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

The League Two title race went down to the wire last season with Forest Green leapfrogging Exeter on the final day and there is scope for plenty of drama in 2022/23.

Racing Post football writer Dan Childs assesses the division and explains which clubs could be challenging for automatic promotion and the play-off places.

He also assesses the relegation battle and nominates a likely candidate to slide into the National League.

What:League Two
When:30th July 2022-6/7th May 2023
How to watch:Sky Sports

Stockport 6/1, Bradford 7/1, Salford City 8/1, Mansfield 11/1, Northampton 12/1 

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Stags set for successful promotion hunt

Nine points covered the top nine teams in last season's final League Two table, and the promotion race could be closely contested again with several teams in with a decent chance.

National League champions Stockport are fancied to do well after making a string of eye-catching signings, including powerhouse centre-back Fraser Horsfall, while Bradford and Salford have been busy with their recruitment drives.

But they may struggle to match beaten playoff finalists Mansfield, who appear determined to shrug off the disappointment of their 3-0 Wembley defeat to Port Vale and are 11/1 to win the title.

Nigel Clough's side showed immense powers of recovery during the regular season, climbing from 23rd to seventh between last October and May, but everything seemed to go wrong at Wembley, where they trailed 2-0 after 25 minutes and were reduced to 10 men by the 34th minute dismissal of central defender Oliver Hawkins.

Clough and his players were understandably disconsolate after the final whistle, but the club have responded positively and look ready to mount an even stronger challenge.

Given Mansfield's excellent finish to last season, they collected 66 points from their final 32 matches, it was unnecessary for them to make wholesale changes.

But the key goalkeeping position has been addressed by the signing of the vastly experienced Scott Flinders and loan acquisition of Peterborough's Christy Pym, and the midfield has been boosted by the arrival of Hiram Boateng from MK Dons.

Boateng made 29 appearances for the promotion-chasing Dons in League One last season and adds significant extra quality to a key area of the pitch.

The Stags tend to share the goals around up front but there is much more to come from the talented Rhys Oates and, overall, they have a squad strong enough to push for the title.

Orient could be on the up

Leyton Orient have not attracted much attention, but they could be in the promotion shake-up in their first full season under Richie Wellens and are 4/1 to be promoted.

The Londoners had a strange season last term, finishing 13th and going through a dismal period between December and March when they went 15 league games without a victory.

They finished the season strongly, winning seven of their final 11 league fixtures, and much of the credit has to go to Wellens, who took the job in early March.

Wellens inherited a squad short of confidence but high on talent and did not take very long to get more out of them.

His possession-based style seemed to suit the players and, after a full pre-season to work with the group, there should be further improvements.

Wellens has resisted the temptation to make wholesale changes but the signing of midfielder George Moncur from Hull looks a smart move.

A lot of the ingredients were already in place for Orient to challenge, including a pair of strikers, Aaron Drinan and Harry Smith, as talented as any in the division.

Orient should be looking at a big improvement and a top three finish is achievable.

Relegated clubs could struggle

None of the four relegated clubs feature anywhere near the top of the promotion betting and the lack of market confidence may be accurate.

Gillingham probably have the best chance of bouncing back because their manager, Neil Harris, is among the best in the division.

However, Harris was unable to prevent the Gills from sliding into the fourth tier and his much-changed squad is going to need time to adjust to their new surroundings.

Doncaster have kept faith with manager Gary McSheffrey but their squad looks bound for mid-table despite the arrival of talented striker Lee Molyneux from Hartlepool.

The same fate could apply to AFC Wimbledon, who are moving forward with a young manager, Johnnie Jackson, and an inexperienced squad, and Crewe, who have a lot of issues to address after losing 31 of 46 league matches last term.

Pools could plummet

Hartlepool spent four successive seasons in the National League before winning promotion in 2020/21, but they could be heading back to the fifth tier after an unsettling summer and are 9/2 to be relegated.

The Monkey Hangers decided on a change of manager after last season's 17th-place finish with Paul Hartley replacing Graeme Lee, and they have undertaken a significant reshaping of the squad.

However, the upheaval may be counter-productive, because many of the incoming players look of a lower quality than the ones who have departed.

Centre-back Neil Byrne and top scorer Molyneux, who have joined Tranmere and Doncaster respectively, will be sorely missed and Pools may struggle to avoid a bottom two finish.

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