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15 Things To Look Out For In The Football League This Season

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The Premier League may kick off on August 16, but the real action starts a week before, as the Football League gears up for another thrilling season of hotly-contested matches.

Astonishingly, the Championship is the fourth most-watched league in Europe, with League 1 and League 2 (the 3rd and 4th divisions of English football) far outstripping other nations' second tier attendances. We take a look at five things to look out for in each of the Football League divisions this coming season.

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LEAGUE 2

Bookies' favourites to go up: Luton, Portsmouth, Bury, Shrewsbury

Bookies' favourites to go down: Accrington Stanley, Morecambe

1. Luton Town have finally made it back into the football league after five years of trying and are tipped to do well, backed by their huge crowds, and their canny manager, John Still. But all eyes will be on their cult hero Steve McNulty, the grey-haired, generously-proportioned centre back, who is apparently 30, but looks about 50.

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2. AFC Wimbledon have signed the equally 'stout' striker Ade Akinfenwa - an impressive capture. Despite weighing 16 stone, he boasts an impressive goal record - 130 goals in 371 league games, and scored 10 for a struggling Gillingham side in League 1 last year. The Dons disappointed last season, finishing 20th, but he could be the man to fire the real Dons up a division and closer to that dream of overtaking MK.

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3. James Beattie performed wonders at Accrington Stanley last season - the club had the lowest wage bill and Beattie's duties included cleaning the toilets. Despite a shocking start, he guided them to an impressive 15th. If he can repeat the feat, he'll rightly receive acclaim, but could be poached by a bigger club.

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4. Of the four relegated sides, look to Stevenage for entertainment value; not necessarily from the football, but from the ever-entertaining manager Graham Westley. Author of an unmissable Football League Paper column which practically defines the concept of thinking-outside-the-box, he's made an astute signing in striker Calvin Zola, released by Aberdeen and a proven performer at this level.

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5. Will this be the year that Portsmouth finally enter the upward section of their form curve? Three relegations in four seasons preceded last year, when many expected them to immediately bounce back. Instead they looked in serious danger of dropping out of the league altogether after a disastrous season saw manager Guy Whittingham and his replacement Richie Barker both getting the boot. Pompey legend Andy Awford (above) steered them to safety, before being rewarded with a year-long deal and, with crowds still huge (they averaged over 15,000 last season) they could feature up the right end of the table for the first time in a long while.

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League 1

Bookies' favourites to go up: Sheffield United, Bristol City, Preston

Bookies' favourites to go down: Colchester, Crewe, Port Vale, Rochdale

6. All eyes will be on Brisbane Road to see how Leyton Orient recover from their Wembley heartache after they lost on penalties in the play-off final. Fortunately, the club has been given a boost at just the right time with the takeover of wealthy Italian Francesco Becchetti, who previous owner Barry Hearn has been talking up in no uncertain terms. They've only lost one key player, Moses Odubajo and they've added strength in depth with the likes of Darius Henderson (above) coming in - the Os could do what Brentford did last year and turn gloom into glory.

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7. MK Dons had a poor season last year, despite a decent budget, and it's time for motormouth manager Karl Robinson to produce the goods or he could be in for a very uncomfortable time. Chelsea's Patrick Bamford scored a bucketload of goals on loan last year; they'll need a similarly astute signing to get the net bulging this time around.

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8. Like Portsmouth, this should finally be the year where Sheffield United start the ascent back to their rightful position in the higher echelons of English football. The Blades have been stuck in League 1 for three seasons now, and endured a nightmare start last time out, but the change of manager to Nigel Clough reaped dividends, as they produced an incredible cup run, reaching the semi-finals and finishing a superb 7th. With a full preseason, substantial funds and a good manager, they really should be the team to beat this time around.

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9. Of the teams coming down from the Championship, Doncaster Rovers should be the ones to watch, but not necessarily on the field. A proposed takeover from One Direction star Louis Tomlinson generated huge headlines, but ultimately fell through. With the club in limbo, it's unclear what funds will be available to manager Paul Dickov - and Tomlinson could well try again with another bid. Or perhaps he'll make the first team this season, after appearing for the reserves last year. Either way, it should be interesting.

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10. Another unknown quantity is Coventry City. Long-suffering fans spent the entirety of last season travelling 35 miles to watch their home games at Northampton Town's Sixfields stadium (above) following a dispute between the club and the owners of the Ricoh Arena, while the team started the season with a ten point deduction after coming out of administration. A brilliant start saw Stephen Pressley's men briefly flirt with the play-offs, before the sale of crucial players left them hamstrung, and only just surviving. If they can get back to their home and keep their players, they could be dark horses to go up - if they don't, then another miserable season could ensue.

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The Championship

Bookies' favourites to go up: Cardiff, Derby, Fulham

Bookies' favourites to go down: Blackpool, Charlton, Millwall

11. There can have been few more farcical preseasons that the one Blackpool have had. They've spent the majority of it with just eight players, cancelling friendlies and a tour of Spain along the way, due to chairman Karl Oyston's reluctance to spend money. Reinforcements have finally come in, but they only signed a goalkeeper two days ago and manager Jose Riga faces a tough task to blend everything together in time; whether he is capable, no one really knows, as he has held just one press conference since June. A very strange state of affairs.

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12. The Championship is set to be the battleground of the crazy chairmen, with Oyston matched, and perhaps outdone by Leeds United supremo Massimo Cellino. He has sacked a player, Paddy Kenny, due to his birthday being unlucky, closed down the club's canteen, demanded that all players live in the city and appointed a manager, Dave Hockaday, whose only previous experience is moderate achievement in the Conference with Forest Green Rovers. They've sold striker Ross McCormack for an astonishing £11m - a good bit of business - but it's anyone's guess where that money will end up. Expect nothing less than fireworks at Elland Road this season.

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13. And of course, everyone's favourite crazy chairman Vincent Tan is back in the Championship following Cardiff's relegation from the Premier League last season. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was highly-rated before arriving in Wales mid-way through last season, but did little to enhance his reputation. The fans were willing to go along with the colour change to red, the appointment of a 23-year-old on work experience as the club's head of recruitment and all the rest of the nonsense as long as it brought success: if they don't start well, it could all begin to turn nasty.

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14. Wolves had a magnificent season in League 1, breaking club and divisional records in the process of going up as champions, following two consecutive relegations. Such was the job that manager Kenny Jackett did in getting rid of the deadwood and galvanising the rest of the squad, that it's not beyond the realms of possibility that they could surge up the Championship as well. Two relegations followed by two promotions? It's not out of the question.

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15. As well as controversial chairmen, Championship fans will have a controversial manager to add to their ranks, with the arrival of Rotherham's Steve Evans. Few can deny the motivational job he must have done to rouse his team from 2-0 down at half time to win the play-off final, but he rubs many up the wrong way. He's been found guilty of tax evasion while at Boston, with the club narrowly avoiding a points penalty and been given a stadium ban for using foul and abusive language toward a member of Bradford City's staff. He spent most of last season complaining that Rotherham were never awarded penalties - usually shortly before being awarded a penalty. No doubt similar tricks will be brought out this year as he attempts to battle the odds to keep the Millers in the second tier.

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(Images: Rex/Getty)

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