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        Our latest installment of 5th tier talent-spotting

        National League scouting report

        2023/12/01 09:03

        The National League is rightly regarded as a fertile breeding ground for players and managers destined for big things...and this article aims to identify the next wave of top young talent destined to make a splash in the EFL.

        The only website to provide assist data for the National League, Playmaker is keeping a close eye on the unfolding drama that currently sees Chesterfield streaking away at the top of the table.

        Over a third of the way through the season, there are a host of impressive performers following in the footsteps of the likes of Notts County's Macaulay Langstaff and Wrexham's Paul Mullin, and we're here to profile a trio of players tipped to fly up the Football League ladder. 

        Without further ado, let's kick off with an academy kid coming good at Maidenhead United...

        @Getty /

        Name: Reece Smith
        Position: Left winger/Attacking mid (right footed)
        Date of Birth: 2002/04/28 (21-years-old)
        Team (Number): Maidenhead United (17)
        Nationality: England

        A product of the Magpies' youth academy, Reece Smith is starting to establish himself as one to watch in the National League in his third full season in the Berkshire club's senior set-up.

        With trickery and technique to spare, Smith is strong in 1v1 situations and has showcased a clear ability to make the difference in the final third this term, whether that be by scoring himself or assisting.

        Still only 21, Smith is most dangerous playing as an inverted winger off the left flank, where he offers a huge threat cutting in towards goal. Although very much his own player, there are comparisons to be made between Smith and Peterborough United's Joel Randall, who has a similar gait and playing style.

        What is clear to see from Smith's numbers this season is how influential he currently is for Maidenhead. With his six goals and four assists in the National League this season, the attacking midfielder has been involved in 43% of the Magpies's goals and, in fact, only two players in the fifth tier (Eastleigh's Paul McCallum and Hartlepool's Mani Dieseruvwe) have been involved in a higher percentage of their team's output this season. 

        Currently four games unbeaten, Maidenhead are on the up at the moment - and Smith certainly looks to have the talent to play at a higher level sooner rather than later. 

        @Getty /

        Name: Josh Stokes
        Position: Attacking mid/Second striker (right footed)
        Date of Birth: 2004/04/29 (21-years-old)
        Team (Number): Aldershot Town (10)
        Nationality: England

        Another non-league academy graduate, Stokes started his career at AFC Sudbury before joining Aldershot last summer.

        The 19-year-old has certainly hit the ground running and his debut season at National League level has provided compelling evidence that he has a big future ahead of him - Stokes already with 10 goals and two assists to his name after 22 games. 

        An attacking midfielder, who can also be deployed as a second striker, Stokes' key strengths appear to be his speed and an enviable knack of making goalscoring look easy. 

        Playing in an attacking 'Shots' side with striker Lorent Tolaj (see our first-ever Scouting Report!), Stokes has linked up to devastating effect with his Swiss team-mate and they have hit 18 National League goals between them thus far for an Aldershot side that currently sits in the play-off places. 

        Given his age and his seamless transition to a higher level of football, Stokes' 'ceiling' appears to be high - and if form and fitness are maintained, he looks a likely candidate to progress into the EFL either with or without his current employers. 

        @Getty /

        Name: Cian Hayes
        Position: Right winger (left footed)
        Date of Birth: 2003/06/29 (20-years-old)
        Team (Number): Rochdale (18)
        Nationality: Rep. Ireland

        We finish our latest Scouting Report with a player who has actually already returned to the EFL after starring in the National League.

        It was little surprise that Cian Hayes was recalled by parent club Fleetwood Town this week after a fantastic start to the season on loan at Rochdale. 

        Tied as the most-used sub in League One last season, Hayes was in and around Fleetwood's first-team in 2022/23, but was limited to just five starts. 

        Now 20, Hayes needed gametime and he has got it this season with an impressive stint at Dale, whose gradual rise up the National League table coincided with his arrival at Spotland.

        Starring for Jim McNulty's side, Hayes has added to his reputation as a good technician able to unlock defences with his close control and intelligent movement. One of his key strengths is his ability to cut in off the right and produce special moments, such as his goal last weekend for Rochdale! 

        Strong in 1v1s, Hayes is a smart operator and can go both ways when dribbling despite favouring his stronger left foot. 

        With experience playing for Ireland's Under-19s, as well as an U21 call-up, Hayes has considerable pedigree and his spell on loan in the National League appears to have strengthened his claims to a regular start in the EFL. If he can transfer his performances into the third tier, he looks likely to attract far more attention in future. 

        Josh Stokes
        NameJosh Stokes
        Born/Age2004-04-29(19 -yrs-old)
        PositionMidfielder (Attacking Midfielder) / Forward (Attacking Midfielder)


        Comments (2)
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        2023-12-01 09h51m by sjacksons_9_2_1
        Really excited to see who the next wave of top talent in the EFL will be! Looking forward to more updates from @PlaymakerData on the unfolding drama in the National League
        2023-12-01 09h36m by jreedmanbrst
        This is great news for the EFL, great work by Playmaker in tracking these talents. Exciting to watch them develop and progress up the leagues!


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