Football: Danger signals ahead - Third Division

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The Independent Online
ONLY five of the Third Division's 23 clubs have actually bought players during the close season, and their combined outlay of pounds 160,000 is less than half the previous year's total. It is against such sobering statistics that any optimism about the money-spinning potential of the Premier League must be offset.

Aldershot's closure looks set to be followed by that of Maidstone, whose latest owner has farcically sought to relocate them on Tyneside, giving a new twist to the term 'Away the lads'. The Football League, sadly, must accept some responsibility, having allowed Maidstone in three years ago even though they had sold their ground and had no real prospects of a new one.

There have been danger signals, too, at Northampton, Barnet and Carlisle, the Cumbrians having since been taken over by Michael Knighton, the would-be Manchester United supremo. There are doubtless others: more's the pity that the viable, strongly supported Vauxhall Conference runners-up, Wycombe Wanderers, were not invited to join in place of Aldershot.

Scunthorpe and Crewe, who failed in the play-offs, have been among the modest spenders and look capable of success. The main threat could come from reviving Cardiff, buoyed by a staggering 110 per cent rise in crowds, and Lincoln, who lost one of their last 16 fixtures.

Barnet, who made an enterprising debut, may be undermined by off-the-field problems. A firmer challenge might come from Walsall, who have made a potentially outstanding free-transfer capture in Manchester City striker Wayne Clarke, and from relegated Bury and Shrewsbury, with York and Gillingham fringe candidates.

Demotion to the Conference resumes, which could be bad news for Scarborough, Northampton and Halifax, where Jimmy Case is now player-coach - although Maidstone's impending exit might spare the stragglers.

PREDICTION

Promotion: Scunthorpe (champions), Cardiff, Crewe.

Play-offs: Lincoln, Bury, Shrewsbury, Walsall.

Relegation: Northampton.

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