Chris Rivett takes a closer look at this year's runners and riders in Coca-Cola League 1

THE MAIN CONTENDERS

After just missing out on promotion via the Play-Offs last season, Leeds United are understandably most people's favourites to take the league by storm again this season.

Despite a 15 point deduction last campaign the Elland Road side still made the Play-Offs and only a James Hayter goal at Wembley prevented them returning to the Championship.

Manager Gary McAllister has bolstered an already strong squad with the addition of experienced duo Alan Sheehan and Enoch Showunmi, as well as highly rated Robert Snodgrass and anything less than the title will represent a disappointing season for the Elland Road faithful. 

Michael Bridges
Michael Bridges scored 15 goals in 29 appearances during his first spell with Carlisle, a similar record this year could have a big impact on the Cumbrians' season
 

The most likely threat to that honour is expected to come from Leicester City, whose relegation was only confirmed on the final day of the season and they will be making their bow at this level for the first time in their history - no doubt keen to make it a short stay.

New manager Nigel Pearson has kept hold of most of that squad and with some shrewd additions will have the strength necessary to give Leeds a run for the top spot.

Southend won this division three seasons ago, pipping their Essex rivals Colchester United to the title by three points and both teams will believe they can achieve a similar finish this time around so by no means should we expect a straight two-horse race, no matter what the bookies may want us to believe.

Not to be forgotten either are John Ward's Carlisle United who set the early pace at this level last season and who only missed out on an automatic spot and a successive promotion on goal difference. Ward hasn't added many new permanent faces to the side but has moved to bring Michael Bridges back to Brunton Park on a season-long loan from Hull City and has money still available following the big money sale of Joe Garner.

SURPRISE PACKAGES

Brighton & Hove Albion made their dash to the Play-Offs last year a few matches too late, but if they can start the season in the form they finished it then a top six spot will be the minimum manager Micky Adams will expect his side to achieve in his second spell in the Seagulls' hot seat.

The financial support of Huddersfield Town's chairman-elect Dean Hoyle will certainly have upped the expectations on manager Stan Ternent's shoulders this season and having attracted experienced new signings like Andy Butler and Chris Lucketti to join the revolution at the Galpharm, if they can find their feet quickly at the back, the Terriers have a firm base from which to build in their centenary season and could prove to be the division's dark horses.

Micky Adams
Five years ago Mickey Adams celebrated promotion to the Premiership with Leicester - after beating Brighton. It could be a different story this season.
 

Underneath that it could be any one from eight teams capable of claiming a Play-Off berth with only nine points separating positions seventh to fourteenth last season on the fringes of the Play-Offs.

Of the promoted sides, Milton Keynes Dons and Peterborough United will both expect to hit the ground running and given a good start, could make up the mix in the Play-Off spots come the end of the campaign.

KEY PLAYERS

It goes without saying that the continued goalscoring prowess of last season's League 1 Player of the Year Jermaine Beckford will have a big influence on Gary McAllister's side's fortunes this season. His twenty goals were the cornerstone of Leeds' promotion challenge last year but you can expect the goals to be more evenly distributed throughout a stronger squad this time and with some of that pressure off his shoulders he could prove even more dangerous this time out.

Deadly set-piece taker Andy Robinson's arrival at Elland Road from champions Swansea City has strengthened an already impressive array of midfield options available to United and McAllister hopes his experience of winning titles with the Swans will rub off on his squad.

Leicester City's attempts to bounce-back at the first opportunity could also rest at the feet of a proven goalscorer at this level in Steve Howard, the evergreen frontman has spent the majority of his career banging in the goals in League 1 for Luton and Northampton and if the Foxes can get their supply right from the flanks, few players could pose more of a threat in and around the box than the man who netted 22 times in 44 games during Luton's title charge in 2004/05.

Steve Howard
Two season's ago Steve Howard scored 19 times as Derby won promotion to the Premier League, last year a goal against Manchester United meant he had scored in every division - most of the them have gone past goalkeepers at this level.
 

As well as upfront Leicester are likely to impress at the back. Last season, despite relegation they still boasted the second meanest defence in the Championship, conceding just 45 goals. It was a record bettered only by Crystal Palace and despite losing Rab Douglas who has rejoined Dundee and Marton Fulop's return to Sunderland, they have a capable stopper in Paul Henderson, who will be kept on his toes by the arrival of Liverpool loanee David Martin.

Colchester's capture of Paul Reid could prove to be a shrewd piece of business, the former Rangers defender captained Barnsley to Play-Off success three years ago and is capable of forming a formidable partnership alongside Australian international Chris Coyne, who has also been promoted from this division with Luton, or Matt Heath. Geraint Williams has kept his cards close to his chest pre-season, trying out different permutations at the back but Reid's ability to comfortably slot into a defensive midfield role as well means he will be an important player for the U's this year.

NEW BOYS

Coca-Cola League 2 Champions Milton Keynes Dons and runners-up Peterborough will both find themselves filling column inches during the early part of the season as a close eye is kept on the managerial careers of fledgling bosses Roberto Di Matteo and Darren Ferguson, as they cut their managerial teeth at this level for the first time; especially the former Chelsea midfielder in what is his first appointment.

In Graham Turner, Hereford have a man who knows the lower divisions inside out but he will find it a challenge to get anywhere near the success his Bulls side achieved last season. With little comings and goings at Edgar Street in the summer months he has shown his faith in the squad that came up.

Stockport County will need to replace the firepower of Liam Dickinson following his move to Derby if they are to hold their own at this level but in Jim Gannon, they have a manager with an eye for a bargain.

Roberto Di Matteo
Roberto Di Matteo is cutting his managerial teeth at StadiumMK this year and after an illustrious playing career many will be watching to see how he gets on moulding a successful squad of players into his own playing style.
 

Coming down from the Championship, Leicester's expectations will be high but they will also be only too aware of the time local rivals Nottingham Forest took to get back to that level. A good start is paramount.

Colchester boss Williams has wasted no time in bringing in plenty of experience to bolster his U's squad. He started building for this season as early as January with the capture of Coyne, Philip Ifil, Dean Hammond and Scott Vernon during the last window, throw in the arrival of Matt Lockwood from Forest, along with Reid and Heath in the summer and if they can continue to score the goals with the ease they have in pre-season they will be a real threat.

Worthy league winners in 2006/07, Scunthorpe will be all the wiser for a year in the Championship but in the process of reshuffling their pack may have to make do with another year in this division before they can mount a serious challenge.

It may prove to be an open race in Coca-Cola Championship but there is enough evidence to suggest this could be the division to watch this year; it is by no means a straightforward case of 'Leeds plus one'