Football: Stoke can make certain - Second Division

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LOU MACARI and Ossie Ardiles spent more of the summer than they would have wished in Winchester Crown Court, the latter as a witness in the former's trial on charges of cheating the taxman. Now the ex-Swindon managers' fortunes are likely to be intertwined again as Stoke City and West Bromwich Albion strive for promotion.

The division's best-supported clubs both led the table last season only to fade, Albion failing to reach the play-offs. Macari, who was acquitted, has secured Leicester's Kevin Russell, a regular scorer who can play various roles, and if he keeps intact the skilful striking duo of Mark Stein and the out-of-contract Wayne Biggins, Stoke should make sure this time.

Ardiles's arrival at the Hawthorns has sparked a wave of enthusiasm, pounds 500,000 having been taken on season tickets. Simon Garner, Blackburn's all-time top scorer, has arrived for a bargain pounds 30,000 to partner Bob Taylor, who hit 27 goals at this level for Bristol City two years ago, and pre-season form augurs well for an entertaining and successful campaign.

Albion and Stoke, with relegated Plymouth and Port Vale, account for pounds 1m-plus of the pounds 1.4m spent by Second Division clubs this summer. Peter Shilton might find he is a better manager once he stops playing, though Plymouth may still need more time. Vale have retained a large squad, and if playmaker Ray Walker avoids the injuries which blighted last winter they could run their Potteries rivals close.

Stockport, muscular play-off finalists, will again be hard to beat (and to like), while Huddersfield trust reassuringly in the squad who came third. Fulham, who improved markedly after Don Mackay took over, will look to leave Craven Cottage on a high. Promoted Burnley, with their substantial turnstile revenue, and Bolton, in the proven charge of Bruce Rioch and Colin Todd, should also challenge.

PREDICTION

Promoted: Stoke (champions), West Bromwich Albion.

Play-offs: Huddersfield, Fulham, Burnley, Port Vale.

Relegated: Wigan, Mansfield, Hull, Chester.

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