Football: Second Division preview - Latics look to go all the way

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The Independent Online
WIGAN PRODUCED a late run last season to pip Bournemouth for a spot in the play-offs but will be looking to go one better and win automatic promotion this season. As long as their multi-millionaire owner, Dave Whelan of JJB Sports and rugby league's Warriors fame, is prepared to spend, the task should not be beyond them.

The Latics squad last season was sufficiently strong enough to win the Auto Windscreens Shield and make a late charge for the First Division and Whelan has also been busy over the summer in the transfer market. The acquisitions of the Barnsley pair Darren Sheridan and Arjan de Zeeuw, as well as Charlton's Kevin Nicholls and the former Celtic winger Brian McLaughlin, should make them the team to beat this season.

Preston let slip their chance of automatic promotion last season and then lost to Gillingham in the play-offs. They will not want a repeat this year, and will be looking to last season's on-loan striker Steve Basham to spearhead their attack. The former Southampton man has now made his move permanent. The addition of the Everton left-back Adam Eaton and their Frenchman Farid Diaf will bolster their challenge.

Bournemouth, heralded as the model "fans-owned" club, missed out on the play-offs by a whisker on goals scored. If the finances stay steady, they could go close again, but a title challenge is probably beyond them.

Of the four clubs who were relegated from the First Division last season, Bristol City look the best placed for an immediate return. The lynchpin in the Robins' plan remains the unsettled striker Ade Akinibiyi, who could be rampant at this level after scoring 20 plus goals higher up last season. If he stays, City can prosper, especially under the guidance of the former Gillingham manager, Tony Pulis.

Burnley had an 11-match unbeaten run at the end of last season and have since signed Huddersfield's Tom Cowan, the experienced Mitchell Thomas, Dean West from Bury, and the promising young striker Alan Lee from Aston Villa. They could be there or thereabouts.

Of the sides moving up from the Third Division, Brentford could do best, especially if Ron Noades maintains his canny investment, which was exemplified by the 25 goals scored by Lloyd Owusu after his pounds 25,000 move from Slough Town.

Gillingham, under the former England Under-21 coach, Peter Taylor, must have also have a fair chance of a emulating last season's form.

Predictions: Automatic promotion: Wigan, Preston. Play-offs: Bournemouth, Bristol City, Burnley, Brentford. Relegation: Notts County, Wycombe, Oldham, Wrexham.