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League One - Football: Dan Childs' ante-post tips

Last season's League One promotion race was hugely competitive with seven teams posting at least 80 points and there are several credible contenders in 2022/23.

Racing Post football writer Dan Childs assesses the division and explains which clubs could be on the brink of stepping up to the Championship.

He also looks at the other end of the table and nominates the most likely candidates for relegation.

Owls can soar to the summit

Sheffield Wednesday, priced at 9/2 to win League One, were second best to Sunderland in last season's heavyweight semi-final, but they have lost none of their ambition to regain Championship status and can mount a successful title challenge this season.

The third-tier promotion battle could be the most intense in the EFL this season with several clubs in the mix.

There are seven former Premier League clubs in the section, including relegated Derby, who are sampling life outside of the top two divisions for the first time since 1986.

But none of them tick as many boxes as Wednesday, who have added significant quality to a side which finished last season with wind in their sails.

Darren Moore's men hoovered up 45 points from their last 20 league games, but they were below their best in the playoffs and deservedly lost 2-1 on aggregate to Sunderland.

However, the club has a renewed determination to put things right and have flexed their muscles in the transfer market by acquiring prolific centre-forward Michael Smith and powerhouse central defender Michael Ihiekwe from promoted Rotherham.

Furthermore, David Stockdale, one of the third tier's top keepers, has come in from Wycombe and midfielder Will Vaulks joins from Cardiff, where he racked up 105 Championship appearances over the last three seasons.

The new arrivals have strengthened the spine of the team and talented schemer Barry Bannan has stayed on to pull the strings in midfield.

Overall Wednesday have improved the quality and depth of their squad and they could be tough to stop.

Bolton look Championship bound

Bolton are another big club with serious intent to move forward and should challenge for the automatic promotion places.

The Trotters were promoted from League Two in 2020/21 and followed up with a commendable ninth place finish in League One, after improving substantially in the second half of the season.

Bolton, who are 4/1 to get promoted, racked up 26 points in the first half of last season and 47 in the second, having enhanced their squad with a January shopping spree.

Efforts to improve are ongoing with progressive left-back Jack Iredale joining from Cambridge and Northern Ireland international right-back Connor Bradley signing on a season-long loan from Liverpool.

Manager Ian Evatt is often happy to talk up his team's prospects, but he has every right to be confident and could be celebrating by the end of the season.

Ipswich are another big club hoping to leap from upper mid-table to the top two, but they may have to settle for a playoff place and are 1/2 to finish in the top six.

The Tractor Boys should improve on 11th but they need reinforcements up front.

Wes Burns and QPR loanee Macauley Bonne were their joint-top scorers last season with 12 goals.

Dons can cope with key departures

The presence of several big clubs will not faze MK Dons, who were third last season, and can look forward to another positive campaign.

Liam Manning's Dons, who are 9/2 to get promoted, were arguably the most unlucky of the teams to miss out on promotion, having finished one point outside of the top three.

They dominated large parts of their playoff semi-final against Wycombe, but succumbed to a 2-1 aggregate defeat, and have spent the early part of the summer coming to terms with their situation.

A trio of talented players have left with centre-back Harry Darling, midfielder David Kasumu and attacker Scott Twine moving to Swansea, Huddersfield and Burnley respectively, but the Dons are well-coached and are likely to come back strong.

Manning continues to recruit intelligently and his team should feature prominently in the promotion race.

Relegated teams could find it tough

A lot of strong teams missed out on League One promotion last season and the competitive nature of the division could come as a bit of a shock to relegated Derby, Peterborough and Barnsley, who may struggle in their efforts to bounce straight back.

Derby's longer-term future is much brighter after the end of their ownership saga, but they are attempting to rebuild the bulk of their squad and are likely to go through a transitional phase.

Peterborough are also hard to fancy after shipping 87 goals in the Championship last season and Barnsley's efforts to rebuild under highly-rated manager Michael Duff are hampered by the departures of key forwards Cauley Woodrow and Carlton Morris.

Forest Green could flop

The relegation battle looks wide open and could involve a few of the promoted teams, including League Two champions Forest Green, who are 11/4 to go straight back down.

Most promoted teams go into the new campaign with a spring in their step, but Forest Green went off the boil towards the end of last term, winning only four of their last 17 games.

This summer they have lost their manager, Rob Edwards, wingbacks Nicky Cadden and Kane Wilson and all-action midfielder Ebou Adams.

It will be tough for Edwards's replacement, Ian Burchnall, to plug the gaps and the Gloucestershire side could struggle.

Fellow promoted clubs Exeter and Port Vale may also face a battle to survive if they are not nimble enough in the transfer market, but Bristol Rovers have been making considerable progress under Joey Barton and should consolidate with ease.

By Dan Childs

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