With the big kick-off in sight, HNA casts a glance over division 2 and rates our opponents' (and our own) chances. A few clubs have been spending big and some of the teams promoted from division 3 look well capable of challenging, but there's no outstanding candidate for the championship this season. Get ready for an interesting nine months... (please note that we reserve the right to completely disown or modify our predictions at a later date.)

BLACKPOOL

On paper, last season's seventh best division 3 side shouldn't have a hope of staying up in a decent division 2 this year. But the late run that fired Steve McMahon's team into the second division - and which saw the Seasiders net 18 times to win their last six games - will give them more than a little confidence going into the new campaign. Ex Man United defender John O'Kane joins up with fellow United youth midfielder Richard Wellens, himself a player rapidly becoming the team's most valuable asset. A successful hunt for a new goalkeeper and a continuation of the excellent form of strike pairing Murphy and Ormerod may be enough to keep Blackpool up, but it's going to be tough.

Predicted finish: 21
Man to watch: Richard Wellens

Major transfers:

In (from)
John O'Kane (Bolton)
Neil MacKenzie (Kidderminster)

Out (to)
Junior Bent (released)
Steve Bushell (released)
Steve Garvey (released)
Mike Newell (released)
Adam Nowland (Wimbledon)
Adam Rachel (released)
 

BOURNEMOUTH
Sean O'Driscoll's Cherries will again be seeking that crucial factor which has undermined their promotion challenge for the last few seasons: consistency. Bournemouth's low budget, loan-driven campaigns have made this elusive quality even harder to achieve, and with the redevelopment of Dean Court, money will again be tight. Last season it was the loan of teenage wonder-striker Jermaine Defoe that almost fired the Cherries into the playoffs, and replacements Warren Feeney and Amos Foweya have been drafted in to add some permanent firepower. Capable of beating anyone on their day with intelligent attractive football, Bournemouth still lack the class to turn them into genuine contenders. Definitely worth an outside bet for promotion but they'll be aiming for the playoffs.

Predicted finish: 10
Man to watch: Amos Foweya
 
Major transfers:

In (from)
Amos Foweya (West Ham)
Warren Feeney (Leeds)

Out (to)
Claus Jorgensen (Dover)
Jamie Day (Dover)
BRENTFORD
Steve Coppell replaced Ray Lewington in the Griffin park hotseat over the summer, and the ex-Palace boss will feel at right at home at a club with plenty of off-pitch trauma and tight purse strings. Coppell's transfer kitty is virtually zero which means the Bees' hunt for a striker to partner Lloyd Owusu will be limited to freebies and loans. Fans believe that a decent forward could make the difference - it's hard to argue considering that the odd goal might have turned a good few of Brentford's 17 draws last season into wins. Like many division 2 sides, Brentford aren't far from being the finished article but with little transfer movement Coppell will do well just to secure a mid-table finish.

Predicted finish: 19
Man to watch: Martin Rowlands
 
Major transfers:

Out (to)
Lorenzo Pinamonte (released)
BRIGHTON & HOVE ALBION
Albion chairman Dick Knight has slapped a multi-million pound price tag on ex-Bristol Rovers forward Bobby Zamora, whose goals propelled the Seagulls up to division 2 last season - passing the striker's old club, who sunk into the third thanks to a lack of firepower, along the way. The arrival of ex-Fulham striker Dirk Lehmann from Hibs is a further statement of the south coast club's ambition, while Robbie Pethick and Simon Morgan will add experience in the full back slots.
Boss Micky Adams made no secret of his application for the vacant Southampton position at the end of last season and, despite failing to land that post, will be hot property if he can guide the Seagulls through a successful campaign. Many pundits are predicting good things for Brighton, and it's hard to disagree after their demolition of division 3 defences last term.

Predicted finish: 9
Man to watch; Bobby Zamora  
 
Major transfers:

In (from)
Dirk Lehmann (Hibs)
Robbie Pethick (Bristol Rovers)
Geoff Pitcher (Kingstonian)
Simon Morgan (Fulham)

Out (to)
Martin Thomas (Oxford)
Mark Cartwright (Shrewsbury)
BRISTOL CITY
City fans have been disappointed by a close season devoid of any major transfer activity - only Mike Stowell has arrived so far, from Wolves as cover for long-term injured keeper Billy Mercer. The other worry for the red side of Bristol is striker Lee Peacock who will miss the first two or three months with injury. On the positive side, City, the most fluent passing side in the division, are always hard to beat and stability in the line up may well see them fulfill their promise as the dark horse of division 2.

Predicted finish: 8
Man to watch: Tony Thorpe
  
Major transfers:

In (from)
Mike Stowell (Wolves)

Out (to)
Gerard Lavin (Northampton)
BURY
Stuck well inside in the Old Trafford catchment area, it's always been a struggle attracting crowds, and consequently cash and quality players, to Gigg Lane. With stalwarts Nick Daws and Chris Swailes having jumped ship to join Ronnie Moore's resurgent Rotherham, the Shakers have a real problem with the lack of quality in their squad. Indian striker Baichung Bhutia is an exception, but his contribution will have to be massive to keep Bury up. Last season they turned over easily at home to the Royals, and it's hard to see them striking fear into many opponents this term.

Predicted finish: 24
Man to watch: Baichung Bhutia
 
Major transfers:

In (from)
Mark Whiteman (Man U)
Edward Tarsus (unattached)

Out (to)
Chris Swailes (Rotherham)
Nick Daws (Rotherham)
Lutel James (Accrington)
CAMBRIDGE UTD
U's fans are not confident of a successful campaign due to what they see as John Beck's rather 'predictable' tactics and a lack of footballing talent in the squad. The loss of Dreyer and Joseph has weakened the U's defence while Ritchie Humphreys' departure to Hartlepool after playing only six games in Cambridge colours has disheartened supporters. Cambridge's direct style has reaped just enough points in recent seasons to maintain division 2 status, but the more talented players like Youngs and Wanless will have their work cut out keeping the team up once again.

Predicted finish: 23
Man to watch: Tom Youngs
 

Major transfers:

In (from)
Tony Scully (QPR)
Colin Alcide (York)
Stevland Angus (West Ham)

Out (to)
Mark Joseph (Peterborough)
John Dreyer (Oxford)
Ritchie Humphreys (Hartlepool)

CARDIFF CITY

Cardiff have transformed themselves into Nationwide big hitters since their promotion in May thanks to the spending power of new owner Sam Hammam. Already a fluid passing side with a good fanbase, the Bluebirds have splashed £2m on Man City's Spencer Prior and Stoke midfielder Graham Kavanagh to signal their promotion intentions. Bluebirds fans are understandably confident that their team can pass straight through the division with consecutive promotions. Don't bet against them being right.

Predicted finish: 3
Man to watch: Graham Kavanagh
 

Major transfers:
 
In (from)
Graham Kavanagh (Stoke)
Spencer Prior (Man City)
Neil Alexander (Livingston)
Michael Simkins (Chesterfield)
Des Hamilton (Newcastle)
Leyton Maxwell (Liverpool)

 

CHESTERFIELD
The disastrous last twelve months behind the scenes at Saltergate are well documented, having left the club debt-ridden in the hands of supporters. Still, the squad that lost just seven games in gaining promotion from division 3 should be confident of claiming a few scalps in this league.  The club's perilous financial situation means that three first teamers have been sold - generating just over 200k, but boss Nicky Law is hoping to recruit a handful of new players before the start of the season. A tough nine months awaits Chesterfield and it'd be optimistic to predict anything other than a relegation scrap.

Predicted finish: 22
Man to watch: Luke Beckett
  
Major transfers:

Out (to)
Michael Simpkins (Cardiff)
Mike Pollitt (Rotherham)
Ryan Williams (Hull)

COLCHESTER UNITED
The U's did the double over Reading last season but on the whole their league campaign was spent struggling to keep pace with the rest of division 2. The direct football of Steve Whitton's side can catch more cultured teams off guard and, with little transfer activity over the summer, expect once again to see Colchester relying on physical rather than flowing football. The pursuit of a consistent strike force continues with Notts County's Kevin Rapley the most likely candidate to be leading the Layer Road line come the big kick off. Good at doing enough to keep themselves up, Colchester should do the same again but little more.

Predicted finish: 18
Man to watch: Kevin Rapley (if he signs..)
 
Major transfers:

In (from)
Bobby Bowry (Millwall)

Out (to)
Aaron Skelton (Luton)
HUDDERSFIELD TOWN
With no new signings as yet and a few relegation-inspired departures, Lou Macari's Terriers will be looking to make an impact on the second division with a slightly weaker squad than the one which almost kept them in the first division last season.  In truth the team were relegated due to dreadful early season form (Town didn't win at home until December). Their 2001 league results were nowhere near relegation form, and strength in depth with the likes of Armstrong, Lucketti and Moses at the back, Irons, Holland and Thorrington in midfield and a strike partnership of Martin Smith and Clyde Wijnhard make the Terriers a good bet for the championship.

Predicted finish: 1
Man to watch: Martin Smith
 
Major transfers:

Out (to)
Nico Vaesen (Birmingham)
David Beresford (Hull)
Kevin Gallen (released)
Dean Gorre (Barnsley)
Ben Thornley (released)
NORTHAMPTON TOWN
The Cobblers will be looking to cement their place in division 2 this season with rather more ease than last, which saw them up by just six points. Ageing hitman Marco Gabbiadini proved an inspired signing last summer but surely cannot go on forever - youngsters Asamoah and Parkin have arrived to supply goals alongside Jamie Forrester. Kevin Wilson's signings are full of promise and if goalkeeper Keith Welch produces another excellent season and new recruit Robert Wolleaston can fill the playmaking role then Town could become a genuine force. For now, expect a season of transition.

Predicted finish:  14
Man to watch: Jamie Forrester  
Major transfers:

In (from)
Daryl Burgess (WBA)
Gerard Lavin (Bristol City)
Paul McGregor (Plymouth)
Robert Wolleaston (Chelsea)
Sam Parkin (Chelsea)
Derek Asamoah (Slough)

Out (to)
Richard Green (Rochdale)
James Gould (Boston)
 
NOTTS COUNTY
These are exciting times for County fans. They've every right to feel bullish about the new season after the club's recruitment of a number of quality players to boost the Magpies' promotion drive. Darren Caskey will provide guile and ammunition for fellow new boy Tony Hackworth, up front alongside last year's player of the season Mark Stallard. Steve Mildenhall will hope to fill the considerable void left by keeper Darren Ward, who joined neighbours Forest over the summer. After several seasons of underachievement, this could well be County's year as long as the new team doesn't take too long to gel.

Predicted finish: 6
Man to watch: Mark Stallard
 
Major transfers:

In (from)
Darren Caskey (Reading)
Steve Mildenhall (Swindon)
Ian Baraclough (QPR)
Marcel Cas (RBC Roosendaal)
Stuart Garden (Forfar)
Tony Hackworth (Leeds)

Out (to)
Darren Ward (Nottm Forest)
Andy Hughes (Reading)
OLDHAM ATHLETIC
The Latics will need to improve on their away form if they're to finish better than last season's reasonable 15th place. Former Latics youth John Eyre has re-signed to help Matthew Tipton on the goalscoring front, while the arrival of Darren Sheridan and Stuart Balmer from Wigan will add steel to the team's previously flimsy spine; Reading knocked 7 past Oldham without reply last season. The team improved towards the end of last term and will be hoping to get off to a better start than last year, when they took just 6 points from their first 15 games. Mid table at best.

Predicted finish: 17
Man to watch: Matthew Tipton
 
Major transfers:

In (from)
Lee Hardy (Blackburn)
Darren Sheridan (Wigan)
Stuart Balmer (Wigan)
John Eyre (Hull)

Out (to)
Holt (Hull)
PETERBOROUGH UNITED
Posh's 12th place finish last season was more than respectable considering Barry Fry's assertion last summer that his team didn't stand a chance of staying up. Thankfully London Rd became something of a fortress to visiting teams - handy really, because United's away form was abysmal, with only three wins recorded all season on the road. Wheeler-dealer Fry has been relatively quiet on the transfer front, but his signings of two West Ham youngsters, along with capable defender Mark Joseph from rivals Cambridge and Spurs striker Neale Fenn, look like good business. If Jason Lee can stay fit, he and Fenn should provide a potent threat up front. Overall though Posh lack the strength in depth to challenge and it would be a surprise to see them pushing for promotion.

Predicted finish: 16
Man to watch: Neale Fenn
 
Major transfers:

In (from)
Mark Joseph (Cambridge U)
Jimmy Bullard (West Ham)
Tom Williams (West Ham)
Neale Fenn (Tottenham)
PORT VALE
Troubled Vale, forced to rebuild their squad after relegation hit their budget hard last summer, look to have stabilised as they prepare for the new campaign. Brian Horton has snapped up a handful of raw premiership youngsters to build his side around, most promising of whom is ex-Liverpool youth forward Ian Armstrong who will look to step into the boots of stalwart Tony Naylor, released after refusing a new deal. The Valiants can enter the new season with justifiable confidence, having lost just five of their 25 league games in 2001. Working on a shoestring is never ideal though, and it will be a major achievement if Vale are challenging next May.

Predicted finish: 15
Man to watch: Marc Bridge-Wilkinson
 

Major transfers:

In (from)
Ashley Dodd (Man United)
Ian Armstrong (Liverpool)
Rae Ingram (Macclesfield)
Phil Hardy (Wrexham)
Steven McPhee (Coventry)

Out(to)
Alex Smith (Reading)
Tommy Widdrington (Hartlepool)
 
QUEEN'S PARK RANGERS
Eight years ago QPR were celebrating a fifth place finish in the first season of the Premiership - today they're contemplating life two divisions below, bereft of funds and praying for a saviour to rescue the club from financial ruin. The inevitable summer clearout saw no fewer than twelve players fleeing Loftus Rd, decimating Ian Holloway's squad and prompting critics and fans alike to foresee a season of struggle for the once mighty Rangers. A recent 3-1 friendly win over Chelsea gives cause for hope, but realistically QPR must be looking to steady the ship, stay in the league and plan for the future.

Predicted finish: 11
Man to watch: Karl Connolly
Major transfers:

In (from)
Steve Palmer (Watford)
Chris Day (Watford)
Dave McEwan (Spurs)
Terrell Forbes (West Ham)
Leroy Griffiths (Hampton & Richmond)

Out (to)
Peter Crouch (Portsmouth)
Jermaine Darlington (Wimbledon)
Tony Scully (Cambridge U)
Ian Baraclough (Notts C)
Karl Ready (Motherwell)
Byron Bubb (Bristol R)
Ross Weare (Bristol R)
Leon Jeanne (Cardiff)
Michel Ngonge (Kilmarnock)
Danny Maddix (Sheff Wed)
George Kulscar (released)
Steve Morrow (released)
 
READING

With the purse strings tightened after May's playoff final defeat, Alan Pardew's close season signings have largely been of the free variety, while several players - most noticeably 1999/2000 player of the season Darren Caskey - have gone to reduce the wage bill. While Reading's forward line of Cureton, Butler and Forster is almost unquestionably the strongest in the league, their ability to score from the slightest chance has occasionally disguised the Royals' tendency to resort to panicky, imprecise football and concede silly goals. If Pards can iron out the mistakes and inject the pace into the side that his new signings promise, then the boys can go one better than last year's third place.

Predicted finish: 2
Man to watch: James Harper

Major transfers:

In (from)
Alex Smith (Port Vale)
Andy Hughes (Notts Co)
Adrian Whitbread (Portsmouth)

Out (to)
Andy Gurney (Swindon)
Darren Caskey (Notts Co)
Lee Hodges (Released)
Jim McIntyre (Dundee Utd)
Scott Howie (Released)
Chris Smith (York)

STOKE CITY

After another top six finish ending in playoff failure, Stoke have made some astute signings for this season's attempt to return to the big time. While the biggest news in the Potteries was lynchpin Graham Kavanagh's surprising move to Cardiff, the arrivals, mostly Bosmans, look none too shabby - Dutch ex-international winger Peter Hoekstra will give the club a real boost and Bielorussian defender Siarhei Stanuik has Champions' League experience with Dynamo Moscow. With other players likely to move on in the near future, and bearing in mind the team's tendency to hit the self-destruct button at crucial moments, it may be a season of flux for Stoke but expect them to be in the reckoning.

Predicted Finish: 5
Man to watch: Peter Hoekstra
 

Major transfers:

In (from)
Siarhei Stanuik(unknown)
Peter Hoekstra (Ajax)
Peter Handyside (Grimsby)
David Rowson (Aberdeen)

Out (to)
Ben Petty (Hull)
Nicky Mohan (Hull)
Graham Kavanagh (Cardiff)
Carl Muggleton (Cheltenham)

 

SWINDON TOWN
The Robins escaped relegation by a single point last season, their form invigorated through the closing months by loan forward Michael Reddy, who has since returned to Sunderland. Andy King has his side playing neat passing football but goals are likely to remain a problem - new signing Eric Sabin has a lot to do to replace Reddy, and in truth it looks like more quality has gone through the exit than come in through the entrance. King knows his job will be on the line in the next few months, and must be hoping to get the go ahead to bring more new faces to a squad lacking in talent.

Predicted finish: 20
Man to watch: Danny Invincible
 
Major transfers:

In (from)
Andy Gurney (Reading)
Eric Sabin (Wasquehal)

Out (to)
Steve Mildenhall (Notts C)
Gary Alexander (Hull)
Ian Woan (Columbus Crew)
TRANMERE ROVERS

Tranmere's cup successes of the past couple of seasons led many to express surprise at their relegation last term, but in truth their league form was shocking. Like any relegated side, success or failure will depend on holding on to the quality in their squad - if new boss Dave Watson can keep hold of the likes of wantaway stars Koumas and Parkinson, then Rovers' chances of bouncing straight back are high. New signings have so far failed to materialise as the new manager keeps to his promise of giving the whole squad a fresh chance to impress. Pacy Senegalese striker Seyni N'Diaye, signed at the end of last season, is showing terrific pre-season form and should help himself to plenty in division 2.

Predicted finish: 4
Man to watch: Seyni N'Diaye
 

Major Transfers

Out(to)
Scott Taylor (Stockport)
Simon Osborn (out of contract)

WIGAN ATHLETIC
It's clear-out time at the JJB after last season's rollercoaster ride which saw the combined efforts of three managers squeeze the Latics into the playoffs on the last day only to fall again at the final hurdle. New boss Paul Jewell has taken advantage of his arriving at a time when many senior players' contracts were up to slash the wage bill; most of the back line has moved on, including top keeper Roy Carroll for whom Alex Ferguson has swapped £2.5 million. This should mean more new faces to add to the arrival of striker Peter Kennedy, drafted in to improve upon last year's substandard strike rate. Even with the division's best defender (De Zeeuw), its tightest defence may be somewhat looser this time around, and without three or four more signings (including another forward) Wigan will have a job maintaining the momentum which saw them finish well last term.

Predicted Finish: 7
Man to watch: Peter Kennedy
 

Major transfers:

In (from)
Peter Kennedy (Watford)

Out (to)
Stuart Balmer (Oldham)
Carl Bradshaw (Scunthorpe)
Peter Beagrie (Scunthorpe)
Darren Sheridan (Oldham)
Roberto Martinez (Motherwell)
Stefan Bidstrup (Aalborg)
Gareth Griffiths (Rochdale)
Roy Carroll (Man United)

WREXHAM

Wrexham will be hoping that changing their nickname from The Robins to The Red Dragons will herald a similar change in fortunes on the pitch this season. Off the pitch it's been a difficult close season, with their commercial manager recently resigning due to a falling out with club directors, while manager Brian Flynn's attempts to sign a new keeper have so far proved fruitless. Last term's tenth place finish will give confidence to Flynn's squad, especially if star striker Lee Trundle stays fit and away from the gaze of the Premiership scouts already said to be sniffing around him. Wrexham play football the right way - on the deck - but this division doesn't always reward style and it's hard to see the Dragons improving on last year.

Predicted finish: 13
Man to watch: Lee Trundle
 

Major Transfers:

In(from)
Shaun Holmes (Man City)

Out(to)
Mark McGregor (Burnley)
Gareth Owen (Doncaster)
Danny Williams (Kidderminster)
Phil Hardy (Port Vale)
Dave Ridler (released)

 

WYCOMBE WANDERERS
Lawrie Sanchez must be sick of hearing the word 'plucky'. Continually patronised,  Wycombe are no longer non-league minnows and, since last season's fantastic FA Cup run, are at last garnering the respect they, and Sanchez, deserve. A team built on spirit and hard work, with a tough midfield and pacy forward line, Wycombe would probably have been pushing for promotion last season if not for an almost unbelievably long injury list which at one point left almost the whole first team on the treatment table. Predictions depend very much on better luck on the injury front, but with a fit Sean Devine and Jermaine McSporran in the side, the Chairboys could be contenders.

Predicted finish: 12
Man to watch: Jermaine McSporran
 
Major transfers:

In (from)
Darren Currie (Burnley)

Out (to)
Guy Whittingham (Newport IOW)
John Nutter (Aldershot)
Jamie Bates (retired)

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