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Thursday, July 29, 2010

Conference North/South 2010/11: Preview

Our build-up to the new season continues as Nobes looks ahead to the 2010/11 campaigns in both the Conference North and South.

I can't lie, any preview, particularly involving the Conference North, will involve some kind of bias on my part. How can it not? After years of regression into the depths of the Non Leagues, my own Boston United are back.

We were here in 2007/8, until the Conference decided to enact their final bit of revenge for our wrongdoing at the start of the Millennium and booted us down to the UniBond.

We came perilously close to dropping right down to the regional divisions of that league. Fortunately, things are now moving in the right direction. So much so, not even the authorities could find a way to prevent us taking our place in the division.

If truth be told, too, and these may turn out to be famous last words, I don't see much to fear ahead of the new season. We're the biggest club in the division, even if AFC Telford might edge out attendance wise at the moment. They don't have our history.

We'll get some of the biggest crowds, and have the most loyal and passionate away supporters. We also have a winning mentality, promotion momentum, and a very capable young managerial duo.

The impressive form of the promoted sides last season such as Corby, Ilkeston, and Eastwood also gives me confidence that the step-up in quality is not that big. We have the players more than capable of breaching it. A top five challenge is my expectation.

Now that the bravado is out of the way, who do I fear in the division? The aforementioned AFC Telford, although under a complete rookie in Andy Sinton, should be up there again.

Alfreton and Droylsden were two of the sides who lost out in the play-offs last term, and both should figure towards the top end again under their respective experienced bosses Nicky Law and Dave Pace.

Hinckley are seasoned campaigners, and Stalybridge are a constant presence in the top half. Both will hope to make the extra step and claim a play-off spot this time around.

It was a season of over achievement for Workington last season, and one of underachievement for Stafford. The latter will expect to improve, the former can only hope to keep punching above their weight.

It will be interesting to see whether our big spending neighbours Gainsborough, with the ex-Premier League boss Brian Little in charge, can turn their money into actually challenging.

Money, as at all levels, is of vital importance in the Conference North, and last season saw the sad loss of Farsley and Northwich demoted because of their financial record.

There was a close call for Hyde United, too. They will hope to avoid another relegation scrape. Expect to see the likes of Vauxhall Motors, Blyth, Redditch, Gloucester, Harrogate, and Solihull towards the wrong end of the table though.

Coming up with us are Guiseley and Nuneaton Town - the phoenix club of Nuneaton Borough. Both should be competitive. Lastly, Worcester make the move across back to the North after struggling last term in the Conference South.

This year's division has the looks of being a very even one. While Southport and big-spending Fleetwood always stood out last term, there are no obvious teams who stand head and shoulders above the rest.

I'm hoping they'll be a specific one come May though.

Perhaps the most interesting club to watch in this year's Conference South will be Ebbsfleet United.

The outfit bought by the MyFootballClub website consortium were relegated from the Conference Premier last term.

Was it the first sign that this radical new approach to football club ownership is, ultimately, doomed to fail? Or was it just a temporary setback and the Kent team will be challenging for an immediate return from whence they came?

They'll have a tough challenge on their hands to, though. Newport ran away with this league last year, but it's unlikely that'll happen again.

Many of the teams appear well matched, and the likes of Woking, Eastleigh, Chelmsford, Braintree, and Havant & Waterlooville will all be hopeful about their chances of challenging.

Dover have had a summer of upheaval with the loss of their boss Andy Hessenthaler, then his successor Ian Hendon soon resigned too. Martin Hayes will look to keep the Whites' recent forward momentum going.

The sides with promotion momentum coming into this campaign are Dartford, Boreham Wood, and the reformed Farnborough. They will all hope to consolidate their position.

After disappointing campaigns last time out, Lewes, Hampton & Richmond, Bishop's Stortford, and Maidenhead will all be looking to figure a lot higher up this time.

Such is the tight nature of the division, going one from end to the other is not that much of an ask. Hampton's struggles against the drop last season came just 12 months after losing in the play-off final.

With a place in the top five offering a shot at promotion via the play-offs, it even means the likes or Dorchester, Basingstoke, Bromley and St Albans will be confident that a consistent term can see them compete.

Thurrock, Welling, and Staines narrowly missed out on the play-offs last season, the latter will do particularly well to match last season's efforts though.

Finally, after being rescued again by other team's troubles, can Weston-super-Mare offer anything more than another bottom three struggle and hoping they can avoid the plunge?

The Somerset club's struggle is probably one of the more predictable features of the coming campaign.

With the past two titles going to the revitalised Newport and AFC Wimbledon respectively though, which club in 2010/11 will be looking forward to an equally bright future?

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