The third and final part of the Times Series' Conference preview, scrutinising those expected to struggle

Picture: Action Images

Picture: Action Images

First published in Sport
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The final part of the Times Series’ Conference preview examines the credentials of those sides who could well find themselves battling to avoid the drop this season.

Conference North champions AFC Telford United narrowly beat North Ferriby United to the title last year under the guidance of Liam Watson, who has previously managed Southport at this level.

Relegated miserably in 2013, the Bucks will be keen to put on a better showing than last time they were at this level, when they finished bottom of the pile with just seven league wins.

The losses of experienced goalkeeper Ryan Young and the club’s longest-serving player, Matty McGinn, due to work commitments will not have helped the cause.

However, the arrival of Godfrey Poku from Mansfield Town is not a bad start; the 24-year-old having plenty of experience at this level following spells with Luton Town, Southport and Mansfield.

Creative midfielder Jordan Deacy – who was on trial at League Two Hartlepool United – has also signed from Bradford Park Avenue.

The experience of former Accrington Stanley man Andy Todd on a player/coach deal will be important too.

Altrincham are another of the promoted sides, arriving through the Conference North play-offs after beating Guisley 2-1 in the final.

Lee Sinnott has been quick to quash suggestions his side will aim for fifth bottom or 50 points, labelling those target as being “too negative”.

Former Rochdale defender Peter Cavanagh has been tempted to join the Conference newboys and will bring a wealth of experience, whilst striker Steven Gillespie once commanded a £400,000 transfer fee when joining Colchester United.

If the 29-year-old can replicate the form he showed in League One with Colchester United or with Cheltenham Town in League Two, his addition could be huge.

Former Fleetwood Town winger Ryan Crowther – once of Liverpool – has also signed following a brief stay at Halifax Town and will add some pace and flair in the wide areas.

Dartford are effectively on ‘borrowed time’ after being granted a reprieve from relegation over the summer are favourites for the drop this time around.

Tony Burman’s side have brought former Bee, Harry Crawford, back to the club where the 22-year-old forward has displayed the best form of his career to date.

Thirteen goals in 17 starts tempted Barnet to sign the Watford-born striker, who returned to Princes Park last season on loan.

Goalkeeper Jason Brown has Premier League and international experience as a former Welsh international but has not found regular game time since leaving Gillingham in 2006.

Winger Luke Daley has Football League experience, whilst forward Andy Pugh returns to Kent after loan spell at the club last term.

Dartford are favourites for a reason, though, and a handful of good additions will not be enough on its own.

Conference South play-off winners Dover Athletic also feature heavily in the relegation betting.

Forward Jeff Goulding made a superb start to last season with seven goals in four games but the goals dried up and the former Cheltenham striker slipped down the pecking order.

The 30-year-old has since been transfer listed after failing to commit to extra training and travel to away games due to work.

Manager Chris Kinnear has moved swiftly to replace Goulding, snapping up Stefan Payne.

The former Hornchurch forward netted 31 in 46 appearances last season and with Nathan Elder re-signing for another season, the new-boys will hope they have enough firepower to avoid the drop.

Jake Reid is another frontline addition, having scored four times during pre-season as a trialist. Whether the former Telford, Newport and Salisbury man can repeat that form when it matters, remains to be seen.

Former Barnet pair Nicky Deverdics and Barry Cogan both bring experience of playing at a higher level to The Crabble.

Having finished 15th last term, Macclesfield Town might feel aggrieved to be as short 6/5 for the drop.

Majority shareholder Amar Alkadhi has cleared the club’s debt and says the club is “sustainable” going forward but on the field, the signs are not as encouraging.

Scott Boden – scorer of 18 goals last term – has left for Halifax Town, Jack Mackreth has moved to Grimsby Town and defender Carl Martin has joined Conference South newcomers Wealdstone.

Player/coach Efe Sodje remains at Moss Rose after initially being released in the face of budgetary constraints.

Forward Wade Fairhurst has returned to the club and centre-back Luke Waterfall has joined on a month’s loan from Scunthorpe United. George Pilkington – formerly of Luton Town – is another new signing for John Askey’s revamped side.

Will they all gel in time?

Nuneaton Town exceeded expectations once more last season but have been raided by Wrexham and former boss Kevin Wilkin this summer, with top-scorer Louis Moult and winger Wesley York linking up with Wilkin at the Racecourse Ground.

Former Philippines Under-23 boss Brian Reid has used his contact book to bring former Sheffield United and Global full-back Ben Starosta to the club, whilst Reice Charles-Cook – formerly of Arsenal – has penned a loan move from Coventry City.

With the defence bolstered, Reid will be hoping former Celtic and Middlesbrough striker Ben Hutchinson and Forest Green Rovers loanee, Magno Vieira, fill the Moult-sized hole in the Boro forward line.

Brazilian Vieira scored twice in 15 outings for Green last season, whilst Hutchinson has never fulfilled the promise which saw him move to Celtic Park as a youngster and scored twice in 18 appearances for Mansfield Town in League Two last season.

The 2014/15 campaign could be the year Nuneaton regress after continued improvement.

Following the departure of John Coleman after just five months at the helm, Southport have brought the experienced Martin Foyle in to spearhead the new season.

The former Port Vale boss parted company with Hereford United in March, amid the growing financial crisis at Edgar Street.

After finishing 18th last term, the Sandgrounders’ cause has not been helped by the departures of Karl Ledsham (Lincoln City) and Scott Brown (Grimsby Town). However, experienced goal-getter Richard Brodie has joined following his release by Gateshead.

Brodie, 27, worked with Foyle at former club York City, where he enjoyed the best spell of his career to date, netting 54 times in 98 league starts. If the pair can re-kindle the former Fleetwood man’s goal-scoring touch, another season of mid-table stability could beckon.

Second favourites for the drop, Welling United have been hamstrung by the departure of last season’s top scorer, Ross Lafayette, to Luton Town.

Toby Ajala has also been snared by a bigger side, joining Torquay United as the Gulls bid for an instant return to the Football League.

Eighteen-year-old striker Charlie Penny has been recruited by Wings boss Jamie Day from Millwall but the former Wealdstone loanee does not come with the pedigree of Lafayette.

Defender Callum McNaughton, who started out at West Ham United, joins from Bishop’s Stortford, whilst Kieron St Amie has never settled after leaving Queens Park Rangers but will offer creativity if given the chance.

Centre-back Zac Fagan joins from Arsenal but is another untried youngster.

To read part one, click here. To read part two, click here.

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