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Blue Square Bet Premier preview

With less than a month until the new Blue Square Bet Premier campaign kicks off, Macclesfield Town and Luton Town are among the promotion favourites.

We look at who is in the race for promotion to the Football League and who is facing a difficult task in their bid to stay in the top tier of non-league football.

AFC Telford

Boss Andy Sinton has admitted that he must strengthen his squad during the summer in order to avoid the peril of relegation. The recent acquisition of striker Jake Reid from league counterparts Newport County will certainly give the Bucks a must needed goal threat. Telford narrowly escaped the drop last season and must pick up more points on their travels if they are to survive this time around.

Predicted finish: 18th

Alfreton Town

The Reds endured an excellent debut season in the Blue Square Premier last year finishing well clear of the relegation places. Manager Nicky Law has bolstered his squad, bringing in the likes of former Nottingham Forest midfielder Danny Meadows on a permanent deal following his successful loan spell during the last campaign. Coaching staff at the Impact Arena believe Alfreton are better prepared for their second season in the top flight and therefore may improve on last season’s efforts.

Predicted finish: 13th

Barrow

After briefly threatening the playoff places last year, the Bluebirds’ season ended on a rather disappointing note. Although a mid-table finish would have been more than acceptable considering Barrow had survived on the final day in each of the previous two campaigns. The loss of striker Andy Cook to Grimsby may prove costly as Dave Bayliss’ side set about improving on last year. To replace Cook, Bayliss has drafted in Obi Anorou from Wrexham, the striker enjoyed a promising loan spell at Vauxhall Motors last season and Barrow fans will be hoping he can have a similar impact at Holker Street.

Predicted finish: 16th

Braintree Town

Following promotion from the Blue Square South two seasons ago, The Iron enjoyed a terrific first campaign in the Blue Square Premier under the guidance of Alan Devonshire. The Braintree boss has added to his squad drafting in four new players, most notably Callum McNish from League One outfit Exeter City. The Essex-based club may struggle to improve on last season’s top half finish, but have more than enough about them to avoid being sucked into the relegation scrap.

Predicted finish: 15th

Cambridge United

Manager Jez George is hoping that the U’s, bolstered by the return of Robbie Willmott from Luton Town, can sneak into the playoff places. A lack of consistency mainly during the latter stages of last season, cost George’s side a shot at promotion, but this time around Cambridge are in a far better position to challenge. Alongside Willmott, the U’s have also drafted in Adrian Moke from last year’s playoff winners York City. A tough trip to Forest Green Rovers on the opening day will certainly test Cambridge’s promotion credentials. Despite the new arrivals, the U’s may struggle to mix it with the bigger names during the course of next season and subsequently may just miss out on the playoffs.

Predicted finish: 7th

Dartford

Achieving two promotions in the space of three seasons, it would be hard to completely right off Dartford’s chances of avoiding an immediate return to the Blue Square South. Tony Burman has had to deal with lingering transfer speculation, mainly regarding his captain Elliot Bradbrook, but with the midfielder agreeing a new deal last month the Darts may have enough about them to extend their stay in the Blue Square Premier beyond one season. The Dartford boss has openly admitted that he is looking to strengthen his squad and has a couple of targets in mind. One key part of the Kent-based club’s success of last year was their home form and once more this could be a pivotal factor in determining whether the Darts remain in the top flight.

Predicted finish: 22nd

Ebbsfleet United

Liam Daish has admitted that he is struggling to attract new players to Stonebridge Road in spite of the Fleet’s trouble free first season back in the Blue Square Premier. The mid table finish was greeted with optimism by many Ebbsfleet supporters, but improving on last year’s standings could prove to be a tall order. The Kent club lost the services of midfielder Michael West who joined newly promoted Crewe Alexandra earlier this week, but have drafted in striker Nathan Elder to boost their attacking options. Further transfer activity is expected before an opening day meeting with Nuneaton Town.

Predicted finish: 20th

Forest Green Rovers

Tipped to struggle before the start of last season, The New Lawn based club exceeded all expectations finishing in the top 10. Manager Dave Hockaday has recruited Paul Green from Tamworth and Ed Asafu-Adjaye from Luton to strengthen his defence despite his side boasting a better defensive record than champions Fleetwood Town during the course of last season. Embarking on a 16th consecutive campaign at this level, Rovers should sit comfortably in mid table for the majority of the season.

Predicted finish: 12th

Gateshead

Manager Jim Bogie has expressed his desire to lead Gateshead into the playoffs in the forthcoming campaign. The Tynesiders were in contention for a playoff spot for much of the season but ultimately came up short to the disappointment of Bogie. The Tyne and Wear club have been one of the busiest during the off season drafting in a number of new additions to match Bogie’s ambitions. Glenn Wilson, Chris Bush, Adam Bartlett and James Brown have all signed deals at the Gateshead International Stadium. With an ambitious manager and players matching that ambition, Gateshead may well sneak into the end of season playoffs.

Predicted finish: 6th

Grimsby Town

Joint managers Rob Scott and Paul Hurst have followed up their plea at the end of last season, in which they commented on how the club would attract players with a winning mentality, by bringing in several new faces at Blundell Park. Andy Cook, Joe Colbeck, Sam Hatton, Aswad Thomas and Greg Pearson have all joined the Mariners in anticipation of a promotion challenge. Grimsby finished somewhat of the pace during last season, their eventual 11th placed finish not acceptable to many supporters. The massive overhaul could be greeted with a run at promotion in the forthcoming campaign, but it remains to be seen whether or not the Mariners can compete at the top of the table.

Predicted finish: 8th

Hereford United

Relegated out of the football league last season, Hereford will be hoping to make an instant return. New boss Martin Foyle has made a couple of new signings in the shape of James Bittner and Luke Graham but insists his squad is far from being ready for the opening day meeting with Macclesfield Town. The return of striker Sean Canham, who had an excellent season in front of goal for Bath City last year, will give the Bulls a much needed goal threat. The expectation of being one of the title favourites may hamper Hereford’s chances of promotion but they will more than likely be up challenging near the top.

Predicted finish: 3rd

Hyde

Claiming the Blue Square bet North title last year in a very competitive division, Scott McNiven’s side embark on a first season in highest tier of non-league football. The Tigers have recruited experienced forward Phil Jevons following his release from Morecambe alongside Adam Griffin, David Poole and Josh Brizell. The Manchester based club have managed to retain the majority of last season’s squad, but face a difficult task in competing with the bigger names in the division. Once again home form could prove vital in keeping Hyde in the Blue Square Premier for more than a solitary season.

Predicted finish: 21st

Kidderminster Harriers

Steve Burr’s side narrowly missed out on a playoff spot last season, but the eventual 6th place finish was deemed as progress in the right direction for the Aggborough club. Burr has brought in several new faces including former Ebbsfleet midfielder Ricky Shakes and Ryan Austin who joins following his release from Burton Albion. It’s been seven years since the Harriers dropped out of the football league, in a competitive division Kidderminster may struggle to match their achievements of last year.

Predicted finish: 9th

Lincoln City

Last season was a season to forget for the Lincolnshire club, tipped to make an instant return to League Two, the Imps were off the pace for much of the campaign and slumped to a 17th place finish. David Holdsworth was installed as manager towards the end of last year and successfully guided Lincoln away from the relegation places. Lack of spending power may prevent the Imps from troubling the promotion spots, but under Holdsworth’s leadership Lincoln should improve on last season’s efforts.

Predicted finish: 10th

Luton Town

The Hatters missed out on a return to the football league suffering heartache in the Blue Square Premier playoff final. Manager Paul Buckle has the experience of guiding a club back into League Two, leading Torquay to playoff success in 2009. The Luton boss has added to his squad, drafting in Brighton midfielder Yaser Kasim on a six-month loan deal and securing the services of Lathaniel Rowe-Turner to bolster his defensive ranks. The Kenilworth Road club certainly have the credentials to make a return to the football league after a four year absence, but will need to improve on last year’s inconsistencies to mount a serious title challenge.

Predicted finish: 2nd

Macclesfield Town

The Silkmen’s run of 15 consecutive seasons in the football league came to end when they were relegated alongside Hereford. New manager Steve King is determined to lead the Moss Rose club back into the league at the first attempt and has set about improving the Macclesfield squad ahead of a first day meeting with the Bulls at Edgar Street. King has admitted that losing the services of midfielder Ross Draper is a big blow, but has reacted by bringing in several new faces. Most notably, Kieran Murtagh joins from Cambridge United and Matthew Barnes-Homer arrives after a brief spell plying his trade in Sweden. King still believes he needs to acquire another central defender and a striker before the big kick off on August 10. Backed by a large travelling support and the introduction of new players, the Silkmen could be set for an instant return to the football league.

Predicted finish: 1st

Mansfield Town

Paul Cox led the Stags into the playoffs last season only to come up short against eventual winners York City in the semi final. The recapture of striker Jake Speight from promotion rivals Wrexham will give Mansfield an obvious goal threat. Cox has also drafted in experienced defender John Dempster and midfielder Jamie Hand to bolster his squad, whilst retaining the majority of last season’s side. Having a big squad could prove pivotal as Mansfield could once more be set to extend their beyond April and have another crack at the playoffs.

Predicted finish: 4th

Newport County

One of the surprise packages from last season, Newport comfortably survived an immediate return to the Blue Square South. Manager Justin Edinburgh is keen to strengthen his squad with attacking options the main focus, after the Exiles finished the last campaign as the lowest scorers in the division. The Newport boss has already brought in Danny Crow and Ryan Charles to give his side a potent goal threat and is looking at others areas of improvement as the Exiles look to progress on last season’s efforts. Recording just three away wins during the last campaign, Newport need to pick up more points on their travels if they are going to avoid being dragged into the relegation scrap.

Predicted finish: 19th

Nuneaton Town

Last year’s Blue Square North playoff final success granted Nuneaton their first season in the Blue Square Premier since their reformation in 2008. Manager Kevin Wilkin has made major changes to his side bringing in eight players during pre season, the latest arrival is Tom James who was released from Championship outfit Watford at the end of the last campaign. Unfortunately, club captain Mark Noon faces a lengthy spell on the sidelines after suffering a serious injury during pre season. The relegation candidates face a difficult task remaining in the highest tier of non-league football, but will certainly not be fazed by the step up to the Blue Square Premier.

Predicted finish: 24th

Southport

Manager Liam Watson guided the Sandgrounders to their highest league finish for 10 years with a 7th place finish, narrowly missing out on the playoffs. The Southport boss is hoping he can lead his side into the playoffs this term and has added to his squad accordingly. Watson has brought in highly rated forward Chris Almond and midfielder Aaron Chalmers, but has had to contend with the controversial departure of defender Andy Owens who opted to link up with Paul Cox at Mansfield Town. However, retaining the majority of his squad from last season, Watson’s side may have an outside chance of clinching a playoff place.

Predicted finish: 11th

Stockport County

After briefly flirting with the relegation places, Jim Gannon led the Hatters into the safety of mid table during the course of last season. Fans of the Edgeley Park club will be expecting improvement on last term’s first campaign out of the football league for 106 years. The Stockport boss has confirmed that James Tunnicliffe will return to the club after spells at Brighton and Wycombe to add to his defensive ranks, whilst fellow new arrival Tom Collins will provide threat at the other end of the pitch following his arrival from Hayes & Yeading. Since his return to the club just before Christmas, Stockport have only lost twice at home under Gannon’s leadership. A top half finish will be the minimum requirement in a very competitive division.

Predicted finish: 14th

Tamworth

Finishing just above the relegation places last season, the Lambs’ end of season form almost cost them their place in the top flight. Recording just one win in 14 matches, manager Marcus Law expressed his displeasure at how Tamworth’s campaign had gone rapidly downhill so quickly. In reaction, the Lambs boss has brought in seven new players including former Aston Villa midfielder Lee Hendrie. Despite the massive overhaul, Law admits he is still looking into the possibility of adding to his squad in time for an opening day trip to newly promoted Dartford. Picking up just 15 points on their travels last term, Tamworth need to improve away from home to have any chance of survival.

Predicted finish: 23rd

Woking

The last of the newly promoted clubs, Woking raced to the Blue Square bet South title last term to reclaim their place in the highest tier of non league football. Manager Garry Hill is prepared to add to his title winning squad and has already drafted in Welling United duo Loick Pires and Jack Parkinson. The Cardinals boss has also revealed that defender Brett Johnson will join the club at the start of August completing his switch from AFC Wimbledon. Woking face a difficult opening day trip to Wrexham but have the sufficient firepower and resources to survive in the Blue Square Premier.

Predicted finish: 17th

Wrexham

Accumulating 98 points would normally be more than enough to see you earn promotion back into the football league. However, in Wrexham’s case, the remarkable feats of Fleetwood Town left Andy Morrell’s side battling in the end of season playoffs. The Dragons were eventually beaten by Luton in the semi final and were left pondering another season in non-league football. During pre season, Morrell lost the services of two of his main goal threats from the last campaign. Mathias Pogba left to join Crewe Alexandra and Jake Speight decided to join Mansfield Town to further infuriate the Wrexham boss. Since those departures, Morrell has acquired the services of veteran forward Brett Ormerod and young defender Martin Riley. Improving upon last year may prove to be difficult and subsequently, the Dragons may struggle to stay in the title hunt.

Predicted finish: 5th

By Daniel Ludlam

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