August 6, 2012 by mapperleystag1
Managers: Rob Scott and Paul Hurst
Last Season: 11th in Conference
Last season ended in disappointment for the Mariners, with an unbeaten run for a few months in the second half of the season seemingly promising a playoff challenge, before ultimately petering out into a below-par mid table finish. However, the signs for next season are positive: they have retained key personnel such as club captain Craig Disley and lethal finisher Liam Hearn. Moreover, they have added quality, experience and competition to their squad in all areas. Signings such as highly rated full back Sam Hatton from AFC Wimbledon, goal scorer Greg Pearson from Burton and, both arriving from recently relegated Chesterfield, Derek Niven and Simon Ford, the latter returning to the club after eight years, should see Grimsby significantly improve on last year’s position. A playoff position is the target but if their smallish squad remains united and injury-free, there is no reason why Grimsby cannot go all the way and win the league, albeit not with the same dominance as Fleetwood and Crawley in previous seasons.
Verdict: Champions- 1st
Manager: Martin Foyle
Last Season: 23rd in League Two
After a six year stay in the Football League, Hereford returned to the top tier of non-league football with relegation from League Two. Unlike many ex-football league clubs, Hereford have had previous experience of this league, with a nine year stay between 1997 and 2006 emphasising the difficulties of regrouping and bouncing back immediately with promotion from this division. Although Hereford may be better placed to adapt to this league compared with other clubs who had no prior experience, the Conference has strengthened substantially in the past few years, with relegated clubs unable to challenge for promotion in the following season. Hereford seem unlikely to break this trend, but in Martin Foyle they have a manager with vast experience of this league, which can only be a positive.
Verdict: Top half- 12th
Manager: Scott McNiven
Last Season: 1st in Conference North
Despite last season’s success in winning Conference North, it seems highly unlikely that Hyde will be able to build on this and adapt to a higher standard of football. A difficult season seems guaranteed, with a small fanbase unlikely to result in a good enough home record to see them survive. Moreover, the departure of manager Gary Lowe at the end of the season has undoubtedly had a destabilising impact on the club. Their replacements, Scott McNiven and his assistant Gavin McCann will need to rely on all of their experience in what will prove to be a challenging campaign this year.
Verdict: Relegation- 24th
Manager: Steve Burr
Last Season: 6th in Conference
After successive seasons narrowly missing out on the playoffs (finishing 6th both times), Kidderminster will hope to go one better this season. In Steve Burr, they have one of the best managers outside of league football, whose attacking approach has been praised by many. Their Achilles heel, a sloppy defence, appears tightened with the signing of the towering Exodus Geohaghan, whose defensive qualities, combined with a bullet long throw, were a key factor in transforming Mansfield into a promotion challenging outfit last season. Nevertheless, due to the growing strength of the league and their rivals for promotion, Kidderminster may again find themselves just missing out on a playoff position.
Verdict: Top half- 6th
Manager: David Holdsworth
Last Season: 17th in Conference
Following a heartbreaking and unexpected relegation from League Two, Lincoln’s first season in the Conference was disastrous, with Steve Tilson being axed in October, with the club perilously close to the relegation zone. His successor, David Holdsworth, fared marginally better, steering Lincoln just away from trouble. Throughout the second half of the season and into his summer dealings, Holdsworth has employed his scatter-gun, Football-Manageresque approach to transfers, albeit with a lower success rate than the casual player online. With this in mind, it is difficult to predict any noticeable improvement for the upcoming campaign, although Lincoln should have just enough ability and experience in their squad to stay clear of a relegation dogfight.
Verdict: Safety, but not much more- 17th
Manager: Paul Buckle
Last Season: 5th in Conference
If anyone was unsure about the competitiveness and difficulties in gaining promotion from this league, a look at the misfortune and agony suffered by the fans of the self-proclaimed biggest club in the league, Luton Town, since their arrival in the division three seasons ago, would be enough to answer their doubts. Three seasons in the Conference have resulted in three playoff defeats, the last two of which occurring in the playoff final itself. The patience of the supporters in this time has slowly eroded and demands to win the league this season have a sound of desperation this time, a desperation that their once proud club cannot continue to waste away in the fifth tier of English football for yet another season. This is the pressure that previous managers have crumbled under, and one that Paul Buckle now has to contend with. Finishing in the playoffs with strikers the quality of Jon Shaw, Scott Rendell, Stuart Fleetwood and Andre Gray ought to be straightforward; the real challenge is if Luton can cope with the pressure and expectations which in previous seasons were their undoing.
Verdict: Playoffs- 2nd
Manager: Steve King
Last Season: 24th in League Two
This season sees Macclesfield back in the Conference after relegation from League Two following a dreadful run of form from January onwards in which the club failed to win a game. New manager Steve King has an excellent record in the lower non-league pyramid, especially succeeding in gaining promotion to this league with minnows Lewes. Clearly, however, this job is a significant step up compared with his previous posts, both in terms of the size of the club and the subsequent scrutiny of his managerial decisions. Despite this, Macclesfield are not favoured to perform well this season by many, due to the turmoil created by relegation. Nevertheless, signings such as Matthew Barnes-Homer and Ryan Jackson are positive moves which could see Macclesfield surprise a few teams this year, although not to the extent of mounting a playoff challenge.
Verdict: Top half- 9th
Manager: Paul Cox
Last Season: 3rd in Conference
After last season’s unexpected success in finishing third with a club record 89 points was tempered by playoff disappointment at the hands of York City, the pressure on Paul Cox to deliver promotion this year has intensified greatly. This pressure has not been eased by rumours over the size of the playing budget, which is potentially the biggest in the league and has seen Mansfield attract key players from their rivals, most notably Luton’s captain George Pilkington and Wrexham’s top scorer Jake Speight. Managing the ever-growing expectancy will be a significant challenge for Cox, as will keeping a squad of around thirty players content. These difficulties could ultimately derail Mansfield’s title hopes. However, with last season’s core remaining, plus the numerous additions which appear to have strengthened the squad, it is difficult to not see Mansfield being one of a number of teams challenging for promotion, especially with players such as Matt Green, Gary Roberts and the aforementioned Pilkington and Speight forming the backbone of the side.
Verdict: Playoffs- 3rd