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Countdown to kick-off: Wednesday tipped to be title contenders
Who will be amongst the third division front runners as Owls look to bounce back? Sheffield Wednesday kick-off their League One campaign against Dagenham & Redbridge at Hillsborough on Saturday as they start their bid to make a swift return to the Championship. Many of the bookmakers have the Owls down as second favourites to go up this season and while no club has a divine right to promotion it would be a big disappointment if the Owls did not at least achieve a play-off place. The size and stature of the club, the retention of some good players and a number of key summer acquisitions have contributed to Wednesday’s billing as one of the promotion favourites but which other teams are being regarded as contenders to climb out of League One? In terms of winning the title few are looking any further than Southampton and given the way they finished last season that is understandable. The Saints suffered from a slow start on the back of a ten point deduction last season but excellent form in 2010 meant that they only just missed out on the play-offs. With the ability of Adam Lallana in midfield and the firepower of Lambert and Barnard up front they will take some stopping but unlike the last campaign where they were battling against the odds from the start the tag of favourites could create pressure if they suffer one or two early set backs. Along with Wednesday, Peterborough and Plymouth dropped out of the Championship last season and will be expected to mount a challenge to return. Plymouth have kept a relatively low pre-season profile but have managed to hold on to many of their players. Peterborough may be better positioned than Argyle as they still have key front players such as Mackail-Smith, Mclean and Boyd and have added the likes of Scunthorpe’s Grant McCann who didn’t look out of place in the Championship last season. New manager Gary Johnson will more than likely have been given a brief aimed at getting them back to the second tier at the first time of asking. Last season’s play-off runners up Swindon may find it hard to match last season’s achievements, especially with Billy Paynter having moved on to Leeds. Young Charlie Austin was a revelation for the club last term but will have more pressure and responsibility this time around and the opposition are no well aware of his capabilities. Of last season’s play-off sides Huddersfield appear to be the best positioned to make a promotion push. Manager Lee Clark has added players with plenty of experience at a higher level such as Naysmith, Gudjonsonn, Croft and Garner to a side that went very close last season. Charlton are perhaps less fancied as a number of influential first team players have left the Valley and it will be interesting to see how they fare. Amongst the dark horses could be the likes of Brighton, who are expected to have a much better season this time around under Gus Poyet and Notts County if they can carry forward the momentum of last season’s League Two promotion on the back of Lee Hughes’ goals. Bristol Rovers could also be one to watch out for and the ever ambitious MK Dons will have their sights set on the top ten and above. The forward thinking club may have taken a risk by making Karl Robinson the youngest manager in the football league at 29 following the departure of Paul Ince but he can call upon the vast experience of his assistant John Gorman. Wednesday will by no means have things all their own way this season but the expectation of the Hillsborough faithful is that they should be up there with the front runners. It was far from plain sailing the last time the Owls fell to the third tier and it took them two seasons to bounce back, the club can ill afford a repeat of 2003/04 season which saw them go closer to relegation than promotion.
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