Thirteen match days into the National League season and it has already delivered on so many levels. Dagenham do goals, at both ends, Tshimanga troubles for Chesterfield, Dorking surprises and a striker on fire.
In this report we will cast a data led eye over every club, the managers and the players, present our NL team of the season so far and look ahead to the next dozen or so games and how the stats see things panning out.
Before we dive in, a bit of housekeeping. Firstly all data used is from Wyscout so if you see anything that doesn't add up please let us know.
Secondly, there are approximately 600 players at clubs in the National League. With this in mind we have restricted the data to players with 500 minutes or more so far. This will mean that some players that are starting to post decent stats might not be featured in this report, but will hopefully show up in future reports.
The general consensus around the league is that Aldershot’s performances have actually been better than their results and league position show, but the stats indicate otherwise.
Aldershot are currently 5th highest for xG against, with 23.19 goals expected to be conceded, 1.19 more than they have actually conceded. Aldershot also have the 5th lowest xG, with just 14.46, 2.54 less than they actually have, suggesting they are actually doing better than they should be in terms of goals scored and goals conceded. Therefore, it’s hardly a surprise that they are struggling down in the relegation zone, and it looks as though things might get worse for them.
The Shots also barely see the ball; they have recorded the second lowest average possession, seeing just 42.6% of the ball. Despite not having much of the ball they have recorded 141 shots, the 15th most in the league, so they are at least threatening the goal somewhat.
Boss Mark Molesley is a manager who is highly rated, but one who may be disappointed with his sides league position. Aldershot are a side who have used the loan market well, and Molesley has combined technical midfielders with a powerful attack. Molesley has also managed his squad well, rotating his forward line, and also maximising the output of Inih Effiong, playing to the forward’s strengths, gaining a return of 4 goals so far.
In terms of style they see very little of the ball, but in that regard Molesley could be seen as somewhat of an astute tactician; he often recognises his side will be 2nd best going into a game and looks to set them up accordingly.
Aldershot’s star men in front of goal are Inih Effiong and Justin Amaluzor, who have 4 and goals each. This is 52.9% of Aldershot’s goals, highlighting how key the pair are to the Shots’ output.
Effiong is a big strong target man, whilst Amaluzor is a quick powerful right winger, who loves to cut inside on his left foot. He’s a fantastic striker of the ball and the vast majority of his goals this season have been strikes from range.
Young keeper Luca Ashby-Hammond has also acquitted himself in goal, and having faced 81 shots, 2nd most in the league, he’s had plenty of chance to showcase his talents. He has a tidy save percentage of 72.84% and for his first season in senior men’s football he’s done well.
Altrincham are a side that up until 4 games ago hadn’t even won a game, but now find themselves in 16th place, showing how a few good results can change fortunes drastically in this division. However, despite the poor run, the good results were always bound to come when looking at the stats.
The Robins have committed to playing their brand of football, and rank very highly in passing stats as a result. They’ve played the 8th highest amount of passes, 4855, and also the 3rd most amount of progressive runs, 227, 1 less than leaders Notts Co. They’ve also had the 9th highest possession, 51.6%, and the 9th highest xG in the league. The biggest stat that suggests they’ve performed better than results is their xG against. They’ve only been expected to concede 15.38 when they’ve actually let in 24. This suggests that in the long run Altrincham will have a much better defence, and in turn much better results.
All of these stats point to Altrincham doing a lot better than they have, so you’d expect their results to continue to see them rise up the table, rather than back into the relegation zone where they were stranded earlier in the season.
Phil Parkinson (the Altrincham one not the Wrexham one) deserves a huge amount of credit for sticking to his guns and playing his style, despite results not going his sides way for the first 9 games. Many managers would have panicked, but the highly rated 41 year old maintained composure, and didn’t go back to the drawing board. He stuck with his favoured 4-2-3-1, a system he recruited with in mind during the summer, and his style sees his side still record 51.6% possession, a high number for a side with Altrincham’s resources.
Parkinson’s tactics also allow him to get the best out of mercurial talent Ryan Colclough, who is once again having an impressive season. Parkinson has a brilliant track record, and seems to have momentum heading into the next quarter.
Altrincham’s key performers have undoubtedly been defender Toby Mullarkey, who would get into most sides, and attacker Ryan Colclough, who tops the charts in various offensive statistics.
Colclough attempts 8.84 dribbles per 90, the most in the league. He is also involved in the most successful attacking actions, 7.64, showing his ability going forward and already has 3 goals and 4 assists, an impressive tally for a forward in a side who until recently were struggling. Colclough’s overall class and quality has been evident this season.
At the other end of the pitch defender Toby Mullarkey has been a key figure, hardly a surprise to those who followed the transfer sagas that surrounded him in the summer. A strong defender, Mullarkey is involved in 7.77 successful defensive actions per 90 and wins a very commendable 67.69% of his defensive duels, both of which show his defensive capabilities.
Mullarkey is a quality operator with the ball too, as shown by his 3.05 progressive runs per 90, a number that ranks him 13th in the entire division. Clearly Mullarkey is good at bringing the ball out of defence, and his ball carrying skills are essential to the way Altrincham like to play.
The Bees started the season extremely strongly, but in recent weeks they have struggled, especially defensively. They’ve conceded 20 in their last 4 games, more than they conceded in their first 9 games combined.
Dean Brennan’s firm approach to the game seems to have divided opinion, but a positive result at home to struggling Maidstone and scoring 5 goals away to Wrexham could prove to be a catalyst to bringing them back into some sort of form.
In terms of stats nothing jumps out massively, other than that Barnet have conceded the 4th most shots, 195, and also have the 4th most yellow cards, 27, showing poor discipline. They’ve also now conceded the most goals after their 7-5 defeat to Wrexham, so going into the next quarter they really need to tighten up at the back.
The personnel they have at their disposal, especially those they recruited in the summer, are impressive on paper, but the organisation at the back is worrying. They look a shambles defensively and something has to change moving forward.
A manager who certainly divides opinion, Dean Brennan’s bizarre post match interview after a 5-0 defeat to York certainly captured the imagination. His boisterous handling of the media is perhaps reflective of his management style, but the Barnet players know that their standards aren’t high enough, and Brennan’s honesty does at least let the players know where they stand.
He’s also managed to get the best out of forward Nicke Kabamba, who came to the Hive as a striker who only scored 3 times last season, but one who now has 9 goals to his name already. The Irish manager seems to be able to get responses from his players, so he’s doing well in that regard. Time will tell if he is too harsh, or if he’s got it just right.
21 year old midfielder Ryan De Havilland has had a breakout year after his midfield partner Ephron Mason-Clark was sold to Peterborough after he himself had a strong start to the season. Previously mentioned Nicke Kabamba is Barnet’s top scorer with 9 goals, 3 times the amount he scored last season already. This tally included a highlight reel finish, a deft chip over the keeper against Yeovil and a brilliant low driven finish against Wrexham. He has 4 braces this season, so needs to work on scoring more consistently, but he is currently the league’s 4th top scorer.
Until Tuesday night the Wood were very much considered the 4th best side in the league; they had lost just once all season, a shock home loss to Aldershot, and looked like an outside chance for a title challenge. However, that quickly changed when they welcomed Bromley, once again showing how quickly things can change in this division. The pendulum once again swung back the way of the Wood who actually now sit 3rd after a very impressive win away at Wealdstone.
They have lost only 2 games, and have 25 points, a very impressive tally. The Wood have played the 3rd highest amount of through passes, something which is certainly influenced by new personnel. The data suggests they are right where we would expect them to be; they have an xG of 19.23, and have scored 20, and they have conceded 12 from an xG against of 14.39. Whilst they are conceding slightly fewer than expected, and have the 3rd best defence in the league as a result, the data does suggest that they should have no issues keeping this pace, and a playoff berth should be confirmed come the end of the season.
A coach our own Tom Williams has suggested for EFL jobs recently, Luke Garrard is one of the youngest coaches in the league, but also one of the most impressive. Renowned for getting his side to be resolute in defence, the 37 year old has done that again this season, with his side conceding just 12 goals in the opening 13, 3rd least in the league.
In the past the Wood have been guilty of not possessing enough quality in the final third, but this is something the young coach has rectified this summer. Arguably his 2 star performers in the final third were brought in this summer, top scorer Lee Ndlovu and chief creator Zak Brunt. Despite the new attacking signings, Garrard has stuck to his guns, and his side have recorded the 4th most long passes, 825. They are also still as aggressive as ever; they are joint 2nd for most red cards in the league (2).
Zak Brunt was signed in the summer on loan after a somewhat underwhelming loan spell at Notts County, but manager Garrard has played him in a more familiar advanced role, allowing the 20 year old to flourish.
Brunt has played 12 smart passes, the 4th most in the league, showing he is a progressive midfielder, one who likes to create.
Lee Ndlovu has been a talismanic figure for the Wood, and despite playing just 776 minutes he has scored 5 goals. This means he averages 0.58 goals per 90, 13th highest in the league. At the other end of the pitch Femi Ilesanmi has won 73.74% of his defensive duels and also records 12.53 successful defensive actions per 90, the 7th most in the league.
In goal Nathan Ashmore has arguably been the finest keeper in the league, and the 100kg shot stopper has prevented 3.12 goals, the 3rd most in the league. He also has the 4th highest save percentage of any keeper, 78.85%, showing the good work he is doing between the sticks.
A side who have been fascinating from a statistical point of view all season, and one who have finally got it clicking on the pitch, Bromley are looking like real playoff contenders.
With the 3rd highest xG in the league, and 8th lowest xG against, Bromley have every right to be up there in the promotion hunt. They are also playing fairly closely to their xG Expected goals); their xG against is 14.58, and they have conceded 13, whilst with xG for there is a slightly larger gap, scoring just 20 from an xG of 24.94. This suggests performances could be even higher from Bromley, a good sign for Andy Woodman’s side.
Bromley have also kept a divisional high 7 clean sheets, showing how resolute they can be in defence. If they can continue to get front man Adam Marriott amongst the goals there is no reason why they cannot finish the second quarter still inside the playoffs.
Andy Woodman is a very highly rated coach, and the first quarter of this season shows why. His side have kept 7 clean sheets, the most in the league, showing his 5 at the back system works extremely well. It’s not a defensive system though, as the wing backs push on into dangerous areas; right wing back Harry Forster has completed the most key passes of any player in the league (15).
Woodman also makes great use of set pieces, especially targeting 6' 6" centre back Omar Sowunmi, who already has 4 goals this season. Woodman has also worked out that his 2 best strikers can play alongside each other inside the system, so he has had a very successful first quarter.
The key men for Bromley have undoubtedly been wing back Harry Forster, who is their main creative outlet, towering centre half Omar Sowunmi, as well as striker Adam Marriott, who has fired in 6 goals so far this season.
Forster has been able to get up and down the right hand side to great effect, creating chances in the final third successfully. He already has 3 assists to his name, and you’d expect this figure to rise as the season progresses.
Sowunmi has won 66.67% of his defensive duels, but it’s in the air he proves the biggest menace, firing in 4 goals, making him Bromley’s second top scorer.
Adam Marriott is as close to a pure finisher as you will see at this level; he has 6 goals from just 17 shots, and he has the highest shot accuracy of any player with more than 10 shots, with 76.47% of his shots finding the target, a simply insane number.
For the first 10 games the Spireites were undefeated, but 3 back to back defeats, 2 at home, see them end the first quarter on a sour note.
The saga around Kabongo Tshimanga hasn’t helped, but this is a blow that has been softened by the emergence of Jeserun Uchegbulam.
Chesterfield have scored 25 goals, 5th highest in the league, and have the 5th highest xG, all this in spite of their star forward not always being available. However, they have out scored their xG by 4.89, a huge number suggesting they will begin to slow down in terms of scoring.
In terms of goals conceded Chesterfield’s defence is actually performing slightly worse than expected; they sit middle of the pack for goals conceded, 18, but they were only expected to let 14.51 in, suggesting they may see better defensive returns soon.
Paul Cook is probably the most high profile manager at the level, and the vast experience he has amassed has certainly paid off this season. He has played an attacking brand of football, switching between 4-4-2 and 4-3-3, utilising hood strength in depth in the forward areas. He’s also put together a midfield pairing in Ollie Banks and Darren Oldaker that looks like it could be the best in the league, a pair of passers who are imperious on their day.
Cook has come under criticism though for his reluctance to rotate his side, something which looks to have cost him in the last 3 games. Cook doesn’t like to change a winning side, but with games coming thick and fast in this league squad rotation is often essential.
As mentioned earlier, Chesterfield’s key men have been in midfield. The pair of Oldaker and Banks are top drawer, with the former completing 89.53% of his passes, 9th best in the league, and Banks completing 83.98%, 54th best. They completely control games from midfield, and add attacking threat too, with Oldaker in particular showing he has a huge future in the Football League.
Elsewhere the emergence of Jesurun Uchegbulam has been a joy to watch, a winger who plays with flair and freedom. A player who has been a surprise package this season.
A mention must also be given to Jeff King, who has arguably been the best right back in the league so far. King ranks 14th for crosses per 90, 4.47, 22nd for key passes, 6, and 14th for smart passes, 7. All of this whilst playing at right back in a back 4. He’s been superb.
Dagenham & Redbridge
The Daggers are the division's entertainers, and a side who are a nightmare to predict on a weekly basis. There have been 5 or more goals in each of their last 8 games, a period in which they scored 19 goals but let in 23 goals in that time too. Whilst it’s great value for money, it cannot be enjoyable if you are a Dagenham fan, especially when the statistical signs suggest things could get worse.
They’ve scored 23 goals this season, but only have an xG of 17.43, meaning they are out scoring what is expected by a lot. They have conceded 29 goals, the 3rd most in the league, but there are at least some good signs here, as their xG is lower at 24.61. Still, this is a high xG number, and is the 3rd highest in the league. Clearly the Daggers have a defensive issue, and their tactic of out scoring the opposition is fun for the neutrals, but doesn’t seem particularly sustainable.
Daggers boss Daryl McMahon is one of those rare managers that is backed unequivocally by the board despite the vast majority of the fan base calling for him to lose his job. It’s understandable from the fans point of view, as Dagenham have one of the biggest playing budgets in the league, but despite high investment currently sit in 11th place, which would mean they miss out on the playoffs yet again. And despite having one of the best front pairings in the league, McMahon seems unwilling to deviate from a system that he clearly doesn’t have the personnel for. The most bizarre example of this came against Notts County, where he opted to play 3 full backs at centre half. Even more bizarre is that he played a recognised central defender, Nikola Tavares, in central midfield, and it led to the Daggers conceding 5 on the day. They’ve conceded 4 or more on 5 occasions, so McMahon has to get them playing better defensively.
Perhaps unsurprisingly the stars of the show at Dagenham are strikers Junior Morias, Josh Walker and Paul McCallum. The trio have 15 goals between them, and without them you’d have to question where Dagenham would be in the league. All 3 rank in the top 36 players in terms of xG, so they are certainly getting the chances, which for the most part they are taking.
It’s at the other end of the pitch Dagenham struggle, something which may have been worse had it not been for keeper Elliot Justham. Justham has made 42 saves, 7th highest in the league, so things may have been far worse without the 32 year old stopper.
Potentially the surprise package of the opening quarter, new boys Dorking find themselves in 15th, despite conceding 30 goals, joint 2nd worst in the league. However, the Wanderers have only been outscored by 5 teams, 4 of which are inside the playoffs, so going forward at least they are particularly strong.
The signs are very mixed for Dorking going forward. They are conceding more than expected, 30 goals from an xG against of 26.41, suggesting they’ve been unlucky at the back, but they have scored 24, from an xG of 20.42, meaning that whilst they may get better defensively they should also expect a drop off in attack.
Manager, owner and just about everything else, Marc White has acquitted himself brilliantly for his first time at this level. Not only has he come across as extremely likeable, giving large amount of money to away supporters, but he’s also stuck to the tactical philosophy that has got Dorking this far in such a short period; attack attack attack. They currently rank 2nd for possession, with 58.6%, a huge number, showing his side are capable of dominating the ball. They’ve also scored a lot of goals, a testament to White’s playing style. The next challenge he faces is stopping them conceding so many.
The key man at Dorking so far is undoubtedly James McShane, an attacking midfielder who has scored 10 goals, the 3rd highest in the league. He has a very impressive goal conversion rate of 34.48%, and is also a capable provider, being accurate with 60% of his crosses.
At the other end of the pitch Dan Lincoln has been nothing short of brilliant since he returned to the side, and had he played in every game this season not only would Dorking be higher up but he would have an even stronger case for being keeper of the season so far. He has a massive save percentage of 80%, the 2nd highest in the league, and he has prevented 1.96 goals, the 5th highest, despite playing less minutes than the other keepers near the top. Clearly he is a quality keeper, and he is one to watch in the next quarter.
Eastleigh are the closest thing in the league to ‘average’. They’ve won 5, drawn 4, lost 4, and scored 15 and let in 15, showing how even everything is across the board. They are scoring slightly less than expected, with an xG of 17.17, and also conceding more than expected, with an xG against of 12.13, suggesting that their fortunes should see a slight upturn in the next quarter. In fact, they actually have the 2nd lowest xG against in the league, a testament to the work they’ve done defensively this season. They currently sit 10th, and the stats suggest they will be in and around mid table all season, but a win over title contenders will give them confidence of potentially sneaking into the playoffs.
47 year old Lee Bradbury has done a good job since coming in as Eastleigh boss, and has looked to combine a solid defence with flair players in midfield. Despite having technical midfielders such as Jake Hesketh and Charlie Carter, Eastleigh only keep 45.6% of possession, and they play the 6th fewest passes in the league. However, they aren’t necessarily a long ball side; they only rank 12th for long passes, but this does make up 20.37% of their passes. Despite having very little of the ball they do get a lot of shots away; they rank 8th for shots, showing their game is all about being as efficient as possible.
One standout defender for Eastleigh this season has been Corey Panter, a 21 year old left footed defender who can play either at left back or as a central defender. He’s won 69.44% of his defensive duels, and his versatility has been vital this campaign. He also provides 2.62 shot assists per 90, more than any player in the entire league, showing his class going forward.
On the other side of defence Brennan Camp has been equally as impressive, if not more so, grabbing the winner against Chesterfield last time out. Camp wins slightly less of his defensive duels than Corey Panter, 65.71%, but he does complete 10.37 successful defensive actions per 90, a huge amount. In midfield Charlie Carter has been the star, scoring 2 and assisting another. Despite playing just 21.55 passes per 90, Carter attempts 0.7 through passes per 90, and a further 0.7 deep completions per 90. He’s also involved in 2.39 successful attacking actions per 90, so he’s certainly having a good season in attacking midfield.
For a newly promoted side who have lost their two main strikers, Gateshead aren’t doing too badly. They currently sit 19th in the league, and whilst they have only lost 5 games, they’ve only won 2, meaning they are above the relegation places on goal difference alone. They’ve drawn 6 games, a total only beaten by Yeovil, and if Gateshead are to ensure safety this season they’re going to have to turn some of those draws into wins.
Gateshead have scored 16, and have an xG of 15.36, and conceded 20, with an xG against of 15.83, suggesting their attacking output is spot on, but defensively they have been unlucky. It’s good news for the Heed, who will still look to play attacking football, but have understandably taken time to adjust to the level. Expect entertaining football to continue up North.
38 year old Mike Williamson is one of the highest rated young coaches at this level, and for good reason. The former Premier League defender plays an attacking brand of football which got the Heed promoted with 99 goals last season, a style he will not compromise on this season. It’s seen them get some pretty impressive results too; they almost beat league leaders Notts County, before falling to a late own goal equaliser, and they also held Boreham Wood to a 1-1 draw too.
Williamson had to deal with losing top scorer Macaulay Langstaff, but he’s certainly made the right steps i