Forest Green Rovers
Forest Green have enjoyed a 17-year stay in the Conference since they achieved promotion to the top tier of non-league football in 1998 with back-to-back promotions from the Southern League. They have also come runners up in the FA Trophy twice, losing 1-0 on both occasions, once at Wembley to Kingstonian and the other at Villa Park to Canvey Island. They also made history by being the first ever club to reach both the FA Trophy and FA Vase finals in the 1998/99 season.
Following Salisbury City’s expulsion from the Conference, Adrian Pennock has decided to capitalise on their misfortune by signing three of their players in Rob Sinclair and Elliott Frear. 24-year-old Sinclair played 21 times for Salisbury last season in the heart of midfield while Frear made 45 appearances for the Whites last season, scoring six goals in the process. Also signing for Rovers from Salisbury is Clovis Kamdjo, the former Barnet fans’ favourite who made 114 league appearances for the club.
Last season, Barnet beat Rovers 2-1 on both occasions that the sides met, Mark Byrne and Dani Lopez grabbing the goals at the New Lawn while Byrne scored again at The Hive along with Valentin Gjokaj.
Gary Mills’ Tynesiders enjoyed a successful campaign last season finishing 3rd in the table. They beat Grimsby Town over two legs to reach the Play-Off Final at Wembley but their season ended in heartbreak after Cambridge United beat them 2-1 in May.
Ex-Barnet midfielder and fans’ favourite John Oster was key to their success last year. He made 28 league appearances for the Bees, scoring two goals including a long-range effort in a 4-0 win over Northampton at Underhill.
The Bees endured mixed fortunes against The Tynesiders last season, winning one and losing one. The win came at the Gateshead International Stadium twelve months ago when Jake Hyde scored in the 88th minute to secure the win. At the Hive, Jamie Chandler headed home with just under 20 minutes left to give Gateshead the three points towards the end of the season.
Paul Hurst’s Grimsby Town have enjoyed two successful seasons in recent years, but have been unable to clear the hurdle of the play-off semi-final on both occasions. Last season they finished 4th on 78 points but were on the wrong side of a 4-2 aggregate defeat to Gateshead.
Summer signings include 29-year-old midfielder Scott Brown from Southport who made a total of 44 appearances last season. In addition, they have appointed 33-year-old veteran defender Chris Doig as assistant player-manager, having made 24 appearances for York City in League Two last season.
Paul Hurst has also extended the deals of numerous players including striker Lennell John-Lewis, who has scored seven goals in 54 appearances. Another key man is 28-year-old Ross Hannah, who scored 15 times during the last campaign.
The Bees lost 2-1 at Blundell Park last season in a game that saw David Stephens score Barnet’s Goal of the Season with a superb volley. At the Hive, it was the same scoreline but this time it was in Barnet’s favour. Grimsby hit back in the second half after Mauro Vilhete had scored early on, but Jake Hyde struck in the last 10 minutes to secure the win for the Bees.
FC Halifax Town
A campaign of much promise and success last time out for The Shaymen ended in disappointment when they lost in the play-off semi-finals to the eventual winners Cambridge United 2-1 on aggregate after finishing 5th with 77 points following a late-season charge.
Summer signings include forwards Ross Dyer and Richard Peniket. Dyer, 26, scored 12 goals in 62 games for Mansfield last season after signing from Forest Green in 2011. Peniket signed from Tamworth on a free transfer following his release, the 21-year-old having scored seven times in 43 games.
The Bees failed to beat Halifax on both occasions in the Conference last season, losing 0-4 at The Hive and 2-1 at the Shay, when Curtis Weston scored what turned out to be a consolation goal in Barnet’s first defeat in the league.