-out striker.
Southend, meanwhile, are playing in non-league for the first time in 101 years. They have a very experienced boss in Phil Brown, who has managed in the Premier League with Hull City, and have recruited striker Rhys Murphy, a consistent scorer at this level with Yeovil Town.
I’ll go for both to finish in the top half.
COULD THERE BE A SURPRISE?
There usually is in this league, three recent examples being Barrow, Harrogate Town and Sutton United.
However, as previously stated, I don’t see there being a surprise title winner. It will come from the favourites.
Bromley won’t lose many games under Andy Woodman, Solihull Moors will be up there with the experienced Neal Ardley, Halifax and Eastleigh are always in contention and if Dagenham and Redbridge can carry on where they left off last season then they will be challenging too.
Bring it on!
TITLE ODDS (Sky Bet)
Stockport County 4/1
Notts County 8/1
Grimsby Town 9/1
Southend United 10/1
Torquay United 12/1
Dagenham and Redbridge 20/1
FC Halifax Town 22/1
Solihull Moors 22/1
TOP SCORER ODDS (Sky Bet)
Paul Mullin (Wrexham) 5/1
Scott Quigley (Stockport) 10/1
Paddy Madden (Stockport) 12/1
Danny Rowe (Chesterfield) 16/1
Kabongo Tshimanga (Chesterfield) 16/1)
Jake Hyde (Wrexham) 16/1
Kyle Wootton (Notts County) 16/1
Rhys Murphy (Southend) 16/1
Alex Reid (Stockport) 20/1
Michael Cheek (Bromley) 20/1