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Alan Alger: Why the top teams have had it easy so far in the National League

12 Sep | BY Betway | MIN READ TIME |
Alan Alger: Why the top teams have had it easy so far in the National League

Our Non-League expert discusses what we have learned from the opening weeks of the season in the Vanarama National League

This weekend marks the ninth game for each team in the National League meaning that by Saturday evening almost one fifth of the season will be reflected in the table.

At the top of those standings we have Forest Green Rovers blazing an incredible 100 per cent trail.

Eight matches, eight wins, 16 goals scored and just three conceded – it couldn’t have gone any better for Ady Pennock’s team.

After a start that beats the divisional record for the best opening sequence, his squad now have their eyes on the consecutive wins record of 12 – achieved by Hereford, Burton and Mansfield at different times within the last 12 years.

The five fixtures which could complete that journey all take place in September and are: Southport (H), Woking (A), Macclesfield (A), Cheltenham (H) and Gateshead (H). It’s going to be very tough.

Even though I have tipped the Gloucestershire side for the title it would be crazy to get carried away with the early table, despite their faultless first steps.

Talking of getting carried away, the linking of Pennock with the vacant job at Peterborough is a real shock. After all this is a guy that has essentially failed with a very big budget at the New Lawn – up until now.

Granted, the squad is now settled into his own mould – but the weak nature of the league in the last couple of seasons should see a budget of that size romp to the title. Maybe this is their year?

We will certainly know far more by the time they visit Grimsby Town on October 3rd.

That is without a doubt one of the key games in the division, although the early season has revealed a rather unusual stat…

With eight sets of fixtures already played, the top nine teams in the current table have only played each other once!

Yep, just once – the live BT Sport match between Cheltenham and Wrexham.

To put that in to perspective, the teams currently occupying positions first to ninth are scheduled to play each other 72 times within the total of 552 fixtures produced back in July.

That is over 12 per cent of the season, yet only one of those games has taken place up until now.

Of course, the same clubs will not remain in those positions, but it does show that the teams at the top may have had it a little easy up to this point.

For that reason, I would expect things to change significantly in the next month or so.

Forest Green are the rightful new favourites to take the title, but there might be some value in opposing them at this point – especially if you already have them in your portfolio after my early-season tip.

That said, the form of the other teams is patchy at best.

Teams that get off to the best start rarely win the ‘Conference’ title, so maybe we should be looking at the teams that have stuttered a little early on.

After all, even runaway recent winners Crawley, Fleetwood and Luton did not exactly hit the ground running in August.

I watched Grimsby Town at Boreham Wood last weekend and while they took a deserved three points, I would not be rushing to upgrade my assessment of a fifth place finish for Paul Hurst’s team.

Taking one point from home games against Macclesfield and Torquay – two sides who look booked for a finish around the bottom third of the table – suggests that, if anything, fifth may have been generous.

Hurst could find himself under immense pressure during the autumn and I would stick to my earlier claim that he could well be out of a job before anyone is unwrapping their Christmas presents.paul-hurstThe televised game between Cheltenham Town and Wrexham showcased just how much the Red Dragons want to knock the ball around – something I saw when watching them in their first two games this season.

Boss Gary Mills has a commendable philosophy but in the opening game against Bromley and the first half of their home game against Torquay their centre-backs got caught trying to make passes in their own area – leading directly to trouble.

Again, taking a lead from previous champions of the division by combining passing style and the ability to hit it long usually sees a team succeed – the question is, can Wrexham mix it?

Cheltenham themselves certainly looked tough to beat – although they did lose the very next weekend at Altrincham.

Elsewhere Woking may struggle to maintain their good start as two awful injuries impact on their squad.

My pre-season prediction for Gateshead received plenty of stick, but I’d still be prepared to place them far nearer 20th at the end of the season than their current berth of fifth.

Tranmere Rovers are having a typically tough welcome to the division, but they should certainly improve on tenth.

At this point my additional advice would be to back Eastleigh each-way.

Richard Hill’s team have gone about their business quietly – barring a big win at Southport on the opening day they are not exactly blitzing teams.

The Spitfires did a similar thing last season when reaching 82 points, with 31 of their 46 matches ending with either a one-goal win, a draw or defeat by a single goal.

Whatever they do it won’t be by big margins, but just two or three more wins in addition to what they did last season and they could be the title winners as we oppose the runaway leaders at this point.

Although using this theory last season did not work out too well.

Having seen a number of Barnet’s early games, I really did not think Martin Allen’s team had sufficient quality to stay there.

To his credit, he took his team to League Two by hitting almost exactly the planned points total he had in mind for them.

Without taking anything away from the Bees’ achievement, a number of people I speak to around the division in players, managers and fans have backed up my own view that the league is far weaker than it was a few seasons ago.

Having said that, it still takes some winning!

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