Northern Premier League 2020-21: Who could be promotion contenders?

On July 21st, the FA released the allocations for the National League system with the line-ups for steps 3-6 officially announced. Although there is always the possibility of last-minute reshuffle, the same 62 Northern Premier League clubs will remain in position for the 2020-21 campaign, and that will result in the Yellows going head to head with some familiar foes once again. We take a look at who could be challenging for a place in the National League North next season. 

Although runaway leaders South Shields appeared to have the division sewn up by early March, the Mariners will compete at this level once again after seeing their legal challenge cruelly dismissed at the beginning of June. As a result, the North Easterners are likely to be heavy favourites in next season’s ante-post market. Although the Northern Premier League pre-season betting odds are often hidden away, many online sites do now take bets on this competition. As explains, there are now many UK betting sites which offer millions of markets and odds per year on sport from across the globe, and with an ever-increasing number of savvy non-league punters shopping around for value, many bookmakers have decided that it’s in their best interests to price up these divisions on a weekly basis. South Shields went off at around 3/1 last season, and the well-backed Mariners are being widely predicted to continue where they left off. The signing of Blackpool goalkeeper Myles Boney and loanee Jordan Hunter suggest that another title bid is likely, and they should be able to hit the ground running in September. 

The Yellows had some thrilling contests with FC United last season, not least the dramatic 4-4 draw in the league at Broadhurst Park, just a fortnight before the campaign was curtailed. Neil Reynolds’ side will no doubt be up the top end of the table again, despite losing prolific striker Tunde Owolabi, who has taken up a full-time deal in the Scottish Premiership with Hamilton. The recruitment of highly-rated goalkeeper Ollie Martin may go some to resolving their biggest weakness last season, shipping goals.

Although Basford United were only fourth in the table when the season was curtailed at the end of March, a promotion challenge looks likely this time around. They have been well backed over the last 12 months, and after achieving their highest-ever league finish last season, they will be looking to kick on under head coach Steve Chettle. The former defender made his side tough to beat, and as new signing James Tague admitted upon arriving at Greenwich Avenue, very few opposition players have enjoyed facing them over the last year. With a 10-3-5 record in Nottinghamshire last year, Chettle’s men will once again be relying on their home form in order to remain competitive at the top of the table. Kyle Dixon also looks like a superb addition to the squad, and with 11 goals and 20 assists at Newark Flowserve, he’ll be hoping to replicate that eye-catching form at the higher level. There has also been significant investment off the field, and with the club continuing to build for the future, they look set for another big season in the Northern Premier League. 

Although Nantwich Town only finished last season in sixth spot, their defensive record was absolutely superb, with just 39 goals conceded in their opening 31 matches. Their home form was also key to keeping their play-off hopes alive and with just four defeats at the Weaver Stadium last year, very few sides are likely to relish the trip to Cheshire next season. Full-back Michael Koral has joined from 1874 Northwich, and he is unlikely to be the last arrival of the summer. The Dabbers lost just two matches between January 4th and March 10th, with both defeats coming against the top two sides in the division. If they can continue to build on their 2020 form, Dave Cooke’s men could be in with a decent chance of achieving promotion next season. 

Since Curtis Woodhouse’s arrival in Lincolnshire, Gainsborough Trinity has been one of the form teams in the division. The Holy Blues picked up 30 of their 42 points from Boxing Day onwards, and if they can continue to collect at the same rate next season, they will surely be challenging for a place in the top two. Although the squad still looks a little short on numbers, there are plenty of young, hungry players who will be up for the fight. With Connor Smythe committing his future to the club and the experienced Martyn Woolford having arrived from Boston United, Woodhouse’s men could be a side to keep a close eye on next season.

Buxton have ruffled some feathers with their recruitment in the summer, and they may well enter the season as second favourites behind South Shields. They raided Scarborough Athletic for goalkeeper Tommy Taylor, striker James Walshaw and midfielder Chris Dawson, which sent shockwaves down the Yorkshire coast. They have also brought in the Abadaki brothers, and the eye-catching capture of Gibraltar striker Reece Styche and defender Josh Granite from National League champions Barrow.

Scarborough Athletic ought to be a contender in the top half of the Northern Premier League, and under Darren Kelly, now seem to be re-finding their identity again. Kelly’s preparations for the new season have taken a number of hits in recent weeks, notably the shock treble departure of key men to Buxton, and then new signing Kieran Weledji, who joined from local rivals Whitby, suffered a serious injury in their first pre-season run out.

There are plenty of other threats from elsewhere too.

A disappointing 2019/20 campaign for Matlock Town saw them at the wrong end of the table, but new manager Paul Phillips has recruited heavily in the off-season, bringing in no fewer than 16 players to try and turn them in to play-off contenders.

Ashton United, who were back in the NPL last year after their relegation from National League North, never recovered from a slow start but under Michael Clegg, will want to start this season the right way and compete for the play-offs, while Clegg’s former club Atherton Collieries start the campaign a year wiser.

Grantham Town are heading in a new direction and have recruited strongly in established NPL players like Liam Hardy, and Mark Fell’s Lancaster City may well once again thrive from going under the radar in the pre-season considerations, much as they did last season.

Morpeth Town beat the Yellows comfortably twice last season, and despite losing long-serving manager Nick Gray, will have the backing to put a strong squad together – they were third on average points per game when the season finished last year, having got a few games behind due to postponements.

The beauty of football is everyone starts with a clean slate each season – so come the kick-off in September, Bamber Bridge, Hyde United, Mickleover, Radcliffe, Stafford Rangers, Stalybridge Celtic, Whitby Town and Witton Albion will all too have hopes of beating all of the above and taking glory.

There will be plenty of competition for promotion next season, and it should be another hugely exciting campaign in the Northern Premier League. There are a plethora of sides who will feel that they have ‘unfinished business’ at this level, and although South Shields are likely to start the season as favourites, they may not have it all their own way at the top of the table. 



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