Go for Grimsby; Back Brodie
Check out Nick Hext’s picks for the new Vanarama National League campaign after enjoying big non-league profits last season.
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The Vanarama Conference National season ended with Grimsby losing the play-off final on penalties to Bristol Rovers and I’m backing the Mariners to end the first National League campaign by going one better.
Grimsby were in the title race last term almost to the final day but ultimately ended six points behind league winners Barnet before missing out against Rovers under the Wembley arch.
The heartache of falling at the final hurdle has now subsided and there’s every reason to like the Mariners for the season ahead.
Boss Paul Hurst has recruited really well over the summer to add to a squad that has kept hold of its star performers and looks primed to finally return to the Football League.
Omar Bogle is the most eye-catching of the new arrivals. The 22-year-old striker makes the step up from Conference North outfit Solihull Moors but it’s a big surprise to me that Football League clubs didn’t follow up their interest in his signature.
Bogle was signed by Scottish Premiership giants Celtic from Birmingham before moving south again to Solihull and he was one of non-league football’s premier strikers last season with 29 goals.
Andy Monkhouse, Richard Tait, Marcus Marshall, Josh Gowling and Danny East are all solid additions and this is a stronger group of players than the collection that went so close to promotion last time out.
The Mariners have finished in the play-offs for three seasons running with final positions of third-fourth-fourth so there’s no doubt that their pedigree has been proven in this division.
Grimsby fans certainly have faith in their side.
Project Promotion was launched over the summer to raise £20,000 for boss Hurst to boost his squad but the fans smashed that target to contribute £110,000. They definitely believe!
The points required over the last three seasons for the title have been 92, 83 and 94 so its three more wins required from last term’s 86-point tally to get to the highest of those targets.
Grimsby look more than capable of achieving that and I’d much rather have them on my side than relegated Tranmere, who are vying for favouritism with the Mariners at the head of the outright market.
Gary Brabin is a solid managerial appointment for Tranmere but he has a huge job on his hands after Rovers’ appalling efforts in League Two last season.
Tranmere should come good for a top-five finish by the end of the campaign but I don’t think they’ll be Grimsby’s main title challengers.
Eastleigh, who sit third in the betting, are the most likely side to match the Mariners but I’d want a little larger price to back a Spitfires side I think will end up in the play-offs.
Grimsby got the better of Eastleigh 5-1 on aggregate in their play-off semi-final a few months ago and I still reckon there’s a big gap between the sides.
Take the 11/4 for the Mariners to return to the Football League in the promotion betting rather than the 5/1 title price to give yourself a bit more security in this division where only the team finishing top goes up automatically.
You can get 14/1 about Bogle in the top goalscorer betting but I like to go for a longer price in this market and there’s a Conference veteran who catches my eye at big odds.
Followers of last season’s ante-post selections enjoyed a strong return thanks to Barnet’s promotion and also Damian Reeves’ each-way placing in the top scorer list at a pre-season price of 66/1.
Altrincham forward Reeves is less than half the odds this summer at 25/1 so it’s Richard Brodie I’m backing to find some of his old spark at 50/1.
Southport striker Brodie has been around this division for a long time but hasn’t found his best form since leaving York for Crawley in a big-money deal of around £300,000 in the summer of 2010.
The 28-year-old has since taken in spells at Fleetwood, Morecambe, Grimsby, Gateshead, Hereford and Southport after departing Crawley following promotion from the Conference at the end of his debut season.
He bagged 13 goals last term with Southport and should benefit from a rare bit of stability by staying with the Sandgrounders.
Brodie has hit double figures five times during his Conference career – 13 (2014/15 with Southport), 13 (2010/11 with Crawley), 30 (2009/10 with York), 17 (2008/09 with York) and 10 (2007/08 with York) – so the potential is undoubtedly there to get among the top scorers.
He was sensational in his 30-goal 2009/10 campaign as York just missed out on promotion but more importantly last season’s haul is a real step back in the right direction.
Brodie can expect to play every week and I think it’s well worth a little nibble at the 50/1 to get a big-price interest during the months ahead.
Posted at 1210 BST on 31/07/15.