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SEASON PREVIEW: Vanarama National League

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The new Vanarama National League season is just a day away, so here’s a complete run through of the 24 teams set to do battle over the next nine months.

Where to start? Well, this season looks set to be one of toughest ever, at least that what’s Barrow manager Paul Cox reckons, so let’s begin with them. The Bluebirds missed out on the top five last season, although if they repeat their 7th placed finish, that will earn them a place in the play-offs now that there’s two extra spots up for grabs.

They’ll need to make sure their new signings have settled in ahead of an opening day visit to Dagenham and Redbridge. The Daggers were defeated in the play-off semi-finals last season but still have 17-goal striker Oliver Hawkins on their books, with manager John Still not wanting to ‘under sell’ the sought-after striker.

Another of last season’s unlucky play-off losers, Aldershot Town, will also be hoping for same again. Gary Waddock’s men were considered the surprise package and he’s managed to re-sign the bulk of his squad although will be without talented Ipswich Town loanee Kundai Benyu and 17-year-old Idris Kanu, who has signed for Peterborough Town.

Aldershot start with an away fixture at newcomers FC Halifax Town, who gained promotion through a dramatic National League North play-off final. Boss Billy Heath has signed National League experience in centre-back Martin Riley and striker Ben Tomlinson, to complement target man striker Tom Denton.

Two of the other promoted sides, AFC Fylde and Maidenhead United will be buoyed by having kept their lethal strikers Danny Rowe and Dave Tarpey respectively. The two hitmen broke goal scoring records as both their sides went up as champions. Rowe struck an eye-watering 47 in the North while Tarpey bagged an astonishing 44 in the South.

Ebbsfleet were the South play-off winners, despite being down to 10 men and a goal behind in the final. They’ll need to show the same grit this season to achieve their aim under manager Daryl McMahon.

Continuing the play-off theme, Tranmere Rovers will aspire to go one better after their gutting play-off final defeat. They’ve bolstered their impressive-looking frontline with James Alabi from Chester, leaving boss Micky Mellon with plenty of options up front.

Rovers travel to Torquay United on Saturday, who avoided relegation on the final day of last season. With a takeover at the club now complete, the Gulls will hope to fly high again towards the Football League.

Staying on the south coast, Eastleigh have been preparing for their second stint under manager Richard Hill, who was appointed manager in April, while Dover Athletic have had to largely re-build their squad after narrowly missing out on the play-offs.

Macclesfield Town, under manager John Askey, have had to do likewise. They’ll look for new signing Elliott Durrell to excite fans and score some stunning goals, like his half-way line strike for Chester last year.

It’s been all change at Woking this summer after manager Garry Hill’s contract wasn’t renewed and the club opted for former Southampton and West Ham academy coach Anthony Limbrick. The Aussie-born boss will make his managerial debut against Gatesheadon Saturday. The Heed flirted with the play-offs but fell short – with two more places up for grabs, they’ll certainly be eyeing a top 7 finish.

Leyton Orient will be making their debut in the National League following relegation from the Football League, and are already back on the up after a successful takeover this summer. Striker Macauley Bonne will look to lead the way for the O’s having scored five goals in six pre-season games.

They take on Sutton United at 12.30pm LIVE on BT Sport. The U’s have bolstered their front line with Ross Lafayette and Moses Emmanuel both from Dover and pacey forward Anthony Jeffrey.

Hartlepool United’s Padraig Amond knows how to score goals in this league – he netted 42 for Grimsby Town two years ago. Pools will be targeting an immediate return to the League under manager Craig Harrison.

Wrexham’s Dean Keates has been hard at work this summer, making 13 new signings. Amongst them, leaders Marc Roberts and Shaun Pearson have joined along with strikers Chris Holroyd and Scott Boden.

One side that wouldn’t have wanted the National League to end last April was Maidstone United. They had lost only two of their final 15 games to move them away from danger and into 14th. Now boss Jay Saunders is aiming to storm into the top half, and potentially the play-offs.

Bromley will join the Stones in playing on a 3G pitch this season and also hope to carry momentum into the new campaign having taken 13 points from 18 in April.

“They were really good, very strong in a lot of areas and they have signed well. I think they’ll be surprising a number of people next season,” that was what Hemel Hempstead boss had to say about Boreham Wood possibly being the surprise package of this season – watch out for them!

And last but not least, after two nervy final day escapes, Guiseley will hope to push on with promising boss Adam Lockwood at the helm.

National League – Opening Day, 5 August 2017:

Sutton United vs. Leyton Orient – 12.30pm kick-off LIVE on BT Sport 1

3pm kick-off:
AFC Fylde vs. Boreham Wood
Bromley vs. Eastleigh
Dagenham and Redbridge vs. Barrow
FC Halifax Town vs. Aldershot Town
Guiseley vs. Ebbsfleet United
Hartlepool United vs. Dover Athletic
Maidstone United vs. Maidenhead United
Solihull Moors vs. Chester
Torquay United vs. Tranmere Rovers
Woking vs. Gateshead
Wrexham vs. Macclesfield Town


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