THE big question for Bury as they head into their second season in League One is whether they can defy the bookies' odds and survive relegation.

Tipped as third favourites for the drop behind Port Vale and Oldham, some bookmakers have made them 9/4 odds on to go down.

It certainly makes for uneasy reading for the Gigg Lane faithful, but what has inspired the doom and gloom merchants?

Two of last season's star performers – top goalscorer Leon Clarke and player of the year Peter Clarke – have both moved on to pastures new in the past few weeks.

Other key players like Chris Hussey, Joe Riley and Ryan Lowe have also been tempted to leave after the club announced it would listen to offers for every member of the squad in a bid to reduce the wage bill.

But while it is disappointing to lose such important members of the squad, does it follow that Bury will have a disappointing season?

I'm not so sure.

The main problem last term was the number of goals conceded – 73 in total in League One.

Only Shrewsbury conceded more and survived relegation.

Manager David Flitcroft has identified the problem and taken steps to fix it.

Four of last season's back five have been shipped out and replaced by fresh, hungry talent.

While full-backs Hussey and Riley were both fantastic going forwards, creating plenty of chances from wide positions, defensively they often came under criticism for leaving the channels exposed.

Hussey has been replaced by Greg Leigh – a young, pacey left-back who offers plenty going forward but is considered to be much more solid defensively.

Utility man Craig Jones has been one of the top performers during pre-season at right-back. And after flitting between midfield and defence during his four years at the club, the 29-year-old's tireless work-rate now looks to have sealed his place at the back.

At centre-back Antony Kay and Leon Barnett, two players accustomed to Championship-level football, have added quality, experience and competition for skipper Nathan Cameron.

Niall Maher has been signed from Bolton Wanderers and will provide superb cover anywhere along the back line, similar to Reece Brown's role

last term, but again with added quality and experience.

Bury had a nightmare when it came to goalkeepers last year, having eight on the books in total.

Only academy graduate Jack Ruddy remains. Ben Williams, an experienced keeper who kept a club-record 22 clean sheets in League One last year, signed on a free transfer from Bradford.

Ex-England international Chirs Kirkland will provide tough competition, an important signing that will also help with the development of the highly-rated Ruddy.

So the new-look back-line should provide Bury with a much firmer foundation.

When it comes to central-midfield, Flitcroft has an array of options following the addition of Neil Danns.

The former Bolton Wanderers player will challenge Kelvin Etuhu and Tom Soares in the holding role, while box-to-box midfielder Andrew Tutte and ball-player Jacob Mellis offer different options.

The Shakers also have two very exciting wingers in Danny Mayor and Zeli Ismail, who joined from Wolves, but there is a lack of cover in wide areas and possibly something Flitcroft is keen to remedy.

Bury's main concern, however, will be their goal threat, following the departures of Leon Clarke, Lowe, Danny Rose and Danny Nardiello.

Clarke guaranteed 20 goals a season while 37-year-old Lowe added some crucial goals at the end of the campaign.

Tom Pope is the only recognised senior striker remaining from last season, and he was recently placed on the transfer list.

The 30-year-old scored 28 goals in two years in League One with former side Port Vale before making the switch to Gigg Lane and has been an ever-present during pre-season, but whether he stays past August is a big question.

Bury have added to their attacking options, with former Rangers forward Nicky Clark joining the ranks, while Hallam Hope has been touted by the boss to make a bigger impact after returning from a loan spell at Carlisle.

How Flitcroft navigates the remainder of the transfer window will no doubt have a bearing on Bury's fortunes, but I think on this occasion the bookies could just have got it wrong.

Whether or not they can better last year's 14th place finish, only time will tell.