Can Grimsby and Southend bounce back to the EFL at the first attempt?

Relegated duo expected to be fighting it out with Chesterfield and Stockport for National League title, but Harry Kewell faces a battle on his hands at Barnet.

August is historically the month with the highest average attendances in English soccer, as the travails of the previous season are forgotten and belief and hope rule - unless you are a Newcastle fan.

The return of fans following a COVID-enforced lay-off will only add to that sense of excitement and optimism and nowhere will that be more evident than in the National League.

With the promised land of the EFL within touching distance, there's a lot on the line for the 23 clubs who make up the fifth tier.

Here, Planet Sport looks at the chances of all 23 ahead of the big kick-off on August 14.

The contenders

Chesterfield

Finished sixth last term, but should be looking for more this time around. Have retained top scorer Akwasi Asante, and with three favourable games in August, should hit the ground running.

Grimsby Town

Relegated from League Two last season, the Mariners will be on the hunt for an immediate return. They lost top scorer Mattie Pollock to Watford, but their recruitment has been extensive, and many of their nine new signings have EFL experience.

Stockport County

Fancied for the title having retained both Alex Reid and John Rooney, who hit a combined 32 league goals last season. Simon Rusk only became boss in January, but steered the Hatters to a third-placed finish, and their chances of going two better look strong.

Wrexham

Famously now owned by actors Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney, Wrexham will be watched by many outside the division in their attempt to become the fourth Welsh member of the EFL. Their signing of the prolific Paul Mullin from Cambridge United is some statement of intent. The 26-year-old frontman netted 32 goals in 46 games to help United to promotion from League Two last season.

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The play-off hopefuls

FC Halifax Town

Led by a manager - Pete Wild - who despite being young, is proven at this level. The Shaymen have lost two of last season's better players in Jake Hyde and Jack Earing, but those signed as their replacements - Harvey Gilmour and Billy Waters - look promising, and provided they can resolve some defensive issues, should better last season's tenth-placed finish.

Notts County

The game's oldest professional club remain in non-league, but should again make a decent fist of attempting to put that right. An attractive destination for players at this level, as proven by their quality recruitment.

Solihull Moors

May challenge, with a lot depending on the form of striker Adam Rooney. A good season would see them finish in the lower reaches of the play-offs.

Dagenham & Redbridge

Retention of Paul McCallum, who hit 15 goals last term, may prove crucial in any sustained Daggers challenge on the play-off spots.

Southend United

Relegated alongside Grimsby and will find out the hard way that the National League is far from a breeze. Should occupy the upper reaches, but with Rhys Murphy their only striker signing, they will need their defence to stand up to scrutiny - something they failed to do last time around.

Torquay United

Led the league for a large chunk of last season before losing in the play-off final. Have largely signed younger players to replace their 11 departures. Should be looking for a deep run into the play-offs but may find a repeat of last year's title race beyond them.

The mid-table teams

Aldershot Town

Should have little trouble staying up, but at the same time will not trouble the play-off positions. Vastly experienced striker Ross McCormack, formerly of Leeds and Fulham, should bag a fair few.

Barnet

Awful defence last season, finishing bottom - bar Dover, who had their results expunged. Aussie Harry Kewell is their new boss, and keeping the Bees clear of trouble will be his biggest coaching challenge yet.

Bromley

Big coup in keeping hold of the division's top scorer Michael Cheek, and should be destined to finish just inside the top half on the assumption he can continue his fine form.

Boreham Wood

A very thin squad means any injuries may torpedo a push into the top half.

Eastleigh

Finished ninth last season, but the loss of three defenders to League Two may leave hopes of repeating that in tatters. Should, however, still have a solid season, with a well-balanced squad.

Maidenhead United

Scored plenty last season, but also let plenty in. The arrival of Dover centre-back Will de Havilland may help to resolve that, with Kane Ferdinand also looking like a useful signing.

Yeovil Town

Also have a squad that looks on the small side. Finished 16th last season which looks about right.

The relegation candidates

After the National League North and South were curtailed last season, relegation stopped being a threat in this division, but it's back for the new campaign, and these teams will have to fight hard to avoid it.

Altrincham

Finished in the lower reaches of the table last season, and likely to do so again this season after eight departures. Have kept hold of experienced top scorer Josh Hancock, however, and he may prove crucial.

Dover Athletic

Have a nightmare start with a 12-point deduction following a failure to complete fixtures last season. Will spend much of the campaign occupying the basement spot.

King's Lynn Town

Would have been relegated last season had demotion not been scrapped. Centre-back Dan Bowry, signed from Cheltenham, fills a need, but the Linnets may not be so lucky this time around.

Wealdstone

Had a defence that was seemingly on holiday for much of last season, as they shipped a league-high 99 goals. Have signed two centre-backs in an attempt to put that right, but still look destined for trouble.

Weymouth

Another with a leaky defence, and their squad looks undernourished, with just 20 names going into the new season. Will need Josh McQuoid to find the net regularly to keep their heads above water.

Woking

An unsettled off-season, even by National League standards, has seen 14 players leave and ten arrive. The addition of middle-of-the-park utility man Rohan Ince is a step in the right direction, and the Cards should just survive, but will have to battle hard to do so.

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