Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Gareth Messenger's Top 10 WINOL Non-League Footballers

Carrying on from my last blog on Europe's top 10 Young Footballers to look out for in 2012, this time I have diverted my attention to the lesser known, but nationally appreciated non-league and in particular Hampshire. Of course, I am only basing this on my evidence from WINOL and Sportsweek so the teams involved are AFC Totton, Basingstoke Town, Eastleigh and Winchester City, but Hampshire is home to many well sought after footballers from Football league clubs so let's go!

10. Jonathan Davies
At the age of just 20, Davies' creativity in the centre of midfield has been influential for an AFC Totton side on the march up the leagues. His two goals against Bradford Park Avenue in the FA Cup first round were just a sign of his quality and at this level, Davies is a dominant player in the Evo-Stick South.

9. Mike Green
Joined AFC Totton from Eastleigh, left Totton to join league side Port Vale, but is now back at Eastleigh. A strong, quick left sided player who usually finds himself in the back four, but his return to Eastleigh provided a welcome boost to a struggling Spitfires side. Experience at Port Vale and learning from football league players should pay dividends in his long-term career.

8. Michael Charles

Former Basingstoke and Woking striker Michael Charles (centre of picture) is an important and valuable player for Stuart Ritchie's AFC Totton side. Charles had an outstanding goalscoring record in the Zamaretto South and West league last season. His two goals in last season's Hampshire Senior Cup final against Sholing gave Totton as a whole an extra something to cheer about in a 3-1 win, just days after beating Sholing to the league title. Recent form has been unlike him, with Charles contemplating a loan move away from Totton.

7. Jamie Slabber
Key player for Eastleigh. Slabber's strength and goalscoring ability may him a huge threat for opponents and a vital player for Eastleigh. The former Grays striker had a fantastic season last year but a quiet start this year was the pinnacle for Eastleigh slump in form. His return to form and the arrival of creative midfielder Graeme Montgomery re-juvinated Slabber, and is still an ever-present figure at the Silverlake Stadium.

6. Leigh Mills 
The former Tottenham Hostpur defender was bought for £700k from Swindon Town at the age of just 16 with big things expected for the youngster. Successful loan spells at Gillingham and Brentford made him a target for lower fotball league sides, but his decision to quit professional football and join hometown club Winchester City, under the management of ex-Gills defender Guy Butters, have made him a dominant player in the Wessex League. He is a class above, but Mills' desire to enjoy his football seems settling at Winchester. A club on the up, and a player who should have been, but a player who is now happy nonetheless. Currently holds the captain's armaband at the Denplan, and his versaility to play anywhere in defence and midfield make him an important player in the Winchester side.

5. Graeme Montgomery
Former Aldershot winger Graeme Montgomery enjoyed a successful loan spell at Eastleigh earlier this season, and was later released by the Shots which prompted a permanent move to Ian Baird's side just hours later. An attacking, creative player who also has an eye for goal, and a very talented left boot on him. Changed and out-of-form Eastleigh's fortunes earlier this season.

4. Wes Daly
Former QPR midfielder Wes Daly has provided Basingstoke with a strong, competitive midfield battalion this season, and it's a season which sees them fighting for a play-off place. Frank Gray's young side has a terrific, yet surprising side to this season and even made the First Round of the FA Cup with an away tie against League One Brentford. Daly's contributions have been valuable for The Dragons, a hard-worker, an eye for a great pass, and scores goals. Great signing for Basingstoke but will they keep hold of him next season? Discipline is an issue though, with 10 yellow cards already this season.

3. Jamie White
Unexplainable form from this man. Even at the Wessex League level, nobody can stop this young striker, and the former Southampton forward has certainly made his mark this season. League side AFC Bournemouth have been highly interested in his services, and for a player who has overcome a huge number of career-threatning injuries including broken legs and ligament damage, White's decision to join Winchester is one which is going to boost his long-term praise in the game. Saints have also been linked with a move for their ex-striker, but I doubt White would want to move to a club with the likes of Rickie Lambert, Guly du Prado, Adam Lallana, Lee Barnard, David Connolly and now Billy Sharp standing in his way. Quiet start to his season but has been hot on form averaging TWO goals every game since October. Winchester City have accepted the fact they will lose him. Jamie finds himself at number three in my top 10 Hampshire WINOL players, and maybe his FOUR goals against Laverstock & Ford at the weekend have something to do with that?

2. Michael Gosney
Left footed attacking player Gosney used to ply his trade at Winchester, but they must be kicking themselves after seeing Gosney's meteoric rise in the non-league status. For a player who finds himself just in the Evo-Stick South at Winchester's local rivals AFC Totton, Gosney also works as a Calendar model and Chef at TGI Friday's. Not bad for a player who alerted Millwall and Championship side Brighton in the summer to his ability. Gosney's pace, skill, direct play and accuracy make him Totton's most important and dangerous player. Despite the spotlight being on youngster Stefan Brown during their televised FA Cup match with Bristol Rovers, Gosney's value to the side was not overlooked by the ITV cameras. His two goals and four assists in the 8-1 drubbing of Bradford Park Avenue in the first round of the Cup made his reputation well known, and his 14 goals in the Evo-Stick South this seasno makes him Totton's leading goalscoring, for the third year on the trot.  

1. Shaun McAuley

Now to the winner, and this is one that not many of the WINOL team would probably agree with, but having spent a lot of time filming at Basingstoke I've come to appreciate how important and how influential Shaun McAuley is for Frank Gray's side. His work ethic, his natural ability to pass a ball, and his impressive goalscoring tally make him a midfielder's dream at this level, and his goals have been vital to Basingstoke with Shaun scoring 11 goals in 29 appearances in all competitions. This making him top goalscorer at the club. Not bad for a centre-midfielder. Frank Gray picked him up in the summer following his release from local rivals Eastleigh, and his good relationship with Wes Daly, and fellow midfielder Stuart Lake on and off the field has provided Basingstoke with some strudy strength in the middle of the park. Hard to say what the future holds for Shaun. League football is a big step at the moment, but a fruitful career in the Blu Square Premier is certainly something that his ability can step to.

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