By Steve Manning

Hello, and welcome back to my penultimate write-up before the previews begin in earnest on Saturday 30th July.

In the first of two parts, I will be giving you my six teams who I believe will be in the mix for the title & automatic promotion, as well as those who I believe will be in the play-offs next May.

In the next part, I will be giving you my four teams I think will be dropping down to League Two as well, it will be good to see how many I get right at the end of the 22/23 campaign – and how many I get completely, and utterly wrong.

Here we go then:

1.    Milton Keynes Dons (Champions) 

This maybe a bold statement to make, but my money is on The Dons this season to lift the League One title.

The squad rebuild continues to go exceedingly well, and at the time of writing the Liam’s have attracted some international quality to the squad. With the likes of Darragh Burns, Dawson Devoy, Conor Grant, Louie Barry offering the club some serious pace in attack.

And Welsh International Matt Smith is expected to have a breakout season after last season’s cameos from the bench, and his impressive performances on the world stage.

The squad unity that exists in the Dons camp, that togetherness will be vital to keeping these boys focussed when moments and results go against them.

A lot of responsibility will be placed on Griggy, Lewie, and Bradley Johnson to guide the youngsters at the club. And with the best part of 2,000 career appearances between them, you cannot buy that type of mentorship.

Key Man: Will Grigg (Forward)

He was brought back to score goals, and in a team that will play to his strengths he will score.

He might even use his chest again or invent some more ingenious ways to get the ball into the opponent’s net. Maybe by using fireballs?

If Will gets a run of goals in this side, and a newfound confidence as he did in the 2014/15 promotion winning campaign, then it is hard to not believe that we are headed in an upward trajectory this time around.

2.    Sheffield Weds (Runners-Up)

Darren Moore has steadied The Owls, since their relegation two seasons ago from the Championship.

The former Jamaican international has had his own rebuilding job at Hillsborough Stadium this summer – shedding several high earners from the side which came down into the third tier.

They have recruited very well with a blend of experience with the likes of David Stockwell, Michael Smith, and Michael Ihiekwe joining the Owlerton based outfit.

In my opinion their play-off semi-final heartbreak, much like The Dons, will be a driving force for The Wednesday this time around.  

With the levels of depth currently at the club I find it very hard to see anything other than a successful promotion bid for one of England’s fallen giants.

Darren Moore has a clear plan for his Sheffield Weds team, players are queuing up to pull on the blue and white stripes it seems, and he doesn’t seem to be done yet with signings.

In my opinion anyone who finishes above The Owls will be crowned League One champions, and hopefully it is indeed The Dons who can see the game through to the end.

Key Man: Barry Bannan (Midfielder) 

Bannan is the club captain for Sheffield Wednesday, the beating heart of their midfield engine room. When the Scot is on form the Owls are unplayable.

Barry Bannan is deadly from any range for Wednesday as we saw for ourselves in our last encounter with them in Milton Keynes.

Bannan likes to dictate the play in any game he plays in, give him that freedom and you are pretty much on that backfoot, he’s a league one player who should be playing much higher up the league system, and it shows.

3.    Derby County (Third Place) 

The mere fact that The Rams can take to the field after the last 18 months that they’ve just endured is something that should be applauded.

Mel Morris has finally been removed as owner of Derby, and their Pride Park Stadium, Wayne Rooney didn’t fancy running the show in League One either, with his backers 32red having ended their association with the prestigious former champions of England, he walked out of the club to take stock of what he had been through with the Rams. (Since then, he has resurfaced at his former MLS side DC United as Head Coach)

In his place his Assistant Leroy Rosenior was installed as the Interim Head Coach for Derby’s new campaign, and he’s been backed by the new owner David Clowes in the transfer market as well, with his signings having drawn admiring glances towards his club – David McGoldrick is just one statement signing this summer and they will be in the mix come what May.

Key Man: Jason Knight (Defender)

Derby County’s sought-after midfielder has piqued the interest of several scouts within the Scottish Premier League, along with some well-established Premier League, & top end EFL Championship clubs.

At 21, he is already capped at senior level by the Irish Republic and is rated highly by their coaching staff. A dangerously talented proposition for any defence at our level.

4.    Ipswich Town (Fourth Place)

The Tractor Boys are another side who play attractive possession-based football with attacking intent.

Kieran McKenna, who learned the art of coaching under the likes of José Mourinho, and Old Gunnar Solskjaer at Manchester United has made his blues side difficult to beat since taking the reins at Portman Road.

Their downfall was their vastly inconsistent goal scoring performances last season which meant they missed out on a play-off berth. They’ve recruited well too, with Portsmouth’s Marcus Harness swapping the island City for East Anglia this summer.

Harness is just one of a raft of changes the Irishman has made to his squad in pre-season, and they are highly fancied to go straight up this season. I would agree with that sentiment, however I am not that convinced Ipswich will go up automatically. A play-off spot should be well within their reach though.

Key Man: Sam Morsy (Midfield)

Club Captain, and Egypt International Morsy is an influential figure inside this Town team, leading by example and a role model to Ipswich’s academy players rising into their first team set-up.

Like Bannan he makes the Tractor Boys tick in midfield, orchestrating passages of play like a general amid a battle. Morsy is a constant threat going forward and can be a tricky opponent to handle with the ball in and around the opponent’s box.

A stray leg will be used to the fullest by McKenna’s main man, and many crucial decisions have been won for them in those situations before. When Morsy is on his game, the game almost always is already lost.

5.    Peterborough United (Fifth Place)

The Posh, whether you love them or hate them, are becoming specialists at finishing in the top six of this division.

Darragh MacAnthony, and his Canadian Co-Owners have lofty ambitions for their club and their recruitment model is – like ours geared towards unearthing promising young talents from Ireland and the lower leagues – and it has paid dividends over the last couple of years.

Two of the latest signing’s hoping to play a part in lifting the club back into the second tier, at the first attempt under Head Coach Grant McCann, are David Ajiboye picked up from Sutton United, and Harry Kyprianou who swapped Leyton Orient for the Weston Homes Stadium this summer.

Winger Ajiboye became sought after following a stellar season at Sutton where he helped the Amber & Chocolates to the Football League Trophy final, and the brink of an unthinkable play-off spot in their first ever season in the EFL.

McCann’s ambition for The Posh ultimately persuaded the speed merchant to make the move north from a club that he had enjoyed great success at.

Cypriot youth international Kyprianou is another youngster whose brilliant performances for a massively underperforming Orient side also caught the eye, and The Posh beat off competition from several Championship sides for his signature.

Recruiting young up and coming players of their ilk has always stood Peterborough in good stead, and this season will be no different – they’ll want the autos … but I can see play-offs minimum for Posh in May.

Key Man: Jonson Clarke-Harris (Forward) 

The chances of securing an immediate return to the second-tier hinge on McCann’s ability to keep hold of his captain this season.

Harris has notched an impressive 43 goals inside two seasons at London Road. 31 of them goals came as he fired his side to promotion in his first season at the club.

And with the struggles of last season as Peterborough suffered relegation, he was still able to find the net 12 times in all his league outings.

With The Posh playing third tier football again this season, it should see the Jamaican International have no trouble firing the club comfortably into the top six, long before this season is done, and dusted.

6.    Barnsley F.C. (Sixth Place) 

The Tykes finished rock bottom of the Championship last season, having failed to get any kind of winning run going (and going through four different bosses during the campaign) they were relegated to the third tier with wiggle room to spare.

Swedish coach Poya Asbaghi was dismissed by The Reds board immediately after their relegation was confirmed – former Dons Loanee Martin Devaney took Interim charge for the last remaining games of that season.

Barnsley after an intense search turned to Cheltenham Town’s highly rated Head Coach Michael Duff, whose attacking brand of football at Whaddon Road led to him being offered the job in South Yorkshire.

In all there have been 10 departures so far from Oakwell this summer, the biggest losses being those of Cauley Woodrow, and Carlton Morris both of whom joined The Dons local rivals Luton Town. Seven players have joined up with Duff’s Reds Revolution with notable names such as striker James Norwood, and winger Nicky Cadden adding goals and pace to the side.

Barnsley are having no problem recruiting in the right areas, and they’ve given their new boss every fighting chance of winning promotion back to the Championship at the first attempt.

Depending on how quickly they get going this season will map out which route they will potentially take back to where they came from for next season.

Key Man: Callum Styles (Midfield) 

Hungarian International Styles is like many I’ve mentioned here, hot property right now, and has been attracting the attention of Greek giants Olympiakos who have been tracking him for some time.

Callum Styles proved to be a bright spark in a very drab Reds side last season, qualifying to play for Hungary through his grandmother he has been able to show off his talents to the world.

Styles has that ability to turn games on their head, if Barnsley by some miracle keep hold of him, I can see a push for automatic promotion in store for the club, if they can’t keep him then they might have enough to make the play-off semi-finals in my opinion.

Thanks for reading part 1 of my promotion predictions, keep your eyes peeled for part 2 in which my four teams for the drop will be revealed!

Until Next Time, SM.

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