Vanarama National League Ones To Watch: Part Five

By Tom Scott

The new season is inching closer and our sides are adding to their squads.

We asked Joe Pope, founder of Off The Line blog to assess the players you should be keeping an eye on next season.

Josh Stokes (Aldershot Town)
At the back end of last season, I did a piece on 10 players from within the non-league game that I felt were capable of making a move into the EFL.

One of those that was included on the list was then AFC Sudbury winger Josh Stokes. As such, the fact that Aldershot Town have been able to prize him away and convince him to sign at The EBB amid interest from elsewhere is a real coup and indicative of the eye for a player which Tommy Widdrington has.

Widdrington has a strong track record for player development, and Stokes represents a really smart addition for the Shots. While only diminutive in stature, Stokes is gargantuan in terms of quality.

A key part of a free-flowing, potent attacking force at AFC Sudbury in their promotion campaign last term, Stokes has developed a reputation as being one of the most effective, promising wide players within the non-league scene and for a side lacking that last term, the Shots may well have just found a gem; in fact, I know they have!

Stokes is in many ways an old-fashioned-type winger; he is direct, loves taking on his man, can go on the outside and is good with both feet. A little pocket rocket with his enthusiasm, dynamic movement and willingness to press from the front – coupled with his nimble, tricky demeanour in possession of the ball – Stokes is technically strong and has all the qualities to unlock the opposition defence.

Having progressed through the AFC Sudbury academy, he is still very much in the infancy of his career. However, if he continues to show the rate of development which he has during his time with AFC Sudbury, he is going to go far.

At such a young age, he has shown a maturity and an intelligence in the way he plays that provides a fitting epithet for the sparkling young talent that he is. It is a step up for Stokes to move to a National League side, but one I think he is wholly capable of doing.

Stanley Anaebonam (Hereford)
Announced as a new signing for Rushall Olympic earlier this summer, such was the verdant admiration that Hereford for him, Paul Caddis decided to make a move to land Stanley Anaebonam and in the process they have perhaps got themselves one of the most explosive, powerful attacking talents below the National League.

One of the key traits you can have as an attacking player at this level is pace and power; these are the very skillsets upon which Anaebonam’s game is founded.

He is blisteringly quick, both with and without the ball, and in terms of providing an outlet he is ideal. He is an incisive player, is a capable dribbler, carries the ball really well and has the trickery and confidence to be a real handful in the National League North.

Such are his qualities, he was highlighted for the efficiency of his game despite playing on poor surfaces at the lower, more regionalised level, only emphasising even further the threat that his pace and power on the ball can have.

Hereford needed someone last year that was able to take the game to the opposition and change the pace of the game, and Anaebonam will. His athleticism will allow them to get up the pitch, his quick feet dazzling opposition defences, and his physical prowess giving them a really durable option. I’d compare him loosely to Yannick Bolasie when he was at his best; the raw athletic qualities to glide past players, get them on the back foot and the swagger alongside it.

Many have said that he has the capabilities of playing at Step 1 of non-league or even in the EFL with the right coaching, and so while he is at Hereford he will most certainly be one to watch.

It is safe to say that if we get the best version of Anaebonam as his explosive self, he is going to be a serious handful for defences at this level.

Nnamdi Nwachuku (Braintree Town)
Every team needs a goalscorer; it is the hardest position to recruit because everyone wants one! Thus, after the departure of Alfie Pavey, there was even greater pressure on Angelo Harrop to go and recruit the right one this summer for the Iron; how does a 49-goal striker do for fit? Pretty nicely, I would say.

Nwachuku comes off the back of an outstanding season where he hit a half-century of goals for AFC Sudbury to help them on their way to promotion. And, while he was all-set to step up with AFC Sudbury, there was a general feeling amongst supporters and close observers within the non-league game that he was more than capable to make an even greater step up as one of the most exciting prospects in the lower leagues and he now gets that chance with Braintree Town.

And, while Nwachuku comes in as a replacement for Pavey, the former AFC Sudbury man provides an improvement on the former Whites front man; he is quicker, sharper, more mobile and has the athletic and physical qualities to press from the front, run the channels, provide an outlet in behind and will make the Braintree Town attack far more explosive and agile to ask questions of the opposition.

He has such a nice set of skills for a forward, and will make Town far more dangerous in transition; his eagerness to always want to look to get at teams and run at them will be a huge asset.

But, most importantly, Nwachuku is someone with a real hunger for scoring goals and is a fabulous finisher. While he shone at AFC Sudbury with 49 in 44, prior spells saw him score 101 times in 100 appearances for Coggeshall Town, and 23 in 37 for Marlow; he knows where the net is!

He is a natural finisher, has pace and power to his game, and I think under the management of a coach in Angelo Harrop who has already shone is capable of developing players, he will shine.

Where next?

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