2017/18 National League Preview – A Q&A with BT Sport’s Matt Smith and Natalie Quirk

Ahead of the start of the 2017/18 season on Saturday, we asked BT Sport's National League presenters Matt Smith and Natalie Quirk a few questions about how they think the season will unfold.

1) How do you think the promoted teams from the National League North and South will fare this season?

MS: I have not seen much of either Ebbsfleet or Fylde, but I have heard positive things about both. They have strong financial backing so I am sure they will be competitive. I look forward to seeing Fylde quite early in the season with the BT cameras.

Both Maidenhead and Halifax will also hope to make a decent start in the NL. I think that's important. Guiseley did incredibly well to escape a poor start last season.

NQ: Ebbsfleet is a club which has been knocking on the door to the National League for the past two seasons and like AFC Fylde, they are well supported financially. The Coasters have managed to hang on to Danny Rowe, who scored an incredible amount of goals for them last season. I am really interested to see how both of those teams do because I think they could spring a few surprises.

Halifax have bounced straight back up after a season in the National League North and will be determined to stay.

And Maidenhead, lead by the experienced Alan Devonshire, aren't afraid of spending money and should be competitive.

I think all four teams should do well this season.

2) Who do you think will take the National League title this season?

MS: Picking a winner is always tricky. We don't really know how Leyton Orient or Hartlepool will adapt, though clearly Orient are in better shape now off the pitch. I think Tranmere will go very close this year.

NQ: Will it be third time lucky for Tranmere? It has to be doesn't it?! Rovers have to be one of the favourites and will be the team to beat. Maybe they underestimated this league in their first season and missing out on the play offs would have been a shock to the system. To win 95 points last season and lose in the play off final would have been a body blow, but real motivation to go again. They will be under even more pressure this season but they have a great manager in Micky Mellon, who has only made six new signings, one of whom was on loan. Two years in the fifth tier will also serve them well. It is theirs to lose.

3) Cheltenham Town are the only team in recent years to bounce straight back up to League Two after being relegated the season before. Do you think that either Leyton Orient or Hartlepool United will be able to follow in the their footsteps?

MS: Bouncing straight back up to League 2 is hard, as the stats prove. With stability in the club Leyton Orient should be better equipped than we thought in May. Many clubs still have recruitment and deals to resolve. I doubt both Orient and Hartlepool will manage it.

NQ: Two relegations and eleven managers in three years tells you all you need to know about Leyton Orient's fall from the football league. A new owner and a new manager signals a fresh start and this season has to be about rebuilding for the O's. Steve Davis has admitted that his previous spell in the conference was “the toughest job I've ever had”. Promotion at the first time of asking after so much restructure is a big challenge but their recruitment has caught the eye.

Hartlepool have also bought well and have a good new manager in Craig Harrison. History says that those with a healthy budget generally do well, but I don't believe they have the biggest pot of money to spend from which may have an impact.

The difference with Cheltenham Town and Bristol Rovers, who also secured promotion after one season, is that they had the same manager throughout. Is that a big factor?

4) Competition is very strong in the National League this season, so who do you reckon will struggle to beat the drop this campaign?

MS: It's never nice to mark teams for possible relegation. It often does come down to budget, of course. I hope no one gets cut adrift at the bottom.

NQ: It is very hard to say and I don't like to condemn anybody to the relegation zone before a ball has even been kicked. Torquay have managed to escape the drop for the last two seasons but will be hoping they can do better this season with the players they have. Guiseley, Boreham Wood, Solihull and Woking may have a difficult campaign ahead.

5) What are your thoughts on the new National League Play-Off structure?

MS: I like the new play off structure, that borrows some ideas from Rugby League. There will be those that don't, but I think it's progressive. More clubs in the mix, more single game excitement, more interest, though more travelling for me!

NQ: Play offs can make for an exciting end to the season and they increase interest. Eighteen clubs approved the changes for this season and only four rejected it, so it would seem that the majority believe it is a good idea. Personally, I would rather see two teams promoted automatically than having more teams included in the play offs. Since the system was introduced, the team finishing 5th has never been promoted. But they still have the same opportunity as the team that finish 2nd. Now the team finishing 7th in the National League is being given the chance to move into League Two, despite the fact they may well finish 10 points or more (20 points separated Tranmere and Barrow last season) behind 2nd place. That to me just isn't fair competition.

6) And finally, as this is being written mainly for Eastleigh supporters, where do you think the Spitfires can finish in the table this season?

MS: Eastleigh are a curate's egg of a club, aren't they? So much for expectation and investment just last season, but it was all a bit scattergun to me. Too much upheaval of managers and players. If the owner can pick a plan, back Richard Hill and his staff, and assemble a settled squad, then the Spitfires can do some damage in this division. Good luck – we will be watching!

NQ: I tipped Eastleigh to be in the play offs at the start of last season and up until around Christmas they were still in contention. I was surprised when Chris Todd was released after just four games, but having four managers in one season probably didn't help their cause. They had a bad run of results and their slide down the table just continued. This season with Richard Hill back at the helm I believe they can have a much better campaign. He has had a busy summer recruiting plenty of new players, including Mark Yeates and Danny Hollands, and has had success with the Spitfires previously. Eastleigh should have the play offs back in their sights.


You can catch Matt and Natalie during one of BT Sport's 30 live National League games this season, or during BT Sport's National League Highlights show every Sunday evening.

We'd like to thank both Matt and Natalie for taking the time to answer our questions.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s