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The National League's next breakout stars: Defenders

Published on Tuesday 25 September 2018 in Vanarama National League News

The National League's next breakout stars: Defenders

While we have seen several attacking players make the jump from National League to Football League star, but it is easy to forget there is plenty of talent at the other end of the pitch too.

The fifth tier of English Football doesn't just produce hotshot forwards, it has a plethora of defenders who do a more than solid job.

It isn't necessarily known as a division which produces youngsters who know how to keep the ball out of the net, but a closer look shows there is more talent than meets the eye in this season's National League.

We have taken a look at all 24 clubs and spotted a number of defenders who could find themselves in the Football League sooner rather than later.

 

Marvin Ekpiteta – Leyton Orient

The centre-back Marvin Ekpiteta must have wondered if his opportunity had gone when he left Oxford United and then bounced between a few Essex clubs in the National League South, but he found a home at East Thurrock United under John Coventry and then caught the eye of Leyton Orient.

O's had one of their defenders on loan at the Rocks, but knew of Ekpiteta's ability anyway. And after monitoring him, they made their move in January of this year. Although the 23-year-old has been at Orient for less than 12 months, he has already made a big impression with his eagerness to learn and composure at the back.

Comfortable bringing the ball out of defence, the tall centre-back is also more than capable of being a "warrior" according to the coaching staff at Brisbane Road.

It is no surprise to see him flourishing and he could definitely make the step up to the Football League over the next few years. O's will hope it is with them.


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Luke Pennell – Dagenham & Redbridge

Sticking with defenders situated in east London, Luke Pennell has had his fair share of problems but has come out the other side and, aged only 22, could have a very big future in the game.

The former Dunstable Town youngster had professional clubs queuing up for him in the 2015/16 campaign and Fleetwood Town offered him a deal, but no agreement was reached between the League One outfit and the player.

He eventually signed for Dagenham & Redbridge and made his debut in the Football League in April 2016 in a game which saw Daggers' relegation confirmed.

Ahead of the next campaign, Pennell was backed to be a big player by then-boss John Still, but disaster struck.

He suffered anterior cruciate ligament damage in July 2016 and two months later was given a suspended prison sentence for stealing a mobile phone. Daggers stuck by him, though, and have been rewarded with the stylish left-sided ace producing a number of consistent displays during a turbulent last season for the club.

Pennell has already made his England C debut and his ability to play at centre-back or either flank as a full-back will no doubt help him get even more admirers.

 

Callum Howe – Harrogate Town

The powerful centre back Callum Howe, now 24, needs no introduction given his exploits in the National League in recent seasons and it seems only a matter of time before he is given a fair crack in the Football League.

A product of Scunthorpe United's youth team, he never actually made his debut for the Iron, but caught the eye during loan spells with Gainsborough Trinity and Alfreton Town before he signed permanently with Lincoln City.

The defender found himself in and out of the Imps side and yet flourished whilst with Southport and Eastleigh on loan.

In January, Howe joined Port Vale, but it was short-lived. The latest club to sign up his services were Harrogate and it has proved an inspired move. Not only has the strong centre-back been a rock in defence for Town, he has also found the net on numerous occasions too.

Howe is a nightmare for opponents to mark from set pieces and, if he maintains this type of form, he may finally get a proper shot in the Football League. It would be long overdue.

 

Cheye Alexander – Barnet

When Cheye Alexander announced he was leaving Aldershot Town in the summer, a lot of people expected the full-back to sign for a Football League club.

But in moving to Barnet, he was joining a side getting ready for life back in the National League as they had just been relegated from League Two.

The 23-year-old was a firm fans favourite at Shots due to his energetic displays out wide and his no-nonsense style.

Able to play at right-back or on the left, Alexander is a manager's dream and tends to get on with his task with minimal fuss. He has also produced the odd wonder strike from time to time and will no doubt be a popular player with Barnet supporters.

Despite his relatively young age, he has a wealth of experience and, given his natural attacking instincts as a full-back, will no doubt be watched by many professional sides this season.

 

 

Will de Havilland – Maidstone United

It has not been the best of starts to the new campaign for Maidstone United, but Will de Havilland has caught the eye after signing permanently for the club this summer.

He originally moved to the Stones at the end of last season on loan and played a big role in keeping them up, despite being recalled in April by Wycombe Wanderers.

The Chairboys failed to offer the tall, powerful centre-back a new deal, however, so Jay Saunders snapped him up with Maidstone.

Even though the Kent club have struggled in the opening month of the season – and as a result Saunders has departed – de Havilland has caught the eye with his bravery at the heart of the Stones defence.

The bravery of the centre-back has been noted numerous times, and if Maidstone are to start climbing the table soon, the former Millwall youngster will play a key part.

Elsewhere, Orient full-backs Sam Ling and Myles Judd both deserve mentions while Daggers' teenager Liam Gordon is another player soon to be attracting attention from clubs higher up the football pyramid.

Defending a dying art? All of the above would certainly disagree.

 

This list was put together for Vanarama by George Sessions from Football Whispers.

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