The race for Sky Bet League Two glory kicks off on Saturday. Here DAVE FLETT looks at the potential winners and losers for the 2014/15 campaign.
RECENT history suggests that at least one relegated club bounces back at the first attempt in Sky Bet League Two.
Seven clubs have managed that feat over the last eight seasons with Scunthorpe becoming the latest after finishing runners-up last term.
For that reason, coupled with some astute summer transfer business, Shrewsbury Town and Stevenage Borough both deserve considerable attention in any analysis of potential promotion candidates from the Football League’s basement division during 2014/15.
Shrewsbury suffered an appalling finale to their last campaign, winning just three of their 22 games after New Year’s Day, but 15 subsequent comings and 11 goings, as well as the replacement of struggling manager Michael Jackson with Micky Mellon, suggests the Shropshire club should not be judged by that porous period.
Former Fleetwood boss Mellon has been given the opportunity to invest heavily and the likes of former Republic of Ireland international Liam Lawrence and ex-Leeds and Swansea winger Andy Robinson should bring a touch of class and experience to the New Meadow.
The arrivals of Jean-Louis Akpa Akpro and Andy Mangan should also beef up their attack, while Nat Knight-Percival will give the Shrews a presence at the other end of the pitch.
Stevenage are less fancied by the odds compilers but, with Graham Westley at the helm, should boast the necessary physical muscle to prosper at a level they only left behind three years ago.
Westley has overseen similar surgery to that applied at Shrewsbury. Of his 11 new faces, Calvin Zola netted 16 times for Burton in League Two before spending last season in the Scottish Premier League with Aberdeen and should prove a handful for visiting teams at Broadhall Way.
Centre-back Harry Worley, recruited from Newport, could also begin to fulfil the potential that once saw him snapped up for a six-figure sum by Chelsea and ex-Colchester midfielder Andy Bond has the ability to dictate proceedings from the middle of the pitch.
The other relegated clubs, not resigned to their fate until later in the season, do not look as well equipped to adapt and prosper in a lower division.
Carlisle and Tranmere might need to concentrate on halting their slides and keeping their heads above water.
Of the two promoted teams, well-backed Conference champions Luton should be targeting a top-seven spot with Andy Drury and Luke Wilkinson, drafted in from Crawley and Dagenham respectively, both bolstering their ranks, even allowing for the departure of last season’s 30-goal top scorer Andre Gray to Brentford.
Play-off winners Cambridge, meanwhile, are unlikely to look beyond consolidation, which should be no problem with the likes of ex-Manchester United midfielder Luke Chadwick offering experience and on-loan Crystal Palace winger Kwesi Appiah an attacking spark.
Returning to the division’s higher reaches, fallen giants Portsmouth look set for a better campaign after Andy Awford steered the club to safety last time out. The blossoming talent of midfielder Jed Wallace will be complemented by the arrival of Craig Westcarr from Walsall.
Bury, Northampton and Hartlepool can expect to enjoy improved fortunes too.
The Shakers grew stronger during the second half of last season and have added to their ranks wisely with Ryan Lowe, Chris Hussey and Kelvin Etuhu all now on the Gigg Lane books.
Northampton’s shock at following up a campaign in which they reached the play-off final with one that saw them only beat the drop on the final day of 2013/14 seems to have focused minds at Sixfields and the likes of new signings John-Joe O’Toole, Marc Richards, Kaid Mohamed, Evan Horwood and Zander Diamond should see them challenging at the right end of the table again, along with Hartlepool, who have added know-how to their youthful squad in the form of ex-Middlesbrough defenders Matthew Bates and Stuart Parnaby.
It will not be a surprise to see Burton securing a top-seven place for the third year running and capturing keeper Jon McLaughlin from Bradford looks a shrewd move.
Fellow play-off qualifiers Southend, however, look poised for a more modest campaign, having lacked aggression in the transfer marker during the close season.
The Shrimps could be joined in mid-table by unfashionable Dagenham and Greater London rivals AFC Wimbledon, who should both steer clear of trouble.
Damien Batt and Jamie Cureton will bring guile to Dagenham and Adebayo Akinfenwa and Matt Tubbs should fire the Dons clear of the relegation zone they have hovered over for the last two seasons.
Well-supported Plymouth might have to settle for a campaign of mediocrity though.
Lee Cox is a positive signing from Swindon but captain Conor Hourihane will be missed following his departure for Barnsley.
Oxford and Cheltenham both look like clubs in decline but the former’s recruitment of midfielder Michael Collins and the latter’s swoop for Kidderminster right-back Lee Vaughan should see them have enough to stave off any threat of a dogfight.
A similar finishing position to last season of 11th could well be the height of Mansfield’s ambitions as well, while 2013/14 escape artists Wycombe can expect a less anxious time over the next nine months with Accrington stalwart Peter Murphy and striker Paul Hayes on board. Fans of Accrington, Exeter, Morecambe and Newport are likely to be denied that same hope.
Accrington’s fighting spirit has seen them defy all expectations to survive on low gates in the Football League for eight seasons but, at some point soon, those at the Crown Ground will become battle weary.
Manager Paul Tisdale represents Exeter’s best hope of not following Devon rivals Torquay back into non-League football but his job is becoming increasingly difficult. They are the only League Two side not to have signed a player.
Morecambe’s squad looks short on quality and depth too, while Newport do not look ready to build on their first campaign back in the Football League.