National League Q2 Report
Following on from our popular National League Q1 report we find ourselves at the halfway point in what is becoming a quite fascinating season.
Just like our Q1 report we will cast a data led eye over every club, the managers and the players, present our updated 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.
Like last time, 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, just to remind you 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 missed out in our Q1 report could make an appearance in this report.
Finally, all the team data visualisations include every league game played up to and including 26th December 2022 and has been presented per 90 minutes. The reason for this is because at this point clubs have played differing amounts of games so to use total figures would be a misrepresentation of performance when use in comparison.
Let's get started!
Since our Q1 report Aldershot have changed managers, with Mark Molesley shown the door. Ross McNeilly initially took charge on an interim basis, but that was made permanent after a string of good results. In our Q1 Report we wrote that ‘the general consensus around the league is that Aldershot’s performances have actually been better than their results’ and under new boss McNeilly it appears they are finally getting the points to match their performances. After 13 games Aldershot were rock bottom with just 1 win, but since then the turnaround has been astounding. They’ve won 5 of their 9 games since Molesley’s departure, This has seen them rise up to 18th in the table, 6 points above safety at the time of writing.
As mentioned, new boss Ross McNeilly has been instrumental in Aldershot’s improvement in form. He has got them playing with confidence, and they aren’t afraid to go at teams. It’s seen results such as a 3-0 win away at Dorking, where the league leaders actually lost, and a 2-0 win over high flying Southend, both unexpected results. For the most part he has also shored up the defence, keeping 4 clean sheets in those 9 games. However, his side are still sometimes prone to mistakes, as shown by a 6-1 away hammering at relegation threatened Torquay. This could be put down as a freak result though, as McNeilly has got the best out of his players. They see more of the ball (45.1% in Q2 compared to 42.6% in Q1) and overall look a much stronger outfit.
Young attacker Tommy Willard is starting to come good on the expectations many had at the start of the season, scoring 4 goals in 4 consecutive games in October and November. Willard has been synonymous with Aldershot’s turnaround, as he too had a poor start to the season. The 22 year old is a direct dribbler, one with an eye for goal, and he will be targeting double figures come the end of the season.
Loan keeper Luca Ashby-Hammon continues to acquit himself well, with 80 saves to his name so far this season, 5th most in the league. Despite Aldershot’s upturn in form Ashby-Hammond is still kept busy in goal, and his acrobatic saving style has earned him plaudits so far this term.
Left back Ollie Harfield has also had an excellent season, and the 24 year old has proven to be a creative outlet from full back. Harfield has 3rd highest xA total with 5.94, showing the quality of his passing. He only ranks behind Ruben Rodrigues of Notts and Luke Young of Wrexham, showing the esteemed company he finds himself in. Harfield is able to get up and down the flanks with regularity, and he wins a respectable 59.72% of his defensive duels, showing his capability at both ends of the pitch.
A side that often flatter to deceive, Phil Parkinson’s men continue to play good football, and aren’t a million miles away from a playoff challenge. The Robins remain in the bottom half, 2 places better off than in Q1, but as in the first half of the season their league positioning just doesn’t do justice to their performances. They rank 8th for average possession, 51.9%, 5th for passes and 3rd for progressive runs. Most impressively they have the 3rd highest xG total, behind only Notts and Wrexham, showing how good they have been going forward. Their commitment to their attractive playing style is admirable, and for the most part has generated good results.
Phil Parkinson (not to be confused with the Wrexham manager of the same name) turned down high profile jobs in the summer in order to continue to oversee Alty’s transition to full time. So far the jury is out as to whether he made the right decision, but from an Altrincham point of view they couldn’t be happier. In Parkinson they have one of the brightest young coaches at this level, one who is already a specialist in promotion. Parkinson has his side playing possession based football, it’s easy on the eye, which gives him breathing space when the results don’t go his way. A top coach, there’s no doubt that he is the right man for the job.
In the final third Altrincham’s standout performer is undoubtedly Ryan Colclough. He leads the way across the whole league in terms of shots and dribbles, showing how key he is to Alty’s attack. His attacking output has been extremely high too; he has 12 goal contributions this season, 8th most in the league and more than any Altrincham player. This includes 6 goals and 6 assists, showing both his effectiveness in creating chances, but his ability to take them too. There’s good reason that Colclough has plied most of his trade in higher divisions, and there’s no doubt he has the ability to do that again.
The loan capture of Elliot Newby has proven to be somewhat of a revelation. In the 6 games since his arrival on loan from Stockport Newby has scored 4 and assisted a further 2, an incredible return from a midfielder. Altrincham are unbeaten in 6, and Newby has started all of these games, showing the influence he has had since his arrival. Versatile, Newby has played both out on the right but also through the centre, and his goal contributions as well as attacking threat in general make him one of the players to look out for in the second half of the season. Unfortunately for Robins fans Newby has been recalled by Stockport ahead of a permanent move in January, so he will be a big miss.
Another loanee who has caught the eye at Altrincham is Chris Conn-Clarke. The 21 year old Fleetwood midfielder is another who has been versatile for the Robins, with the young midfielder showing the ability to operate in the middle or out wide. He’s also another loan midfielder who has an eye for goal, with 5 goals and 2 assists to his name so far this season. An exciting young talent, Conn-Clarke loves to have the ball at his feet, driving at opponents, as underlined by his 115 dribbles, 7th most in the whole league. He stretches defences, and his youth and exuberance bring another element to Altrincham’s side.
In the defensive third Altrincham have one of the finest defenders in the league in 27 year old Toby Mullarkey. The English defender has shown why he was the subject of big money bids in the summer, and he has been a crucial part of their side this season. A defender who can do it all, Mullarkey is equally comfortable in possession as he is defending on the back foot. Blessed with excellent technique, Mullarkey has a great range of passing, allowing him to play 8.18 progressive passes per 90. Mullarkey is also strong in 1 on 1 defensive duels, winning 66.67%.
The Bees were surprise early leaders in the National League, but after 6 games it looked like they had fallen back to earth, and hard. They went on a 5 game winless run, during which time they were on the wrong end of a 7-5 and 5-4 defeat. Clearly they had no issue scoring the goals, but keeping them out was a big issue. So the fact that Barnet now sit in 5th place, with a game in hand on 4th, is a testament to the great work that Dean Brennan and his team have done. They have done so by addressing the defensive issues. Since their 7-5 loss away to Wrexham they have conceded just 7 goals in 9 league games. They’ve also kept 4 back to back clean sheets in that time, showing what a turnaround it has been at the back for the Bees. They have also combined this with a strong FA Cup run, going out in the 2nd Round due to a narrow 1-0 away defeat to League One Accrington Stanley. The signs are clearly positive for Brennan and co, as Barnet have emerged as genuine playoff contenders.
Irishman Dean Brennan can be a polarising character, with his direct interviewing style, but there’s no doubt over the fine job he is doing in London. Brennan has cultivated a hard working side full of individuals with real quality. In recent weeks they have shown a real resoluteness, keeping 4 clean sheets on the spin. A large part of this has been down to Brennan’s decision to switch to a back 5 system, one he made off the back of conceding 7 away at Wrexham. It sees far more defensive solidity, due to the increased numbers they have back, and it allows Brennan to field the talented front players he has at his disposal. This usually involves having 2 technical players in behind big striker Nicke Kabamba, and to this end Brennan has got his tactics spot on. However, in terms of xG the reading isn’t as comfortable for Barnet fans.
Their xG for this season is only 28.05, 7th lowest in the league. This means they have an over performance of 13.95, something which simply isn’t sustainable. This would suggest that Barnet will slow their scoring down over the second half of the season, something which may have already begun to happen, with the Bees scoring 9 in their last 6, a downturn from the 14 in the 4 games before that. The xG against is much better reading for Barnet though, as they are only expected to have conceded 33.14 goals, 5.86 less than their actual total of 39. This suggests they will begin to concede less, and with 4 clean sheets on the bounce there is clear evidence to suggest this will be the case.
Laurie Walker leads the way for saves so far this season, and the 33 year old stopper has been excellent between the sticks for Barnet. Walker has kept 4 clean sheets on the spin, making a whole host of impressive saves, and he’s certainly been a key player for the Bees this term. There could even be an argument that Walker has been the best keeper in the whole division in 22/23, such are the level of his performances. If he maintains his shot stopping in the second half of the season there is a very good chance Barnet will be in the playoffs.
Big forward Nicke Kabamba continues to have an excellent season, and he is perhaps the best example of Dean Brennan’s good work this season. Kabamba had not hit double figures since 16/17, and he had never scored more than 7 in a season at this level. So the fact Kabamba already has 11 goals to his name at the halfway mark suggests this could be the best season of his career. At 6ft3 Kabamba is a rangy forward, but one that combines this with sublime skill and deft finishes. Kabamba has hit the target with 39.13% of his strikes, a decent return.
Barnet suffered a blow when they lost young starlet Ephron Mason-Clark to League One Peterborough, but as part of the deal 22 year old attacker Idris Kanu came the opposite way on loan. Kanu’s arrival transpired to be a master stroke, as the Sierra Leone international not only kickstarted his season but Barnet’s too. A powerful runner, at 6ft Kanu has size but also speed, and he puts it all together to present a frightening prospect for National League defenders. He’s scored 4 goals in 13 games, including an absolute stunner against Wrexham, and he could be crucial in securing a playoff berth.
Another side that are firmly in the playoff hunt are Boreham Wood, a side that sit just 2 points outside the top 7. For the Wood the FA Cup run they are currently on is bound to be exciting, but it may potentially have been detrimental to their league efforts, as they have dropped 7 places since our Q1 report. The Wood are still defensively solid, conceding just 23 goals, joint 4th best in the league, but in front of goal they have been poor. They’ve scored just 9 in their last 10 games, which has led to plenty of narrow results. If they are to steal a playoff place they need to be more ruthless in front of goal. They also need to create more chances too; they rank 13th for xG, so they simply need to be better in the final third if they are to be in the playoffs come the end of the season.
Wood boss Luke Garrard remains one of the brightest young coaches in non-league, and it appeared he had looked to become more expansive in the final third. However, it seems he has reverted to type, which isn’t necessarily a criticism, keeping his side as solid as ever defensively. The Wood have played the 7th most long passes, emphasising their direct style, but as discussed his men have been gun shy. A large part of this may be due to taking his side to the FA Cup 3rd Round, where they will have the chance to take their 2nd League One scalp, when they host Accrington Stanley. Garrard is an astute enough coach to keep Boreham Wood in the playoff race, and if he does you have to back the young coach to take them over the line when it matters.
As we mentioned in our Q1 report, Lee Ndlovu remains Boreham Wood’s main threat in the final third. The Zimbabwean forward scores 0.49 goals per 90, the same rate as Wrexham’s Ollie Palmer, joint 21st in the league. He’s the Wood’s top scorer with 7 in 18, including a brace against Oldham which stopped Boreham Wood’s goalless streak of 3 league games. His return from injury could kickstart the Wood’s season as he will spearhead their attack in the second half of the season.
Femi Ilesanmi has shown his versatility in defence this season, operating as both a wide centre half in the back 3 or as a left wing back. He has won 70% of his defensive duels, so he’s been tough to get past so far this term. In fact, most of Boreham Wood’s defenders rank highly in terms of defensive success rate, which comes as no surprise. David Stephens has won 76.56% of his defensive duels, 16th best in the league, and Jamal Fyfield has won 73.02%, 37th best. Fyfield has also popped up with some important goals, a winner away at Torquay and an equaliser at home to York.
In goal Nathan Ashmore continues to show why he could be considered the best keeper in the league. The large shot stopper has shown his agility this season, pulling off saves which shouldn’t be possible for a man his size. He has been instrumental in the Wood having the 3rd best defensive record, making 66 saves along the way this season, 10th most in the league.
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.
Andy Woodman’s physical Bromley side have potentially been the biggest disappointment at the halfway stage, despite the playoff hopefuls sitting 8th in the table. Bromley would have been looking to build on a historic 21/22 campaign, where they lifted the FA Trophy, but their season seems to have stagnated somewhat. Bromley are one of only 3 sides who have gone to league leaders Notts and gotten a point, but they are now on a run of just 2 wins in 10 games, a run that started all the way back on the 8th October. And despite playing with a back 3, it would appear their main issue is keeping the ball out. They’ve conceded 16 goals in 9 games, at a rate of just under 2 a game, so they simply have to be stronger when defending, something they managed to do last time out at Southend.
This isn’t something that is often said about Bromley, who are renowned for their physical approach to the game, but it feels like this season their opponents seem to have worked them out. It’s not all doom and gloom though. Bromley sit just outside the playoffs on goal difference, showing just how tight the league is. So while they are leaking a few too many goals, a couple more good results would see them right back in the playoff mix. You can’t write Woodman’s side off, but they’d have hoped they would be in a better position at this point in the season.
Over the summer Woodman was linked with several jobs, but he decided against moving away in favour of taking Bromley on that extra step. Whilst he hasn’t quite managed that yet, he has shown flashes of brilliance. He has used his links with clubs he coached at, namely Arsenal and Crystal Palace, well, bringing in loan players who have performed, showing his strength in recruitment. He’s also stuck with his 5 at the back system, showing loyalty to players who haven’t necessarily performed this season. In some instances this faith has been repaid, with Michael Cheek netting 3 in his last 5 matches, more than he had managed across the rest of the season combined. Woodman is a good coach, one that is likeable, and one that could get this group working. If he does, he might just drag them into the playoffs.
One of Bromley’s unsung heroes is midfielder James Vennings. The 22 year old has been an ever present this season, playing 1,834 minutes, the only player under 30 to do so for Bromley. He adds energy and robustness to the midfield, and his game is extremely well rounded. He mixes good passing range with energetic runs, and he also adds defensive solidity too. He’s completed 87.5% of his passes this season, 13th most in the league. He also wins 60.34% of his defensive duels, a more than decent return for a central midfielder. Extremely well rounded, Vennings adds some much needed balance to Bromley’s side.