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By Jeff Brazier

Best Goal of 2021

When a goalkeeper scores in the promotion final like Lucas Covolan did for Torquay in the dying moments to send the game into a penalty shoot-out, that’s always going to live long in the memory. However, the goal I can’t get out of my head was the example of outstanding agility and technique delivered by 18 year old Marcus Sablier of Bromley in our televised game at Haynes Lane against Torquay United.

There are few goals I can remember seeing in the National League that have brought me to my feet as a neutral, but the Bromley academy graduate did just that. Although not his debut, I think something most fans can connect with is how special a goal is for a relative newcomer to 1st team football. You don’t know him, but at the same time you're ecstatic for him! Not a bad way to open your professional account. All things considered, Marcus gets my vote.

Best Player of 2021

I initially thought there would be a lot of players in contention for this one, and whilst Paddy Madden and Ruben Rodrigues deserve a mention, I’m quickly convinced that Kabongo Tshimanga has to be at the top of the list for his exceptional goal return at both Boreham Wood and Chesterfield.

This season he has surpassed all strikers by scoring a staggering 18 in 19 league games. Add that to the 16 he got for Boreham Wood from January onwards and you’re looking at 34 goals in 12 months. He also recently played his 100th National League game and can boast a 54-goal return in that period. Being an outstanding asset to a team isn't measured solely on goal-scoring but this is a striker that would walk into any other team in the league and possibly any other team in the league above.

‘Prolific’ is a label that players rarely maintain for extended periods but ‘Kabby’ is unstoppable at the moment and how great would it be to see a goal against Chelsea?! I’m also interested to see how James Rowe sets up now he has Akwasi Asante back fit.

Best Manager of 2021

Tough one this. You know Dave Challinor has to be in the conversation for getting Hartlepool up through the play-offs and for the immediate impact he has had at Stockport. You also have to acknowledge James Rowe for what he has done at current leaders Chesterfield. Pete Wild would be another you couldn’t ignore because of the financial constraints at Halifax he will be working with that none of the other managers mentioned will have had to endure. He seems to improve his side continuously even though they had lost key players in the summer and they were unlucky not to win at Chesterfield last time out.

You could choose any one of these 4 but in my opinion Andy Woodman has been a revelation at Bromley since he swooped in, established them as a top 7 side and then just carried on where he left off last season. This is a manager that has taken a club to another level, a club you always expected to be competitive but yet don’t quite expect to challenge and now he we are speculating whether they can go on and win the title this year.

I listened to Andy talk recently before their draw with Southend about how he was disappointed that other managers were so keen to postpone games, echoing what many people believe is an opportunist approach to navigating a busy festive period whilst juggling injuries, covid cases and poor form.

I found myself agreeing that, like at Bromley, these should be the opportunities for clubs to give minutes and debuts to academy graduates and I just felt that honouring the fixtures would be best for the running of the league. That said, I accept its a competition and individual clubs are expected to do what’s best for them rather than the league as a whole. I also noted that Bromley only took a point from those 2 games.

Best Team Performance of 2021

The games that are most memorable usually come towards the end of the season when the stakes are highest. Hartlepool’s performance against Torquay in the promotion final naturally stands out because of the drama the game served up but it’s not necessarily the best team performance this year.

Notts County’s last-minute win over Sutton last season on 4th May was memorable because the season was coming to a climax and Notts County had managed to peg back a Sutton side who were going for the title and had to come from behind twice before a late Rodrigues penalty settled it.

Actually, Notts County’s 3-2 win over Chesterfield in the play-off eliminator was even more special. Not only did we get a bizarre last minute Mark Ellis header where he drifted between the sticks completely unchallenged, it was also the first game we had fans back in stadiums and that felt good!

However, the best team performance that I saw in 2021 was Dagenham’s convincing 5-1 win v Solihull in late September. It was one of those occasions that teams can have where you think wow, they could easily win the title this year! They had goals coming from all over with 4 different scorers and their attacking play was lethal. Solihull had been more than a threat themselves for large periods of the game and it was them who took the lead which added to how impressed you had to be with Dagenham.

It was a win that took them top of the Vanarama that day. I remember honestly feeling like that was the best performance I’d watched by any side at that level. Funny how football goes though, they then went and lost their next 3 and heralded the beginning of a tricky period as far as injuries and form were concerned.

Best Moment of 2021

Connor Jennings miraculous recovery from cancer and return to the football field for Stockport on a night that he managed to top off with him hitting the net, a fairy tale ending, showed us the most beautiful side of the game that we all fell in love with.

Connor was told he wouldn’t play again on several occasions at a time when preserving his football career wouldn’t have been his top priority. Fortunately, his shoulder was salvaged enough when removing the tumour that he could continue his recovery and was later given the all-clear to return to full training.

Next thing you know Paddy Madden goes ill, Challinor picks Jennings to fill the slot and the rest is history. Beautiful words from Challinor after the game. ‘Sometimes scripts are already written in football, you just don’t know it yet’.

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