Football: Second Division: Burnley in contention

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The Independent Online
WITH the elevation of Stoke and West Bromwich, the Second Division will be pushed to sustain last season's level of attendances, which showed an extraordinary 17 per cent increase.

Port Vale's play-off disappointment - after earning a record number of points for a team not automatically promoted - has deprived them of a host of lucrative derbies. John Rudge retains the squad depth to make amends, though Vale still lack a 20- goals-a-season man and must overcome the loss of playmaker Ray Walker, who is out for a year.

The crowd-pullers' mantle will fall on Burnley, whose pounds 380,000 summer outlay - newcomers include that wily attacker Kevin Russell, from Stoke - gives them the look of contenders. Cardiff, the Third Division champions, will also be well supported, and could challenge along with relegated Bristol Rovers and Cambridge.

Huddersfield, like Vale, blew out in the play-offs two years ago and spent much of last season grieving at the bottom. Mick Buxton (now coaching Sunderland) turned things around, and under Neil Warnock, who took Notts County successfully over this course, the top six is not beyond them.

Perhaps significantly, Bradford City and Reading enjoyed a spring surge, whereas Leyton Orient and Stockport faded and might be slow starters. Free- spending Plymouth seldom rose above mid-table, and Peter Shilton will be under pressure. Wrexham, promoted but poor, are a good long shot if they can resist offers for Karl Connolly, Jonathan Cross and Steve Watkin.

A close season crammed into 10 days and the loss of Gary Bull et al mean Barnet will see survival - as a club let alone at this level - as success. Also likely to struggle are the even worse- off Brighton, as well as Fulham, Rotherham, Hull, Hartlepool and Exeter.