With only days to go until the season kicks off with our visit Gateshead, the anticipation is building ahead of the new Vanarama National League North campaign.
Southport travel to the International Stadium on Saturday before home matches against Curzon Ashton and Guiseley to get the campaign up and running. As always, the next eight months will no doubt be full of twists and turns, with the Port looking to build on the last campaign and the two county cup successes.
Last season, it was Stockport County who claimed the league title, with second-placed Chorley following them in securing promotion through the play-offs.
This time around, it promises to be an open field at the top of the division, with a host of clubs hoping to be sat at the top of the table when the final day rolls around.
James Houghton takes a look around the division and assesses some of the opponents to keep an eye on.
The current favourites to top the division in April are York City, who have won five of their six games in an impressive pre-season including wins over League One’s Bolton Wanderers and National League sides Hartlepool United and Notts County.
York have focused on strengthening the spine of their team during the summer transfer window with new signings Dan Maguire and Kieran Green, both formerly with Blyth Spartans, adding fire power up top, Andy Bond and Paddy McLaughlin strengthening the centre of midfield and Steve McNulty providing experience in defence after helping Tranmere Rovers to a second successive promotion last year.
Southport will travel to York on September 7 before hosting the Minstermen in January.
Behind York City sit one of our neighbours in the league, Chester FC.
After missing out on the play-offs last year, Chester have seen an influx of talent, particularly from Salford City. Danny Livesey and Anthony Dudley joined on free transferswith the side also adding James Jones on loan.
Dudley will be joined up from by Danny Elliott, formerly of Port Vale. The two strikers have impressed in preseason and Chester will be hoping that the two strikers can help them to outscore their opponents to break into the promotion picture.
The games between our two sides will have a festive feel to them this year, with Chester travelling to Southport on Boxing Day before we travel to the Deva Stadium on New Year’s Day.
After falling at the final hurdle last time out, losing play off finalists Spennymoor Town will look to go a step further this time as they go for a fifth promotion in their short 14-year history.
The Moors have managed to maintain most of the squad which lost to Chorley in the final last year and have added Carl Magnay from Hartlepool United to their ranks. The retention of last year’s National League North top scorer Glen Taylor is a significant boost for the Moors.
A disappointing 4-0 loss to Harrogate Town meant that Spennymoor ended their pre-season on a disappointing note but after coming so close last year they will be determined to make into the National League Premier for the first time in their history.
Also beaten by Chorley in the playoffs, Altrincham missed out in the semi-finals after a shootout in which The Robins only converted one of their four penalties.
But just like Spennymoor, Alty have managed to keep a vast majority of their squad from the last campaign and will be hoping that the sting of last year’s disappointment will push them one step further.
Altrincham were scoring freely last season and finished as the league’s top scoring side with 85 goals. The fact they have managed to keep a hold of Josh Hancock, Jordan Hulme and John Johnston, who scored 19, 16 and 14 goals respectively last season will mean that we can expect to see more of the same attacking football from the Greater Manchester side next time out.
Another team who made it to last year’s play-offs, Brackley Town came up short against Spennymoor Town despite finishing a point above them and getting a bye into the semi-finals of the playoffs.
With an average age of almost 32, Brackley will be hoping that their expertise and experience from last year can carry over into the 2019/20 campaign. A 1-0 win over League Two Northampton was the pick of the bunch in a mixed bag of preseason fixtures that saw wins over Stratford and Barwell as well as losses to MK Dons and Oxford United.
Top goal scorer James Armson provides their biggest threat in attack but where Brackley really shine is their ability to shut out opponents. The Northamptonshire side conceded just 40 goals last season, the second lowest tally in the league only behind eventual champions Stockport County.