National League Countdown: Tranmere favourites to win the league
With Tranmere Rovers the overwhelming favourites to win promotion from the National League this season, there looks to be some solid value elsewhere from a punting perspective.
The Lilywhites are obviously favourites for a reason, but as last year proved; the shortest odds don’t always win the league.
Here is our guide to the runners and riders in the fifth tier this season…
Despite being short-priced and missing out last term, it’s hard to look past Tranmere Rovers (11/4 to be champions) where automatic promotion is concerned. Manager Micky Mellon has been there and done it at this level and has recruited well over the summer.
The signing of James Alabi in particular looks to be an inspired bit of business. The 22-year-old frontman netted an impressive 17 goals for Chester last season and hit a further five in his Rovers debut against Cammell Laird in pre-season. His presence and bulky physique guarantees goals, and with James Norwood in support, Rovers have a potent strikeforce capable of finally getting themselves out of the league.
With the National League play-offs having been extended to accommodate six teams for the coming season, the possibility of promotion is greater than ever.
One team who will hope to be in the mix is Dagenham & Redbridge (5/1 to be promoted). The Daggers came close last year but lost out to Forest Green Rovers in the promotion semi-finals. With veteran manager John Still at the Chigwell Construction Stadium for another season, the Essex side should go close. The signings of Michael Cheek and Morgan Ferrier add further support up top, but it’s the lack of a natural left-back that could see the Daggers struggle early on.
Hartlepool United (5/1) will be hoping for an immediate return following their relegation from League 2 last season. It’s been a busy summer at Victoria Park with 10 players in and 11 players out of the revolving door in the North-East. With that in mind it may take a while for manager Craig Harrison’s side to gel, although new boys Ryan Donaldson, Jack Munns and Jake Cassidy should bed in straight away.
Of the sides perennially tipped for National League promotion none have been in the division longer than Wrexham (11/2). The Dragons are preparing for their ninth season in the fifth tier and with a revamped play-off system now in place have their best ever chance of gaining promotion. An exodus of players has seen 13 leave the Racecourse, although 13 have come in. Shaun Pearson from Grimsby is the pick of those at centre-half, while Manny Smith and James Hurst complete a revamped defence.
Another of the National League first timers Leyton Orient (6/1) will also harbour ambitions of bouncing back up at the first attempt. The O’s are now managed by Steve Davis and have recruited well with former players David Mooney and Jobi McAnuff through the door, alongside the experienced George Elokobi. At 6s, the O’s certainly offer plenty of value in the promotion shake-up. With the ownership situation now sorted down at the Matchroom Stadium, the focus will be solely on the pitch.
A side already used to this level are Aldershot Town (7/1). Gary Waddock made the EBB Recreation Ground one of the toughest places to go last season as the Shots hoovered up 50 points from a possible 69 at home. The Hampshire side also had the best defensive record in the division, conceding only 37 The majority of last season’s squad has been retained – bar Anthony Straker – while 40-goal man Shaun Okojie joins from Corinthian Casuals. Midfield maestro Bobby-Joe Taylor also links up from Maidstone United and with that in mind, the 14s on offer for Aldershot to go up as champions looks somewhat overpriced.
Of the four sides promoted to the division from the feeder leagues, AFC Fylde (7/1) look best placed to make a fist of it again this time around. The side from the Lancashire coast romped the National League North last season, accumulating 88 points and scoring a huge 106 goals on their way to promotion. With money no issue for the Coasters and a set up that most other teams in the division would envy, the 29-year-old club should at least hold their own in the top tier of non-league.
Further down the pecking order, we like Barrow (10/1) who offer some real value in the market. The Bluebirds have a wily manager who has won promotion from this league before in Paul Cox, and his signings this summer inspire confidence in those lengthy odds. Adi Yussuf scored 27 goals in 39 games for Oxford City in 2015, while Dan Jones, Thierry Audel and Bedsente Gomis shore up an already tight defence.
If you like an outside punt then maybe Dover Athletic (16/1) are the team for you. Slightly overpriced at 16s, the Whites are a model of consistency and have finished eighth, fifth and sixth in their three seasons back in the top-tier of non-league football. Losing 42-goal striker Ricky Miller to Peterborough United is a blow, but experienced manager Chris Kinnear has reinvested wisely and brought in Ryan Bird, Tobi Sho-Silva and Kane Richards, all three of whom will score goals at this level.
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All Odds and Markets are correct as of the date of publishing