The pros of professionalism
We’ll be glancing at the situation in the regional divisions of the Conference during this season so by way of introduction we examine the runners and riders in the Blue Square Bet South…
BLUE SQUARE BET SOUTH
As the Blue Square Bet Premier has swiftly become a predominantly professional division, that professionalism has dripped down to the tiers below. Wary of the plights of part-time sides in non-league’s top tier, clubs have sought to turn full-time first in a bid to hit the ground running. Kettering were an unusual case as they employed a professional squad on their way to the 2007/08 north title. They were able to lure players from the league above, selling the promise of a forward-thinking project.
And while the Poppies eventually took one financial risk too many, that hasn’t stopped others following in their footsteps. This season Dover Athletic and Eastleigh are the sides offering the attractive deals much to the chagrin of their Blue Square Bet Premier rivals.
Calum Willock opted to drop down from Ebbsfleet to join Nicky Forster’s revolution at Dover while Braintree’s Jai Reason has moved to Eastleigh. Both have squads which would not look out of place a level above.
Athletic are a best of 6/1 for the title (Coral) while the Hampshire outfit can be backed at 13/2 with the same bookmaker.
Meanwhile, Eastbourne Borough’s adjustments have been smaller in scale but the Sports’ introduction of day-time training could well prove to be a valuable move in the right direction. The Sussex club’s last professional dalliance ended in disaster – their sole full-time player was homesick and rarely selected – but now under new management, we fancy Boro to move in the right direction in 2012/13.
After more than a decade under Garry Wilson the Sports had begun to stagnate, slipping out of non-league’s top tier and into relegation trouble in the south division. While we reckon Wilson and assistant Nick Greenwood ought to have been dispensed with sooner, the club’s subsequent appointment of former Salisbury boss Tommy Widdrington could prove to be a masterstroke. Now assisted by Alan Kimble, who enjoyed a successful partnership with Liam Daish at Ebbsfleet, Boro have the ideal team to take them forward.
Widdrington steadied the ship last term, eventually guiding his new charges to safety but he has since freshened up the squad, releasing the ageing legs of Ben Austin and Matt Crabb, while bringing in vastly experienced keeper Danny Potter as well as defender Anwar Uddin.
The manager enjoyed a terrific spell in charge of Salisbury and we’d be prepared to take a punt on Widdrington guiding Boro back into the upper reaches this term. At 20/1 for promotion and 33/1 for the title, we fancy them to surprise a few in 2012/13.
Best of the rest
After losing out in the play-off final to neighbours Dartford last term Welling are well placed to mount another challenge while the division’s nearly-men Chelmsford should make their customary bid for a top-five spot under the ever-reliable Glenn Pennyfather.
Season of struggle
Of the relegated sides Bath appear to be the most likely to adjust to life back in the south division. The Romans are a well-run outfit and the arrival of former Cheltenham midfielder Josh Low is a coup for Adie Britton. However, Hayes & Yeading are a club in no man’s land, with the redevelopment of their ground not yet complete and a squad in tatters after a topsy-turvy year in the Blue Square Bet Premier. Nas Bashir has a tough job on his hands to abate the slide and establish a measure of stability.
For more on the regional divisions read our early preview of the Blue Square Bet North.
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