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Skrill Premier 2013/14 Preview Part One

In just 9 days time, the new Conference Premier, now to be known as the Skrill Premier, season will get underway. Last season culminated in a grandstand finish, with the title going down to the final day with Paul Cox’s Mansfield Town pipping Steve Burr’s Kidderminster Harriers side to the title, whilst Justin Edinburgh’s Newport County side defeated Andy Morrell’s Wrexham team at Wembley in a game that was a rather late bloomer in terms of goalmouth action. The pinnacle of the non league game welcomes Barnet and stricken Aldershot Town from the Football League Two, whilst Salisbury, Welling, Chester and Halifax make the step up from the regional divisions, adding more competitiveness to what is already a notoriously difficult league to get promoted from. Over the course of the next few blogs, I will preview the upcoming season for each of the 24 clubs, complete with transfer business to date, my personal predictions and best odds for promotion and relegation. Firstly, I will take a look at the teams that I expect to be involved in the tail end of the league, fighting for survival.

24th: Welling United (Promotion 100/1, Relegation 5/1).
The Wings sealed a return to the top flight of non-league football by clinching the then Blue Square Bet South title by 4 points ahead of Salisbury City and in doing so ended a 13 year exile. Jamie Day’s side were impressive, scoring 90 goals and conceding just 44. Going forward, the return of Loick Pires from Woking, where he scored just twice in 18 games, could be an important factor in the fight for survival should he recapture the form that earnt him the move to Woking from Welling two seasons ago. Ross Lafayette and Kiernan Hughes-Mason will provide stiff competition for the attacking role. Defensively, former AFC Wimbledon centre back Fraser Franks and second longest serving player Loui Fazackerly will be called upon to build upon the solid defensive unit that was in place for last year’s triumphant campaign. Questions will remain over whether they have the quality to keep their heads above water, they certainly possess talented individuals who, on their day, will be capable of firing their team to safety. However I think it is a tough ask and although a final position of 24th may be harsh on the Conference South champions, I think that they will just miss out in what will be a close relegation battle. They open the new campaign away at Wrexham in what will prove to be a difficult encounter, reflected in the early odds of 11/2 for a Wings victory.

23rd: Aldershot Town (Promotion 125/1, Relegation 2/5).
The recently relegated Shots are the bookies favourite to get relegated and even the most eternally optimistic of Shots fans would be hard pressed to predict a successful season. Lucky, perhaps, to even have a club that will start the season, they will be doing so with a 10 point deficit as a result of entering into administration at the close of the season, reportedly with debts topping the £1 million mark. However, their future, at least for the short term, was secured today (August 1st) with the completion of a takeover by a consortium led by former chairman Shahid Azeem. The club have also announced a partnership with Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea, whose acadamy and reserve sides will play at the Recreation Ground over the next two years. In terms of personnel, 13 of last years squad were released, with only 2 senior players reporting for the start of preseason, those being Craig Reid, who has today left the club, and Craig Stanley. Adam Scott has run the rule over 30 trialists across pre season. Pre season has been tough given the uncertainty off the pitch, with reports of as few as 6 players tied to contracts for the start of the season. Now their future has been secured however, expect to see an influx of new faces at the “Phoenix Club”, however the points deduction and complete overhauling of the squad renders it highly unlikely that there will be an outcome other than relegation come May. They open their campaign away to Grimsby Town.

22nd: Nuneaton Town (Promotion 150/1, Relegation 5/2).
Kevin Wilkin’s side surprised a few observers last season by finishing in a comfortable 15th place, thanks in no small part to hotshot Andy Brown, who scored 19 goals and will be a key man once again down at Liberty Way. During pre season they have brought in a mixture of youth and experience, signing the likes of Phil Trainer and Theo Streete from AFC Telford and Alfreton respectively, with young goalkeeper James Belshaw also penning terms fresh from representing the British Universities side at the University Games, picking up a silver medal in the process. Last season there was a sense that they were perhaps over reliant on Brown, especially with a defence that was at times, error prone. This season however will be tough, even more so should Brown be unable to reproduce his heroics from last season. Nuneaton travel to Moss Rose to take on Macclesfield Town on the opening day in what could be a close match. Wilkin’s side are 7/2 to get the win, with the draw a tempting bet at 5/2.

21st: Salisbury City (Promotion 150/1, Relegation 5/1).
The Whites were runners up in the Conference South last time out, defeating Dover in the final of the play offs. Darrell Clarke following promotion vacated the manager’s seat, taking up the role of number 2 at Bristol Rovers and was shortly replaced by Mikey Harris who became English football’s youngest full time manager at 28 years old and will be assisted by former Bournemouth striker Warren Feeney. In terms of personnel, Salisbury are littered with experience at this level, boasting names such as Chris McPhee and most notably Ben Wright, on whom their hopes of survival will almost certainly hang. The 6 feet 2 former Forest Green Rovers striker can be considered a coup for Salisbury and is a proven handful at this level, known for his hold up play whilst also being more than capable of finding the net. Salisbury have every chance of survival and their start will be crucial, especially for the young manager. They open their campaign with a home game against Tamworth and are 6/4 favourites to start with maximum points.

20th: Tamworth (Promotion 100/1, Relegation 3/1).
Dale Belford’s Lambs side finished 19th last season, 5 points clear of relegation and I back them to survive by the skin of their teeth once more. The Lambs have lost the services of former England international Lee Hendrie, who retired at the close of the season but have made some interesting moves in the transfer market. Heading into their 4th consecutive season of Premier football, the Lambs will continue to be perennial strugglers, however signings of the calibre of former Fulham striker Richard Peniket, former Barrow midfielder Richie Baker, prolific Conference hotshot Justin Richards and defender Tom Eckersley are sure to give fans a sense of hope that they can push onto mid table safety. However, Dale Belford has one of the league’s smallest budgets and another season of struggle beckons in my opinion, and the final relegation place could be decided by a flip of a coin. Like in the case of Salisbury, Tamworth’s start will be crucial to any mid table ambitions they may harbour and they visit Salisbury where they are 2/1 to emerge victorious in a game which may go on to have hugely significant ramifications in the late season relegation shoot out.

19th: Southport (Promotion 80/1, Relegation 9/4).
The 2011/12 surprise packages dropped back into familiar territory last season finishing one place and four points outside the relegation zone and without iconic manager Liam Watson, now at AFC Telford, former Aston Villa defender Alan Wright will have his work cut out in continuing the excellent work of his predecessor, however with the retention of 14 players the task has been made somewhat easier in terms of not having to completely overhaul the squad. Although the Sandgrounders have lost Simon Grand to AFC Telford, the highly rated Karl Ledsham remains with the club having been heavily linked with Football League outfits. Jamie Milligan, Scott Brown, Danny Hattersley and Paul Rutherford have all signed for the Merseyside outfit for the new season, bringing in a wealth of experience and they will be vital in the push for safety, which they will achieve comfortably in the end, but not without a few hiccups along the way. The fixture computer handed them a very tough home tie with Luton, and are 3/1 to pick up a shock opening day victory against the early title favourites.

18th: Braintree Town (Promotion 50/1 Relegation 5/1).
Alan Devonshire’s side were one of the two surprise packages of last season finishing in 9th place and also had a big shout in the title run in, going down 2-1 against Kidderminster then beating Mansfield Town by the same scoreline a fortnight later. On the transfer front news has been relatively quiet with Chez Isaac signing from Boreham Wood and the majority of last season’s squad being retained. Town will look again to influential skipper Kenny Davis who has penned a new deal. The Iron should be safe, but to ask for another season like last season is perhaps too much, but their status as a Skrill Premier side should be secured for another season before the last couple of games. They visit Hereford Town on the opening day of the season in an intriguing encounter, where they are priced at 3/1 for the victory.

17th: Hyde United (Promotion 100/1, Relegation 13/8).
Scott McNiven’s Tigers were helped to safety last season by striker Phil Jevons, however with his departure, questions can be asked with regards to the firepower that they are likely to have. Stockport County striker Tom Collins has been brought in as Jevons’ replacement and their hopes will be pinned on the youngster with Blackpool’s Liam Tomsett returns to Ewen Fields on loan. Hyde’s home form was a crucial factor in securing survival and this may well be the case again in the upcoming season. McNiven like his teams to show plenty of fight, and the Tigers in name were also Tigers in nature last season, and this desire and grit will be integral in avoiding relegation, which they are heavily tipped not to do. They have been handed a tough start away at Forest Green Rovers and are unlikely to get anything from their opening game, priced at 5/1 to emerge with all three points.

In the next part, I will give my views on how the 9th to 16th positions will be filled ahead of what promises to be an intriguing season of football. You can keep up with the latest Conference Premier Betting Odds all season on Non-League Bets and read the second part of Shane’s Conference Premier here: http://www.nonleaguebets.co.uk/skrill-premier-201314-preview-part-two/