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Welcome back to the Football League! After League Cup fixtures in midweek, the 72 return to challenge for three points and define this early part of the season with success. We pick out some of the key clashes this weekend to keep an eye on.

Peterborough United v Derby County – The first six-pointer of 21/22

Championship

Saturday 14th August, 12.30pm kick-off

Sky Sports Football

Clarke-Harris will be seeking to transfer his League One form to Championship level. Credit: Peterborough Telegraph.

Peterborough fans will have had a sense of deja vu last Saturday against Luton after single-season appearances in the Championship during 2010 and 2013. The Posh have never been in a better place, however, with a settled side, a club that values it fans and an experienced manager in Darren Ferguson. The addition of Jorge Grant was a shrewd move, probably the most complete midfielder in League One last season with 13 goals, 9 assists, and a lot more crunching tackles.

Derby fans by comparison are facing the biggest crisis in the club’s history, although now that the EFL has allowed some signing to be made perhaps the worst has passed. Ravel Morrison was among those arriving at Pride Park, and retaining Curtis Davies was a boost to survival hopes also, both players have scored on their first starts this season. Festy Ebosele impressed against Salford, picking up the man-of-the-match award, and may retain his place for this game as a result.

Verdict: Derby will hope to bounce-back, and the fightback against Salford will have given them a boost. However, they are low on numbers and quality, with little end in sight to their troubles. Peterborough are organised and should win the midfield battle through Grant and the hopeful return of Jack Taylor.

Peterborough United 1-0 Derby County

Best Bet: 1st half goals under 0.5 – 13/8

One to watch: Jonson Clarke-Harris (27 – F – Peterborough)

Regardless of Peterborough’s promotion, Jonson Clarke-Harris was always destined to be playing in the Championship this year. The journeyman striker has been on the rise since 2017, culminating in a 31 goal haul last season in the league alone. If he can make the step-up from League One, and net half-a-dozen goals before Christmas, I fully expect him to make a big-money move to a playoff hopeful in the January window. He is recovering from a calf injury, so potentially this game has come to early for him to impress however.

MK Dons v Sunderland – Manning’s first test

Credit: MK Dons

League One

Saturday 14th August, 3pm

Football Highlights – Quest TV, Saturday 9pm, Sunday 10am

The Dons have had a tough start to this season, losing top-scorer Cameron Jerome and manager Russell Martin to the Championship, before conceding a 95th minute equaliser in their first game. However, there is still reason for optimism. A young squad with some exciting players, Mo Eisa scoring on his debut, and the arrival of new manager Liam Manning who has impressed at Lommel in Belgium. Sunderland have ambitions to be League Champions this term, and manager Lee Johnson has had the opportunity to build his own squad for the first time in his tenure. The Black Cats come into this game after an impressive second-half performance against Wigan in which they dominated possession, with Lynden Gooch as a stand-out performer on the right-wing.

Verdict: The Dons have an outside chance at a playoff place this season, with the attacking talent available to them, they will trouble the majority of League One defences. Lee Johnson is experienced, and has bought well over the summer, this should see his team over the line.

MK Dons 1-2 Sunderland

Best Bet: Sunderland to win and both teams to score – 9/2

One to watch: Scott Twine (22 – M – MK Dons)

Signed from Swindon Town over the summer, Twine is a talented attacking midfielder who loves a shot from long range, scoring 7 in League Two last season, and netting on his debut last week. A very good passer of the ball, he doesn’t often lose possession, and is at his best when driving his team forward. I expect him to be playing in the Championship next season if he maintains his current form.

Mansfield Town v Newport County – Clough v Flynn

Newport Manager Michael Flynn is focusing on promotion at the third attempt. Credit: Wales Online

League Two

Saturday 14th August, 3pm kick-off

Football Highlights – Quest TV, Saturday 9pm, Sunday 10am

I really like this Newport County side, and in Michael Flynn they have have probably my favourite manager at all levels. Now in his 6th season in charge, whilst running an Estate Agency on the side, Flynn has transformed County from relegation certainties, to FA Cup giant killers, to possession-dominating behemoths of League Two.

County lost the playoff final last year, but have managed to retain many of their key players. Lewis Collins, forward, full-back Demetriou and midfielder Scot Bennett, all lynch-pins of their success returned in good form. Mansfield look a force to be reckoned with under Clough, and I expect them to challenge for promotion this year. Like Newport, they seek to dominate possession, and represent a threat at set-pieces. They finished last season strongly, and opened their campaign with a victory against promotion-rivals. Striker Ollie Hawkins impressed on his debut, as did Stephen McLaughlin a full-back who is solid but offers a good attacking threat.

Verdict: Mansfield have been given the toughest opening fixtures of any team in the Football League. The Stags recorded a victory at home last week, but I don’t seem them repeating that feat here. This will be a close game however, and there’s no guarantees of a Newport victory, i think they will be persistent enough to grind one out before the final whistle.

Mansfield Town 0-1 Newport County

Best Bet: Newport County +1 – 8/11

One to watch: Kevin Ellison (42 – F – Newport)

Ellison represents everything that is great about League Two. After playing non-league football in his teens, he made his league debut away at Old Trafford for Leicester City in 2001. Since then he’s made over 700 appearances across 10 clubs, scoring some crucial goals. The oldest player to score in the play-offs since their inception, he is a master of the dark arts, the kind of player you love when he’s on your team and love to hate when he isn’t. Off the pitch, Kevin is an ambassador for mental health, having spoken publicly about his battles with depression.

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