National League Q3 Report
So here we are again for our third quarterly report of this remarkable National League season.
As with our previous quarterly reports we will cast a data led eye over every club, the managers and the players, present our updated NL team of the quarter and look ahead to the final run in.
A few bits of housekeeping. Firstly, as most of you might know 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 680 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 previous reports could make an appearance in this report.
Thirdly, all the team data visualisations include every league game played up to and including Tuesday 28 February 2023 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 used in comparison.
Finally, this report has been compiled in partnership with Analysts Bar, an organisation very close to our hearts which specialises in data led football analysis and player profiling, talent ID and analytical reporting.
Right, now that's out of the way let's get started!
No side has played more than Aldershot’s 35, so while they sit 6 points above the drop they aren’t safe just yet. The Shots have a big 11 games ahead, with their sole focus remaining in the division. Interestingly, despite playing the most games in the league Aldershot have had the fewest draws of any side, 5. Their results have been decisive, and the Shots are one of the more inconsistent sides in the league. They looked to be putting a run together recently, almost taking points off of Wrexham, but 3 losses on the spin leaves them looking over their shoulder once again.
It can’t be denied that Ross McNeilly has made a big impact. When he took over Aldershot looked almost doomed, but he has managed to turn them round, making them harder to beat in the process. The form of Inih Effiong picked up dramatically after his arrival, with the striker reaching 14 goals before his departure. McNeilly has continued the good work we discussed in our Q2 Report, and while God influence has waned somewhat his appointment must still be considered one of the smarter ones this season.
As mentioned, Aldershot recently let go their top scorer Inih Effiong, who joined Dagenham for an undisclosed fee. They brought in Jake Hutchinson on loan from Colchester, and the 20 year old has shown he has real potential . 3 goals in 9 games, and a further assist, shows how crucial Hutchinson will be in Aldershot’s run in. He’s athletic, strong, and carries their most significant goal threat.
Ollie Harfield continues his hood form since our Q2 Report. Once again he ranks 3rd for Expected Assists (xA), showing the quality of his passes. He marauds forwards from left back and provides excellent deliveries into the box, as he showcased against Wrexham. This is particularly impressive when you consider he plays in a back 4. He had 7 assists to his name this season, more than any other Aldershot player and the highest tally of any defender in the National League. Harfield is just 25, so may have more suitors in the summer, but he will be key at both ends of the pitch for Aldershot.
Central defender Tyler Cordner has been a real leader for the Shots, and with 11 games remaining he will need to continue to display these characteristics. A natural right footer who actually plays on the left side of the CB pairing, the 24 year old is strong, reads the game well and can be dominant in the air. He has 5 goals in 33 appearances for the Shots, meaning he is currently their 2nd top scorer despite being a defender. He’s not just a threat going forwards, and coupled with his strong defensive organisation he is a quality defender too. He has won 66.48% of his defensive duels, and is sure to be a key performer for the remainder of the season.
No side lost more key players over the winter than Altrincham. All 4 of the key players we mentioned in our Q2 Report, Colclough, Newby, Conn-Clarke and Mullarkey, departed the club, leaving boss Phil Parkinson with a mid season re build. We also waxed lyrical last time about Altrincham’s attractive style, and how their league position doesn’t reflect what a strong side they are, but since then there have certainly been signs of progress. For the 2nd Report in a row Altrincham are in a better position than last time, continually rising up the table with a late playoff bid. They sit just 7 points outside those places, and with 3 straight wins they have the form to make one of those positions their own. Quietly going about their business, Alty are a team to watch in Q4.
Promotion specialist Phil Parkinson may have yet another one in his sights, and while nobody is expecting them to actually go up, a playoff berth seems entirely possible. Parkinson deserves the bulk of that credit, and the work he continues to do on and off the pitch is excellent. Altrincham have continued with their free flowing attacking football, with results starting to match their attractive style. They continue to be ranked in the top 10 for possession, 9th, rank 5th for shots and 2nd for dribbles. They are an attacking side. Not only has he improved things on the pitch, his recruitment skills have been put to the test, one he has passed with flying colours. Parkinson utilised the loan marked superbly, and even used some of the funds recouped for his assets to sign a long term striking option. When you also consider he continues to oversee Altrincham’s transition to the full time model the job Parkinson has done is nothing short of remarkable.
£10,000 of the fees recouped for departing players was reinvested in 25 year old striker Regan Linney, a deal which looks to be one of the finest pieces of business this season. Linney was already on 20 goals before he signed for Alty, with the striker tearing it up 2 divisions below for FC United of Manchester. Linney has made the step up look easy, with 3 goals in his first 5 games helping Altrincham embark on their most recent good run. He has natural goalscoring instructs, clever movement and has generally been impressive whenever he has played. He will be instrumental in the remainder of the season, and will be looking to fire Altrincham further up the table.
Another January addition that has impressed immensely is 22 year old attacking midfielder Tyrese Sinclair. Sinclair is the latest of Parkinson’s loan successes, after he joined from Rochdale last month. Rochdale are currently rooted to the foot of the EFL, and Sinclair’s fine form certainly has several of their fans wondering why he was loaned out. An attacking midfielder with real flair, Sinclair is a confident dribbler and looks to be flourishing after finally being used in his more comfortable central attacking midfield role. He interchanges with Manchester United youngster Max Oyedele, who has also been impressive since his arrival. Sinclair has shown a real eye for goal too, with 4 goals in 5 games highlighting his fine form. He currently has the best goal ratio in the division, and if he continues his form there’s no reason Altrincham can’t push for that playoff spot.
Central midfielder Josh Lundstram is one of the few remaining Altrincham players that have performed since the start of the season. The 24 year old joined in the summer, bringing with him a wealth of EFL experience, and it’s shown in his calm and measured performances. Taking up a slightly deeper role than first anticipated, Lundstram is the heartbeat of Alty’s side, a key player in their build up play. He’s shown versatility in recent weeks, operating as a makeshift right back, another testament to his ability as a footballer. He has 3 goals in 34 appearances, and is an ever present for Altrincham. He’s played the most minutes of any Alty player, and features in the top 10 in the league for minutes played. A key player and likely to have significant influence as the season progresses.
When we first pencilled in our section for the Bees we were going to wax lyrical about them and the job Dean Brennan has done. While we still will to a certain extent, serious concerns are starting to grown at the Hive, with defensive cracks beginning to show. But first, the positives. Barnet have risen one place since our last report, and should they win their games in hand they would go 3 points off 3rd, a position they are more than deserving of.
The transformation of Barnet, especially defensively, has been nothing short of remarkable. They’ve slipped recently, conceding 14 in 5 games, but before that they had only let in 5 from their previous 11 encounters, a quite staggering record. Barnet are real playoff contenders, but they’d struggle when their usual personnel is unavailable. The lack of defensive depth may well cost them, as they fell to a shock 3-1 defeat last time out. Injuries at the back got even worse as first choice keeper Laurie Walker went down in the warm up, and while it’s still in Barnet’s hands there are vulnerabilities there. It’s going to be a massive 13 games for the Bees, and a real test of Dean Brennan’s squad management skills. He may also be called into action in the transfer marker, where he’s shown this season he is excellent.
There’s a very good chance Dean Brennan could be named the Manager of the Season when all 46 games have been played. That’s how good of a job he has done with the Bees. His tenacious, sometimes abrasive approach has worked wonders, making them hard to beat while getting the best out of their attacking talent. He’s been tactically flexible, using a number of different systems, and he’s shown throughout the season his tactical astuteness. He’s instilled belief in his players, as is shown by the fact they often come from behind to win. Surprisingly Barnet have far out performed their xG, and they currently rank 18th for thy statistic. If they are to maintain their form into the business part of the season they will need to be slightly more consistent in creating high xG chances, but with some of Brennan’s recent additions this shouldn’t be any problem.
The standout of these is striker Harry Smith, who joined on loan from Leyton Orient following the closure of the EFL transfer window. Brennan once again showed how shrewd he was, taking advantage of the fact he couldn’t sign for another EFL club, also beating several National League clubs to his services. The big striker has made an instant impact for the Bees, and since his arrival he has bagged 6 goals in 6 games in all competitions. He’s a real presence, and at 6ft5 he is a true aerial threat. He has that goalscoring touch, and could prove the difference between success and failure this season. The only slight reservation some might have over his arrival is that it has caused Barnet to change system. While his performances have been individually superb, the change to a front 2 has made Barnet a less effective outfit overall. A return to a single striker last time out seemed to work though, and Smith is an excellent forward to be leading their line into the latter stages.
Barnet’s other forward who has been producing plenty of goals is Nicke Kabamba. Since we highlighted him in our Q2 Report Kabamba has added 6 more goals to his tally, brining him to 17 for the season, joint 3rd highest in the league. Only Paul Mullin and Macaulay Langstaff have scored more goals, which is made even more impressive when you consider Kabamba has shifted out wide since Smith’s arrival. Kabamba was subject of serious transfer interest from Chesterfield, the same side he scored a hat trick against following the rumours. He has out performed his xG by 5.12, which perhaps explains why his goalscoring form has dried up a bit of late, but the tall forward will be raring to get back to his best, just in time for the playoffs.
Barnet have a wealth of talent at their disposal, but one that has stood out is 22 year old Ryan De Havilland. One of the brightest young players in the league, De Havilland has 7 goals from midfield, and has shown superb versatility, operating in a number of roles across the season. De Havilland has been instrumental in Dean Brennan’s tactical flexibility, with his ability to play both out wide, behind the striker or in the middle of the park allowing Brennan to change systems almost at will. When you couple this with the fact that De Havilland doesn’t really have a stronger foot, you can see how useful the young midfielder has been. He has come into form recently, which is quite the statement considering his performances have been strong all season. He scored Barnet’s only goal against Torquay and has 5 assists to his name already too.
The Wood were 2 points outside the playoffs in our last report, and they remain in the same position this time too. Since then they have conceded just 7 goals, bringing their total conceded to 30, the lowest in the whole division. They have only lost 7 games all season, with only the top 2 losing fewer. This has been the story of Boreham Wood under Luke Garrard for years now, but it doesn’t make it any less impressive. They build their success on solidity, being immensely tough to beat and having the physicality to upset any side on their day. The Wood are unbeaten in 10 games in the league, the 2nd longest streak in the whole division, showing just how strong their performance has been in this quarter. Their 5 at the back system continues to allow them to keep the opposition quiet, although potentially there is an element of luck about their defence, as they are currently over performing by 9.17 when compared to xG against.
37 year old Luke Garrard has once again showed why he’s a manager with such promise, getting his side organised once again in time for a playoff push. The promotion hopefuls had a magnificent FA Cup run too, for which Garrard must take a lot of credit. His credentials on the pitch have been known for some time now, but his strength in recruitment has really come to the fore this season. In the summer he looked to add flair and attacking threat, which his side sorely lacked, but it’s his additions of late which have really impressed. The permanent signings of centre backs Chris Bush and David Agbontohoma seem particularly shrewd, bringing in solid defensive reinforcements at a time when they were thin on the ground. Garrard has shown he is more than just a head coach, and if Boreham Wood are to get over the line Garrard is likely to be instrumental.
Last season Boreham Wood’s top scorer in the league was Scott Boden with 11 goals. This season Lee Ndlovu already has 9 goals to his name, clearly an impressive return for a side who don’t tend to score many goals. In fact, these 9 goals account for 23% of the Wood’s goals this season, highlighting how important he has been in attack. Ndlovu is a physical specimen, one who combines incredible strength and power to dominate defenders. He’s a real threat in the box, but has only added 2 goals in 8 games since our last report. He will need to be more consistent with his scoring if the Wood are to grab a playoff spot, but he is still their main goal threat, and you’d have to imagine he will be their top scorer come the end of the season.
Only 5 keepers have made more saves than Nathan Ashmore, and he continues to show why he is one of the finest keepers in the league. He’s also only bettered by 1 regular starter when it comes to goals conceded per 90, Sam Slocombe of Notts, as his reputation as an impenetrable last line of defence continues to grow. Ashmore has pulled off several save of the season contenders, made even more impressive when you consider the sheer size of the man. He’s commanding, organises his defence well and is a key part of Boreham Wood’s success. If they reach the playoffs you’d fancy Ashmore to come up big when needed, and ultimately his performances in goal could be the difference.
Central defender Will Evans has flown under the radar for the Wood, but he has been an ever present at the heart of the Wood’s defence. The 31 year old plays in the centre of the back 3, and from there he is able to organise the defence, as well as utilise his experience. Evans has played almost his entire career at this level, and he knows every trick in the book. This grit and experience runs throughout the squad, and in this sense Evans embodies Boreham Wood. Evans has won an impressive 69.19% of his defensive duels, and is certainly going to be a crucial part of their run in. He will have to lean on every bit of experience he has in order to make it happen.
Andy Woodman’s Bromley are one place worse off from our Q2 Report, but their aim to be in and around the playoffs seems to be one they are matching so far. They’ve drawn 6 of their last 11, so while they don’t get beaten a lot, they also don’t take home 3 points too often either. You get the sense that Woodman sets his side out to not fall to defeat, and to this point it has proven successful. As long as the Ravens have the playoffs within their sights they will be confident they will have one of the 6 spots come the end of the season. Their league position is probably reflective of their overall game too; they sit 9th in the table, and have scored the 11th most in the league and conceded the 9th fewest. Their xG against also puts them 9th best for chances conceded, while their xG for is slightly higher, with Bromley having the 8th highest xG rating so far this season. Bromley are a rare side in that their performances reflect their league position. In short, they aren’t far off the playoffs, and their final quarter could go either way. With just 3 points in it, a playoff berth is entirely possible, but equally so is a downturn in form. It’s a tough one to call.
Andy Woodman has remained consistent throughout the season, using his favoured 5 at the back system to good effect. He’s also dealt with injuries well at the back, and brought through young players who have made a first team impact, once again showcasing his ability to work with youth. Woodman also has an impressive contacts book, one which he has utilised to good effect. He has recruited well in the loan market, and he’s also maintained his side’s physical streak. Woodman is highly rated, and could well be highly sought after in the summer. The last quarter is as big for Woodman as it is for Bromley.
One youth player Woodman has brought through us right back Kellen Fisher, who has really caught the eye in his 14 appearances so far. At just 18 Fisher is one of the younger players in the league, and he has been an ever present since he came into the side against Southend. Possessing excellent energy levels, and maturity beyond his years, you get the sense when you watch Fisher that you are watching a future star. Immense credit must go to the young man for fitting in seamlessly, but also with Andy Woodman who has integrated the 18 year old superbly.
He’s received constant praise from us all season, but central defender Omar Sowumni has had to step up even more since Chris Bush departed for Boreham Wood. And step up he has, leading a strong back line with real leadership skills. On the rare occasion that Sowunmi is missing, through injury or suspension, he is the player they miss most. They look a totally different side when he isn’t playing, far more vulnerable, and this is testament to how important he is to the side. Sowunmi is an excellent defender, and at 6ft5 he’s a physical specimen. He uses these natural gifts at both ends of the pitch, with his aerial threat being well documented this season, although he has only added 2 goal to his tally in this quarter, bringing his total to 8.
Bromley are a side with plenty of young talents, and in midfield they have 2 of the brightest young midfielders in the league. James Vennings, 22, and Jude Arthurs, 21, are both supremely talented, and have controlled Bromley’s midfield this season. In recent weeks Vennings has played at the base of the midfield as a controller, while Arthurs plays to his right, his energetic running providing balance in the midfield. Vennings in particular is a real future star, and we believe he is one of the most well rounded midfielders in the league. He is in the top 20 for pass accuracy, 87.64%, and he has already played over 1000 passes. Vennings has a very bright future, and Bromley must utilise him while they can.
This is going to make very uncomfortable reading Spirites fans. Chesterfield were by far the biggest underachievers of the 3rd quarter, and from their last available 27 points they have earned just 3 points, through 3 draws. That means they are now winless in 9, a simply terrible record. This misery is compounded when you consider we wrote ‘A side that is momentarily overlooked in the context of the title race, 3rd place Chesterfield should be very happy with the first half of their season.’. That title charge is well and truly over, and it’s now more likely that they will drop out of the playoffs than lift the trophy come the end of the season. While it’s still in their hands performances must improve if they are to hang onto one of those spots. The bizarre thing is that Chesterfield haven’t been well beaten since they travelled to Barnet and lost 3-0. They’ve only conceded more than 2 in 1 other game in that period, against 3rd place Woking, but Chesterfield’s troubles are in front of goal. 4 goals in 8 games simply isn’t good enough, but they aren’t significantly underperforming their xG either. They are underperforming by just 2.77, suggesting that unless they start creating higher xG chances they won’t see a massive upturn in scoring form.
Serious questions are now being asked of Paul Cook, and for the first time in his second stint as Chesterfield manager the fan base is divided. Nobody can doubt his credentials, and he’s still one of, if not the most successful manager in the league. But nobody can deny that results have been slipping, and it’s up to Cook to turn it around. The main issue he seems to have faced this season is not knowing his best XI. He has almost too many options in midfield, leaving him to constantly change the midfield dynamics. The lack of settled selection in the middle has left them looking disjointed, and Cook must improve on that. The lack of out and out goalscorer won’t concern Cook, as his sides rarely do have one, but the fact remains that right back Jeff King remains their top scorer in the league. Cook has utilised the transfer market well though, and shouldn’t be too disheartened; his side still have the 3rd highest xG in the league, and the 4th lowest xG against, suggesting better times will come.
Midfield magician Armando Dobra has really kicked on in this quarter, with the 21 year old being a shining light in a fading side. He has scored 2 of Chesterfield’s last 3 goals, and his influence on games is beginning to grow. The young Albanian has 5 goals and 4 assists to his name so far this term, and on his day he looks unplayable. His low centre of gravity makes him a dangerous dribbler, and he also has an understanding of the game beyond his years. He is always a few steps ahead, and if Chesterfield are to kick on and confirm their place in the playoffs this man is likely to be at the heart of that.
Paul Cook recently added Ryan Colclough, who made it onto the bench for our Q2 Report Team of the Season so far. While he hasn’t quite shown those levels since his move to the Technique Stadium, he has shown flashes of promise, and his talent cannot be denied. Colclough has completed more dribbles than any other player, taken the 2nd most shots and provided the 2nd most key passes. In the final third he is an absolute juggernaut, and there are scarce few in the league who can match up to his levels. If Chesterfield can get the best out of Colclough, and get him anywhere near the levels he showed at Altrincham then they will have a frightening prospect on their hands. And they may need to do so if they are to reach the playoffs.
Right winger Liam Mandeville has been an ever present for Chesterfield this season, and despite his side dropping off he has remained consistent. He works incredibly hard, both on and off the ball, and nobody can doubt the effort Mandeville puts in. He’s also improved his output this season, scoring 5 goals so far, as many as he managed in 80 appearances across 2 National League seasons. On the right hand side he makes himself a real nuisance, and he’s certainly one of the Spireites more underrated players, if not in the division as a whole.
Dagenham & Redbridge
A lot has changed at Dagenham since our last report, not least in terms of their manager. In fact, at the time of writing they are still without a head coach, one of two sides in the division to be in that predicament. Daryl McMahon’s dismissal was far from shocking, but the timing of it was, less than 24 hours before they travelled to then league leaders Notts. It seemed to work a treat though, as they grabbed a 2-1 victory in one of the most bizarre games of the season. That result meant they had back to back wins for the first time since January 2nd, and they could begin looking up the table again. On the cusp of the playoff positions, Dagenham’s season is far from over, and in fact they are right in the mix. They’ve shown they can beat anyone on their day, but it’s consistency that’s let them down. They lost 2-1 to Maidenhead on Tuesday night, just 3 days after they won by the sae scoreline away to a side significantly higher up the table. If they can put more results er in consecutive fashion in the final quarter they may yet grab that elusive playoff spot.
Whoever does take over at Dagenham will be taking over a side that are perhaps in a flattering position. However, the facts remain that they are just 3 points off the playoffs with the final quarter approaching. They will be inheriting a talented squad, and they will have the tools at their disposal to make a real go at the playoffs. Expectations will be high though; McMahon failed to deliver the playoffs last season after being well backed, and that ultimately proved to be his undoing.
Left sided central defender Harry Phipps has had an excellent season, especially when you consider he has transitioned from midfield into the backline. Phipps draws on this experience of playing in midfield, allowing him to progress the ball due to how comfortable he is on it. He looks most comfortable on the left of a back 3, and Phipps is crucial in possession; only midfilder Matt Robinson averages more passes per 90. He’s a strong defender too, and has a real winning attitude. He’s not afraid to put his body on the line for his team, something he may need to do on more than one occasion if Dagenham are to reach the playoffs.
Dagenham added striker Inih Effiong to their ranks after the turn of the year, and the striker might just be the inspired signing they need. Effiong stole the headlines when he scored a superb winner on the break against his former side Notts, but that is just the tip of the excellent season he is having. Effiong has 17 goals to his name this season; only Langstaff and Mullin have more. He’s in red hot form, and can’t stop scoring. He had 14 at the time of his departure at Aldershot, and he’d have been forgiven if he had a slow start while bedding in. A brace on his debut suggested otherwise, and the big forward hasn’t looked back since. His goals will be absolutely vital in the run in, and it’s difficult to bet against a side with a striker in such good form.