Altrincham v Maidstone
Altrincham to win – 11/10
Altrincham have gone full time ahead of the new season and they are a well-run club who have gradually got to this stage over the last few seasons as they have come back up the leagues after a few disappointing seasons. Key for me is that Phil Parkinson turned down the Notts County job back in May to stay with Altrincham and that clearly speaks volumes about how much progression he thinks there is still to come from the club. They look to have a pretty kind fixture to start the season off as well as last season’s National League South title winners Maidstone travel up to Manchester.
Maidstone were good last season, but for me they were the 2nd best team in the league behind Dorking. The problem for Dorking was that they happened to suffer badly with injuries at crucial times and that easily cost them the title. I think Maidstone will struggle this season so much so they might well end up back in the league they just came from as they don’t really look to have strengthened at all over the summer and might even have a weaker side than they had last season. Altrincham are usually very strong at home and I have little doubt that it will be the same again this season. Therefore, I think Altrincham can make it a winning start to the season and also a winning start as they play their first ever game as a professional football club.
Dagenham & Redbridge v Gateshead
Dagenham & Redbridge to win – 3/4
Dagenham & Redbridge got off to a really strong start this season and they looked like they would be possible title contenders in the early stages, but then they struggled for consistency before finishing the season quite strongly and only just missing out on the play-offs. They have a squad that is more than capable of reaching a play-off spot this season and Daryl McMahon will likely pay with his job if they don’t reach the top 7. I think they couldn’t have wished for a better game to get the season started as they host National League North champions Gateshead. Now Gateshead were really good last season and were for me by far the best team in the division.
The problem is they have lost some key players including their front pair of Macaulay Langstaff and Cedwyn Scott who have both ended up at Notts County. Langstaff scored 28 league goals last season and Scott netted 24 times so that is a huge 52 goals between them that Gateshead have lost. For me it is almost impossible for them to replace that number of goals and I certainly don’t think they have. I think Gateshead are going to be in for a tough season and like Maidstone they might well be heading back to where they have just come from. With Dagenham having promotion aspirations I think it will be surprising if the home side don’t start the season with three points and they rate a strong bet to do so on the opening day.
Scunthorpe v Yeovil
Under 2.5 goals – 13/20
This is the first of at least 30 live games covered by BT Sport this season with kick-off at 5.20pm on Saturday. I do think it is a bit of a strange choice to get the season underway as I’m not sure either of these teams are going to be troubling the right end of the table this season. Indeed, it wouldn’t surprise me if both ended up in a relegation battle. Scunthorpe were relegated from League 2 last season and they look a club in a right mess off and on the field. I’d be worried if I was a fan that they might drop down to the National League North next season.
I’d be just as worried if I was a Yeovil fan as well because they lost manager Darren Sarll to Woking last season and that for me spoke volumes about where Yeovil are as a club at the moment. Sarll got them to the play-offs in their first season back in Non-League football, but after that it has been a struggle at the club and they don’t have a big budget at all. Chris Hargreaves has come in as manager, but I have big doubts about him and his new recruitments don’t exactly suggest to me they are going to reach the top half of the table this season. I think this will be a pretty dull low scoring affair between two sides set to struggle and therefore under 2.5 goals looks a very strong option in this opening live game of the season.
Torquay v Oldham
Torquay to win – 5/4
Torquay may have missed out on their best chance of promotion when they finished 2nd to Sutton a couple of years ago and then lost in a dramatic play-off final to Hartlepool. That final took place in late June because of Covid and that meant Torquay had little time before the new season started and that certainly hindered Gary Johnson’s preparations. They struggled for the first few months of the season and it wasn’t really until the 2nd half of the season where they really got going, but by then it was way too late to make a play-off bid. They have lost some of the stars from last season’s team, but Johnson is one of the best managers at this level and I trust him to have got a good team together especially having been able to have had a full pre-season.
Fans of relegated Oldham will be delighted that a takeover was finalised last week, but that hasn’t come soon enough for me and their squad looks pretty short of what is required to be challenging at the right end of the table at the current stage. Manager John Sheridan didn’t have a great time of things when he was last manager in this league at Chesterfield and the fact he is in charge doesn’t exactly fill me with confidence about their chances for the season either. Johnson knows this level like the back of his hand and I think he and his Torquay side can get off to the perfect start to the new season.
Wrexham v Eastleigh
Wrexham -1 – 10/11
Over 2.5 goals – 4/7
Wrexham start the season as the shortest priced favourites that I can ever remember for the National League and in all honestly, they look a side who would hold their own at League 1 this season let alone at this level. Their squad looks a cut above any other team at this level and I think the front pairing of Palmer and Mullin could easily hit 50 goals between them this season given they got 15 and 26 respectively last season and Palmer didn’t join until the January transfer window.
The one weak link for me is manager Phil Parkinson and I thought his lack of Non-League experience showed last season at crucial times. Hopefully for Wrexham fans he has learned from that first season at this level and he can finally get Wrexham back into the Football League. They did struggle at home in the early part of last season, but they then really found their stride at the Racecourse and they scored goals for fun.
I expect them to take that side of things into this season and I can see them getting off to a strong start as they host Eastleigh. Eastleigh have a fairly new manager in Lee Bradbury, but his summer signings haven’t really looked that impressive and I can see them finishing in the bottom half again. Wrexham will be keen to put on a show for the fans on the opening day and make a real statement of intent. I think they can score 3 or 4 here and so I will back them to cover the -1 handicap and for there to be over 2.5 goals in the game.