The National League season has reached the halfway stage, with every side in the division having played at least 23 matches and the table well and truly taking shape.
As the gruelling set of festive fixtures lurk on the horizon, we’ve taken stock and assessed how all 24 teams in the fifth tier have performed in the opening stages of the campaign…
Optimistic Barrow fans may have anticipated a play-off push from Ian Evatt’s men ahead of this season, but few pundits would have predicted that the Bluebirds would be sitting top of the table in mid-December.
John Rooney is the star of the show in midfield, but this is a side that has a strong spine all through the team – from impressive loanee Matthew Platt at the back, to 13-goal top scorer Scott Quigley upfront.
With a three-point lead and a game in hand, Barrow are well placed to stay in the mix for automatic promotion come the end of the season.
Key stat: Barrow are the division’s top scorers with 49 goals. That’s six more than any other team in the league.
2. Yeovil Town
There was little optimism around Yeovil Town back in August after the Glovers had plummeted from the Championship to the National League within the space of just six seasons.
The appointment of new manager Darren Sarll hardly inspired confidence after a mixed spell with League Two Stevenage, but the 36-year-old boss has confounded his critics by revitalising a club that was down in the doldrums.
A summer rebuild has seen Sarll construct a team that is full of quality across the board. The experience and leadership of Luke Wilkinson and Carl Dickinson at the back has been vital, while loanee Jimmy Smith, midfielder Myles Hippolyte and top scorer Rhys Murphy have brought goals and creativity.
This is a combative side full of fight and desire – that desperation to succeed will certainly help when it comes to the business end of the season.
Key stat: Yeovil Town have committed more fouls than any other National League team this season; 12.74 per 90 minutes.
A real surprise package, many people expected Bromley’s form to tail off after a strong start to the campaign. But Neil Smith’s men have kept pace with the division’s promotion challengers, thanks in part to the form of strikers Michael Cheek and Reeco Hackett-Fairchild.
The duo have scored 17 goals between them, making the most of Luke Coulson’s excellent delivery from out wide – the winger has six assists so far, which is the joint-most in the division.
Bromley supporters will surely be delighted if they can surpass expectations and secure a play-off spot when the campaign reaches its conclusion.
Key stat: This is a Bromley side that are good in the air – their success rate when it comes to aerial duels is 49.8 percent, which is the second-best in the National League.
In Dave Tarpey and Jake Hyde, Woking have the strike force to mount a serious promotion push despite having only won the National League South play-offs last season.
Dave Tarpey takes the Goal of the Week crown ?
— Vanarama (@Vanarama) December 11, 2019
Their combined total of 19 goals is helping to mask a slightly inconsistent defence, despite the impressive form of centre-back Ben Gerring.
The Cards’ expected goals against is 35.81 – the third-worst in the fifth tier – suggesting that their forwards will have to keep hitting the back of the net on a regular basis if Woking are to stay in the top seven.
Key stat: Woking may be outperforming their expected goals against because of their strength when it comes to winning defensive duels. Their 64.3 percent success rate is better than every other National League club.
5. Solihull Moors
Promotion favourites Solihull Moors have overcome a tricky start to the campaign, climbing into the play-offs after a five-match unbeaten run in November.
Last season’s runners-up will perhaps be a little disappointed that they’re six points off the top at this stage of the season, but must be confident that the goals of striker Paul McCallum and star midfielder Jamey Osborne will push them to the summit in 2020.
Key stat: Solihull Moors have gone for experience in their quest to win promotion this season. Their average age of 27.8 makes them the third oldest team in the National League.
6. Harrogate Town
Another team who have picked up after early-season struggles, Harrogate Town are demonstrating that their play-off finish in 2018/19 wasn’t just a flash in the pan.
A porous defence is proving to be somewhat problematic, but if Simon Weaver’s side can tighten up at the back then it would be unwise to bet against them making the top seven once again.
Key stat: Harrogate Town’s Expected Goals Against (xGA) is the worst of all 24 National League teams (39.13), and they’ve allowed the second most shots against them this season (12.81 per 90).
7. FC Halifax Town
FC Halifax Town manager Pete Wild has raised expectations at The Shay after a stunning start to the campaign, which saw the Yorkshire side play a brand of free-flowing football that catapulted them into the promotion picture.
Things have looked less rosy in recent weeks with Halifax winless in five matches, but that shouldn’t detract from the job that Wild has done – many people had the Shaymen down as possible relegation candidates in the summer, so they should be delighted with their season so far.
Key stat: FC Halifax Town have been outperforming their Expected Goals (xG) in 2019/20. They’ve found the net 32 times despite their xG being just 25.19.
8. Stockport County
With just two losses in their last ten games, Stockport County are second in the form chart and enjoying life back in the National League after a six-year absence.
The former Championship side have the second-highest average attendance in the division (4128) and could be an outside bet for promotion with the Edgeley Park crowd roaring them on over the coming months.
Key stat: Stockport County have allowed the most shots against them in the National League (14.1 per 90), but have also blocked the most shots this season (4.05 per 90).
9. Boreham Wood
Last season was a major disappointment for Boreham Wood fans, as they failed to build on their play-off final defeat in 2017/18 and finished in 20th place.
But Luke Garrard’s side appear to be a different proposition this term, buoyed by the goals and flair of Kabongo Tshimanga, Tyrone Marsh and Sorba Thomas.
A play-off place might just be beyond them, but one of the league’s smallest clubs will be pleased that last season’s struggles look to have been averted this time around.
Key stat: Boreham Wood’s have been awarded nine penalties this season. That’s the most in the National League.
A lot was expected of this Barnet side in pre-season, so it’s fair to say that tenth place is something of a disappointment at the halfway stage.
Injuries to key personnel at various points of the campaign have undoubtedly played their part, but the Bees have often struggled to break down teams and lack a cutting edge upfront.
There are signs that Darren Currie’s men may have turned a corner though, with back-to-back wins against Ebbsfleet United and AFC Fylde in the last few weeks. Barnet’s squad is packed full of youthful talent and they could still sneak into the play-offs if they can find some consistency.
Key stat: The Bees play an aesthetically pleasing passing game, and have had more of the ball than any other National League club. Barnet have had an average of 58.2% possession this season.
11. Torquay United
Plainmoor has been the place to be for goals this season – Torquay United are among the division’s top scorers, but also with one of the most permeable defences.
Jamie Reid is on fire for @TUFC1899 ?
Is there a sharper finisher in the league??
— Vanarama (@Vanarama) November 14, 2019
The Gulls have an incredible array of attacking talents, with Jamie Reid the pick of the bunch – he tops the ‘goals and assists’ chart with a total of 19 contributions so far this season.
An injury crisis has seen the newly-promoted side lose a worrying five matches in a row, but they should be able to arrest their slide once the team’s top performers return to fitness.
Key stat: Torquay United top the charts for expected goals with 36.24. However, that’s still lower than the 43 goals they’ve actually scored this season.
12. Notts County
It would be easy to look at the season so far and suggest that it has been a failure as far as Notts County are concerned – after all they are undoubtedly the biggest club in the National League, following their relegation from the EFL.
But when you factor in the financial turmoil they endured during the off-season, it seems more reasonable to accept that this is a transition year for the Magpies.
We see great goals week in week out in the @TheVanaramaNL and it seems that Enzio Boldewijn only scores absolute screamers ?
— Vanarama (@Vanarama) November 13, 2019
The likes of Leyton Orient and Barnet have won promotion at the second time of asking in recent memory, after relegation from League Two. That seems like an achievable aspiration for the men from Meadow Lane.
Key stat: Notts County are the league’s most fouled side, at 11.56 per 90 minutes.
The Spitfires’ big spending days are behind them after former owner Stewart Donald upped sticks and bought Sunderland in May 2018, but manager Ben Strevens has put together a competitive side on a reduced budget this season.
Eastleigh supporters will be hopeful of a play-off push, but a top-half finish should still be considered a success.
Key stat: With colossal target man Tyrone Barnett in attack, it’s no surprise Eastleigh are one of the division’s most prolific crossers of the ball – their 17.61 crosses per 90 is the third-most in the National League.
14. Hartlepool United
It’s been an underwhelming season for Hartlepool United, who would have targeted promotion before the campaign kicked off.
Former manager Craig Hignett paid for their poor form with his job in October, and his replacement Dave Challinor has a big task on his hands if Pools are to avoid another year of mid-table mediocrity.
Key stat: Hartlepool United have had the third most shots this campaign, racking up an impressive 12.64 efforts on goal per 90 minutes.
15. Dover Athletic
Regular attendees at Dover Athletic’s Crabble Stadium will have been infuriated by their team’s inability to replicate their away form at home this season.
The Whites would be third in the league based on away games alone, but their home results are the third-worst in the fifth tier.
If Andy Hessenthaler can find the magic ingredient to improve performances at Crabble then Dover have the potential to make a late surge for the play-offs.
Key stat: Striker Inih Effiong is top of the charts when it comes to expected goals at 14.36, versus his actual return of ten strikes. If he can improve his finishing then the Whites could have one of the division’s top marksmen on their hands.
16. Maidenhead United
Vanager of the Week? That'll be Alan Devonshire ?
— Vanarama (@Vanarama) December 10, 2019
The target for a club of Maidenhead United’s size is always going to be survival each season, so they will be happy to be sitting in 16th place at the halfway point.
Experienced boss Alan Devonshire has constructed a functional and direct side with a penchant for late goals – ‘super sub’ Danny Whitehall scored four times in the last five minutes of games in August alone.
United have recruited well on a tight budget, and appear likely to avoid the drop once again this season.
Key stat: The Magpies have had the lowest amount of possession in the National League this season, with an average of 42.9 percent.
17. Dagenham & Redbridge
An initially promising season appears to be on the slide in East London, with Dagenham & Redbridge losing their last four matches and only avoiding defeat once in their last eight fixtures.
Manager Peter Taylor will be hoping that they can recapture their early season form, which saw forwards Angelo Balanta and Joe Quigley terrorise opposition defenders and goalkeeper Elliot Justham put in some fantastic performances.
A mid-table finish now looks the most likely outcome for the Daggers.
Key stat: Left winger Joan Luque is joint top of the National League’s assist charts, setting up six goals so far in 2019/20.
18. AFC Fylde
After losing to Salford City in last year’s play-off final and winning the FA Trophy, it was widely assumed that AFC Fylde would be challenging at the top of the table this season.
Things have panned out very differently though, with long-serving manager Dave Challinor losing his job after a catastrophic start to the campaign that saw them drop into the relegation zone.
Former Morecambe boss Jim Bentley looks like an excellent replacement, but the Coasters are surely too far adrift to achieve their aim of promotion until next season at the earliest.
Key stat: AFC Fylde have had the most shots and crosses in the league, at 13.35 per 90 and 18.61 per 90 respectively.
19. Sutton United
It is a testament to former Sutton United manager Paul Doswell that 19th place feels like a disappointment for the South London side this season – the U’s never finished outside of the top half on Doswell’s watch and came third in 2017/18.
In reality that was something of an overachievement for a club of Sutton United’s size, and a mid-table finish is a more reasonable aspiration for current boss Matt Gray.
With the talented Craig Eastmond and Harry Beautyman pulling the strings in midfield, Sutton United should have the necessary creativity to avoid the bottom four.
Key stat: It’s not hard to see where Sutton United’s problems lie – they’ve had the second least touches in the box this season (11.15 per 90), the second least shots (9.27 per 90), and have the lowest Expected Goals (xG) in the league (23.17).
20. Aldershot Town
Aldershot Town were always likely to struggle this season after only avoiding relegation on a technicality in 2018/19, when Gateshead were demoted for financial breaches.
Money is tight at the Recreation Ground and relatively inexperienced manager Danny Searle has struggled to recruit sufficient firepower upfront – Aldershot’s goal tally of 26 is the joint second lowest in the division.
Prodigious midfielder Ethan Chislett and left-back Lewis Kinsella have impressed for the Shots this term, but their side look set for a relegation battle in the coming months.
Key stat: Aldershot Town have the youngest team in the National League, with an average age of just 23.8.
Positives have been few and far between for Wrexham in 2019. The Red Dragons never seem to have recovered from dropping out of the EFL in 2007/08 and appear to be sinking further down the league table with every passing year.
The Welsh side have replaced Bryan Hughes with former boss Dean Keates, and back-to-back victories suggest that he is starting to arrest what has been a startling decline at the Racecourse Ground.
They should have enough in the tank to avoid relegation, but a club of Wrexham’s stature should be aiming far higher.
Key stat: Wrexham have been reluctant to make too many changes during matches this season – their total of 57 substitutions is the joint second lowest in the division.
22. Ebbsfleet United
Ebbsfleet United sold off a number of their top talents last season, but the severity of their decline this term has been quite shocking.
Garry Hill was replaced in October with the Fleet bottom of the table and leaking goals at an alarming rate, but they have improved under the stewardship of rookie manager Kevin Watson.
Winger Myles Weston has been in sublime form for the Kent-based side, but whether that’s enough to stop them dropping into the National League South remains to be seen.
Key stat: Ebbsfleet United’s expected goals against is the second-worst in the National League (37.24), but it’s better than their actual number of goals conceded – the Fleet’s defence has been breached 48 times, which is the highest of any side.
It’s rather curious that two experienced coaches in Martin Allen and John Sheridan have been unable to achieve success at Chesterfield, despite having impressive managerial records elsewhere.
Sheridan was able to drag the Spireites to a mid-table finish last season, but his side have struggled badly in this campaign and are winless in seven games.
Some pundits were tipping Chesterfield for promotion this year – not an unreasonable expectation for one of the division’s biggest clubs – but relegation to the National League North now looks a very real possibility.
As fans of York City, Torquay United and Stockport County will tell you, no club is too big to go down from the National League.
Key stat: The Spireites have won more aerial duels than any of their fellow clubs, with a success rate of 50.6%.
Chorley are the only one of last year’s promoted teams to really struggle in 2019/20, with Torquay United, Stockport County and Woking taking to the National League like ducks to water.
But with limited resources survival was always likely to be a tough ask for Jamie Vermiglio’s side.
They will take solace from the fact that performances have steadily improved over the course of the season, including a four-match unbeaten run that was only ended by Stockport County last weekend.
Courtney Meppen-Walter has impressed in a backline that has looked solid and well-drilled at times, but the lack of goals in this Chorley team could see them relegated at the end of the season.
Key stat: Chorley’s 74 substitutions is the highest in the division during the first half of the campaign.