National League 2022/23 season preview: Who will travel to the EFL’s promised land this year?
Get ready for another crazy season in the National League – this one will be Hollywood again.
With Football League dreams, these 24 clubs are due to start the battle on August 6 – but who is set to win the title and who is looking nervously over their shoulder?
Allow us to choose the bones of the fifth level…
THE TOWN OF ALDERSHOT
Mark Molesley has been one of the league’s busiest managers this summer, landing the trio of Ollie Harfield, Tyler Cordner and former Northern Ireland international Josh McQuoid from his former club, Weymouth. Whether they and other arrivals will be enough to help the Shots get away from the lower parts of the table remains to be seen.
A historic season awaits one of the most famous names in the non-league as Alty goes full-time for the first time. The hugely talented Phil Parkinson (no, the other) honored the occasion by making some shrewd moves in the transfer market, with Jordan Hulme and Jake Cooper permanently returning. Professional status should benefit Parkinson’s side – although that hasn’t always proved to be the case in the non-league top tier.
The Bees have struggled a lot over the past two seasons and are hoping for a better year under Dubliner Dean Brennan. The former Wealdstone boss signed Northampton striker Nicke Kabamba and Eastleigh wide player Harry Pritchard to offer some hope to supporters, but it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that Barnet – pardoned from the relegation in 2020-21 – lives on borrowed time.
Last season was all about a heroic FA Cup run that finally ended at Goodison Park in the fifth round proper. This impacted Wood’s botched promotion and may even have played a role in refreshing Luke Garrard’s squad, which saw Gus Mafuta and James Comley among the names released. Considering Garrard’s recruiting record prior to replacing them, you can’t rule out his side being strong contenders for a play-off spot.
Missing the play-offs last season was a blow, albeit tempered by a memorable FA Trophy triumph, but Andy Woodman will be confident he can continue to establish the Ravens as a genuine top seven contender. Adam Marriott, who has widely travelled, pen to paper Barnet and Callum Reynolds of Dagenham & Redbridge. Nine left Hayes Lane this summer, and the success of other additions will decide the severity of their challenge.
The Spireites can hardly be blamed for limiting the scope of their ambitions: Paul Cook joined his former club outside the league last February after starting the season with the aim of taking Ipswich to the Championship. He has been busy since Chesterfield’s misfortune in the play-offs, adding Plymouth midfielder George Cooper and a hat-trick of full-backs in Branden Horton from Doncaster, Ryheem Sheckleford from Maidenhead and Bailey Clements from Ipswich, where he made his league debut during Cook’s. short spell. King’s Lynn striker Michael Gyasi may be the savviest rookie in Cook’s promotion hunt.
DAGENHAM & REDBRIDGE
Daryl McMahon’s Daggers narrowly missed out on a place in the 2021-22 play-offs, with a point separating them from seventh-placed Chesterfield. Brandon Comley and Will Wright have left for Football League sides Walsall and Gillingham, but new Nik Tavares – once a Croatian junior international – is one to watch.
A 12th promotion in 22 years was dramatic: after conceding in the 92nd minute of their play-off final, Dorking found a 99th-minute equalizer and then won in extra time. Marc White – founder, chairman, manager, ex-player – signed Adam Mekki from beaten Ebbsfleet finalists and former Premier League academy graduates Jack Jebb and Ryan Seager.
The Spitfires made Christian Maghoma’s loan permanent but lost a number of players including Sam Smart and Cav Miley. Serious business must be done if Lee Bradbury’s side are to avoid looking over their shoulders for much of the campaign.
The Heed earned promotion with an impressive title win, but enthusiasm was dampened by the departures of key goalscoring pair Cedwyn Scott and Macaulay Langstaff in Notts County. Replacements come in former Newcastle striker Tom Allan and the exciting Lewis Knight, but simply staying in the division would be a success for the North East club this season.
FC HALIFAX CITY
After finishing fourth, the Shaymen lost highly rated manager Pete Wild to Barrow in League Two. Chris Millington, charged with building on Wild’s impressive work, has signed Gateshead midfielder Jack Hunter and Smart from Eastleigh for his own play-off bid.
The Magpies were comfortably safe from relegation danger last season, finishing four places and 17 points clear. Clubs around semi-professional attire have strengthened, however, and the teams emerging from the second leg also appear to be well equipped – although the return of club favorite Adrian Clifton from Boreham Wood has at least offered some optimism.
The National League South champions will hope the momentum from their triumph will serve them well. Spanish striker Joan Luque returning from injury is a boost, as is Hady Ghandour, their capped loanee in Lebanon, who joins Charlton permanently; both will be key to a tough comeback at this level.
The departure of top scorer Kyle Wootton has been offset by the arrivals of Langstaff and Scott from Gateshead, as well as Kidderminster duo Geraldo Bajrami and Sam Austin. Despite Ian Burchnall leaving to manage Forest Green and Callum Roberts attracting Football League interest, positive activity under Luke Williams should help the Magpies challenge.
After his last attempt at Shezzarection failed, former Republic of Ireland international John Sheridan – in his fourth spell as manager – must ignore the continuing off-field problems with Oldham, difficult as they are. He opts for experience, signing defender Liam Hogan and 38-year-old striker Chris Porter, who played for the Latics in League One 17 years ago. It is essential that Sheridan ensures that the understandable anger of the fans towards owner Abdallah Lemsagam does not affect the performance of his team. a difficult year awaits you.
The experienced Keith Hill is tasked with helping Scunny cope with the rigors of their new life in the fifth tier, after 72 years as a Football League club. The Iron released a host of players following a dismal performance in Ligue 2, allowing Hill to put his stamp on the team, but on the back of just four wins in 2021-22, all the momentum is against them.
Neal Ardley has been focused on retaining the services of 6ft 9in striker Kyle Hudlin, the subject of interest from the Football League and even Premier League clubs. The biggest test for Ardley, however, will be helping his players refocus after June’s disappointment in the play-off final against Grimsby – and ensuring they are ready to do better this time around.
An unspectacular mid-table finish gave Southend a platform to build on ahead of their second non-league season. Dan Mooney is an impressive Alty signing as a hero and Shrimpers head coach Kevin Maher, who made 450 appearances for Southend as a player, continues to put things together at a club hampered by off-field issues these last years.
The Gulls failed to recover from their heartache in the 2021 play-off final, working to an 11th-place finish last season. Six players were released as the crafty Gary Johnson turned ruthless; what will sting, however, is to see Football League clubs poach Armani Little (who moved to Forest Green), Joe Lewis and Connor Lemonheigh-Evans (both Stockport). Gaps in the squad need to be filled if Torquay are to force themselves back into the play-off calculation; loaning out midfielder Kieron Evans from Cardiff is a start.
Expected to struggle last season, the Stones finished the campaign in 16th place, sheltered by a considerable distance. What comes next is often the hardest part, as Dartford and others can attest. Newcomers have been minimal at the time of writing and unless they get stronger, it’s very possible that, despite proving their skeptics wrong last quarter, Wealdstone could justify the same skeptics in 2022-23.
Another side that finished just below the top half last season, Woking revamped their squad with some eye-catching additions. Stevenage duo James Daly and Scott Cuthbert will add quality, and Reece Grego-Cox return with a point to prove, but it was the signing of Newport striker Padraig Amond that really captured the imagination. Will he have the serve to propel them much higher, though?
Outsiders will see Wrexham as favourites, and for good reason: support from Rob McElhenny and Ryan Reynolds has boosted crowds, interest and hope. They won games 6-0, 6-1, 6-2 and even 6-5 (from 5-2 down) last season but that caught them in the play-offs as Grimsby won a draw upside down 5-4 in extra time – particularly painful for Wrexham as it came a week after the FA Trophy final defeat. Still, it would be foolish to ignore a team filled with Football League quality and potentially more to follow, let alone Ben Tozer, the set-piece cheat code.
CITY OF YEOVIL
A mid-table finish offered relatively little inspiration, and a low-key start this summer for new manager Chris Hargreaves suggests little will change in terms of personnel. Selling Huish Park to the city council and then re-letting it, however, gave the Glovers financial leeway.
CITY OF YORK
The play-off winners were boosted by the news that Mitch Hancox, Maz Kouhyar and Lenell “his name is a store” John-Lewis have all signed up for more. Alex Hurst and Scott Boden will also improve the front line, as the Minstermen rely on John Askey’s us in the dugout to readapt to life at this level.