Barnet reporter Tom Bodell continues his look at the 2014/15 Conference by running the rule over those whose season could go either way

Conference preview: middle of the pack

Conference preview: middle of the pack

First published in Sport by

The second part of the Times Series’ 2014/15 Conference preview looks at those sides whose seasons could feasibly go either way.

After relegation and the very real threat of going out of existence again, Aldershot Town head into a new season with cause for optimism for the first time in a while.

Last season’s top-scorer, 24-goal Brett Williams, remains with the Shots at the time of writing and any side containing a striker with the potential to net 20 or more is in with a fighting chance of enjoying a good season.

For Andy Scott, the ambition will surely be to avoid a relegation battle after last season’s 19th place finish.

Having exited administration early, the Shots have signed Forest Green Rovers midfielder, Kieron Forbes, on loan, as well as experienced former Portsmouth and Swindon Town goalkeeper, Phil Smith. Glenn Wilson adds versatility and plenty of know-how, having signed from Salisbury City.

In fact, only the departure of skipper Craig Stanley will be seen as a blow. With a small squad, Scott will need a little luck if the Shots are to improve on last season’s showing.

Eleventh last season, Alfreton Town have lost 18-goal top-scorer John Akinde to the Bees this summer but have also re-signed Dan Bradley following his brief sojourn south.

Anthony Howell has has re-signed after previously helping the Reds win promotion from the Conference North in 2011 but what Nicky Law’s side desperately need is a striker.

Paul Clayton is the only forward on the books and scored just seven league goals in 19 starts last term.

At the other end of the field, former Bournemouth and Burnley goalkeeper Jon Stewart has joined after two previous loan spells at North Street.

Thanks to the volume of games played towards the end of last season, overachievers Braintree Town narrowly missed out on the play-offs by finishing sixth.

Boss Alan Devonshire has been quick to swat away any talk of going one better this term, insisting survival is the Iron’s aim for the new campaign.

Charlie Strutton has returned on loan from Wimbledon after scoring six times in just seven league starts last term and if the 25-year-old can repeat that form over the duration of the season, the Essex outfit might be in for a good term.

Former Leicester City goalkeeper Carl Pentney has arrived, with Nathan McDonald moving out on loan to Enfield Town.

One notable departure has been that of defender Dean Wells, who has joined League Two side Stevenage for a fee of £25,000.

Granted a reprieve from relegation following the demise of Hereford United and the expulsion of Salisbury City at the end of the season, Chester will be keen to make the most of their second chance.

Experience has been the key theme with Steve Burr’s signings this summer – the former Kidderminster Harriers boss agreeing to stay on even after relegation.

Thirty-six-year-old Chris Iwelumo – a former Scotland international – has joined from St Johnstone, whilst Gareth Roberts – an ex-Wales international – has signed from League One Notts County and counts Derby and Doncaster amongst his former clubs.

John Rooney scored five in 25 league starts last term and the former New York Red Bulls forward will have to start living up to his famous surname soon because although a good hold-up player, Iwelumo has not scored double figures since 2010/11.

Centre-back Matty Brown has also returned on loan from Chesterfield, reportedly turning down the advances of Bristol Rovers to do so.

Lincoln City are entering their fourth year of Conference football, having failed miserably to even threaten a return to the Football League since their relegation in 2012.

Manager Gary Simpson has had a tough time improving his squad after last season’s 14th place finish but did manage to complete a triple capture at the end of last week.

Former Barnet winger Marcus Marshall has joined on loan from Morecambe after being transfer listed, whilst centre-back Hamza Bencherif – formerly of Nottingham Forest and Notts County – has joined from Algerian side JS Kabylie, who finished second in the Algerian top flight last season.

Ex-Blackpool and Dagenham and Redbridge defender Jake Caprice has also signed, whilst Nat Brown has inked a new deal at Sincil Bank, bringing a wealth of experience at 33 years of age.

With just professionals 16 on the books, more depth is undoubtedly a requirement at this stage.

After securing a ninth-place finish last term, Woking have also had a quiet summer, with Garry Hill’s focus on re-signing those who served him well last term.

Experienced defenders Adam Newton and John Nutter, striker Scott Rendell, former Leyton Orient defender Mike Cestor and skipper Mark Ricketts have also signed up for another season with the Cards.

Former Gillingham left-back Nutter has however only agreed non-contract terms owing to work commitments.

Goalkeeper Sam Beasant has joined Stevenage in League Two but will be ably replaced by former Barnet custodian Jake Cole between the sticks.

Woking have also raided beleaguered Salisbury City, picking up Theo Lewis and James Clarke.

Wrexham are another of the division’s great underachievers following their relegation in 2009.

A case of ‘Close but no cigar’ on several occasions since, 2014/15 could be the year for Kevin Wilkin’s side, if the summer signings pay off.

Nuneaton Town pair Wesley York and Louis Moult – scorer of 17 goals last term – have joined, whilst Connor Jennings arrives from Scunthorpe United having hit 14 in as many starts for Macclesfield Town during the first half of last season.

Former Walsall and Notts County centre-back Manny Smith has moved to the Racecourse Ground from League One, whilst Stoke City’s young goalkeeper, Daniel Bachmann, has joined on a six-month loan deal and is highly thought of at The Potteries.

Stephen Wright and David Artell have both moved on at the end of the season but only centre-back Artell was involved regularly last term.

However versatile former Peterborough United man Dean Keates, former Shrew Neil Ashton and ex-Bury forward Andy Bishop all remain at the club, so experience will not be a problem.

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