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Welsh Football Preview

Like the fresh paint on the touchline dug-outs, you can almost smell the optimism at football clubs at this time of year.

Last season’s problems have been forgotten – almost – new faces have arrived, and most players have that two-weeks-in-Ibiza healthy summer glow.

It all feels good until around five o’clock on the first Saturday in August when fans and punters realise all that glitters is not gold.

For the four Welsh clubs kicking off this weekend in the Football League, however, there is justifiable optimism as they prepare for the long marathon of matches that lays ahead.

All four have strengthened their squad over the summer, whilst two – Cardiff City and Swansea City – are under new management.

Perhaps the sharpest focus will be on Wrexham.

The Dragons ended the last campaign in a blaze of Hollywood-fuelled publicity with promotion from the National League back to League Two and they start their new adventure at home to MK Dons on Saturday – their first match back in the top four leagues for 15 years.

There are many predicting a short one-season stay in the division – and obviously another TV series – before they march on to League One.

In the immediate future, DragonBet have Wrexham at 8/13 to beat MK Dons, with the draw at 14/5 and an away win priced at 4/1.

Skipper Luke Young believes the long wait to return to the Football League has only increased the excitement and anticipation for this season.

“15 years of hurt, heartache, ups and downs, almost getting relegated to being so close to getting out of the league on a number of occasions to finally doing it,” Young reflected.

“People were even thinking were we ever going to get out of this league after so many years and it was a relief to finally do that.

“We’re back in the EFL and we want more. We want to be up there this season as well.

“We have the confidence, the drive and the ambition to certainly do that.”

The only downside for Wrexham is that they will be without their star striker Paul Mullin for up to two months as he recovers from a punctured lung suffered on the club’s pre-season tour of the USA.

There is a sense of the unknown at all four of the Welsh clubs, as each have undergone significant change within their playing squads.

Cardiff have been especially active and although the re-signing of Wales captain Aaron Ramsey stole most of the headlines, the captures of Greek defender Dimitrios Goutas, and proven strikers Karlan Grant and Yakou Mete suggest a more heavyweight feel to the Bluebirds’ resources.

New manager Erol Bulut has been handed a tricky opening fixture – away to relegated Leeds United on Sunday, but seems unfazed.

“Their stadium will be full and that is perfect,” said Bulut.

“Football has to be like that, filling the stadiums. It will be difficult against Leeds, they are at home, they are strong and have their fans behind them.

“But I think we will have a good game on Sunday.”

DragonBet have Cardiff at 7/1 to spring a surprise at Elland Road, with Leeds at 2/5 for the win, with the draw at 7/2.

Swansea are also under new managership in head coach Michael Duff, who has recruited five new players that will extend to six when Newcastle United defender Harrison Ashby completes his loan move on Friday.

Ashby could be the most significant of all the incomings, a 21-year-old who cost Newcastle £3m when he moved from West Ham 18 months ago.

“He has been in for a couple of days and we think he’s a good player – a powerful player, who does both parts of the game well,” said Duff.

“He can get in the top third and deliver crosses, but he’s also a good defender which is first and foremost the most important thing.”

Swansea are not among many pundits’ tips for promotion this season – even via the play-offs, but their head coach is reluctant to set any objectives.

“We want to be competitive, but I am not a big one for making predictions. Everyone will be saying the same thing at the start of the season, let’s try and win the first couple of games, and then see where are after 10 games,” he said.

“That’s not me being negative, I think this is going to be the most competitive Championship season for a long time.

The Swans start at home to Birmingham City on Saturday afternoon, a club in the headlines in recent days after NFL legend Tom Brady was confirmed as a new minority owner.

Wrexham seem to have sparked an American celebrity invasion.

The Swans are 17/20 to beat Birmingham with DragonBet, with the draw at 5/2, and a Blues away win at 3/1.

Newport begin their League Two campaign at Accrington Stanley.

There has been even more churn within the playing squad at Newport than at Cardiff or Swansea and manager Graham Coughlin warned: “We’re into the realms that I’ve never seen before when you see some of the finances and some of the things happening.

“We’ve now got a League Two team flying off to the United States, we’ve got League Two teams going across to Asia, we’ve got League Two teams flying all over the continent in pre-season.

“Some of those things never ever happened before in League Two so the landscape has totally changed.”

County are priced at 9/5 to win away from home on the opening day, with the draw at 23/10 and an Accrington victory at 7/5.

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