Brighton possess proper pedigree

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The Independent Football

Not so many years ago, a simple way to make predictions about likely success stories in the lower divisions was to look at the amount of money spent in the transfer market.

Not so many years ago, a simple way to make predictions about likely success stories in the lower divisions was to look at the amount of money spent in the transfer market.

Crystal-ball gazing is no longer so easy. The Bosman revolution has meant that transfer fees are the exception rather than the norm. Instead, clubs are spending their income on players' wages, about which information is much less readily available.

Nevertheless, it is still possible to ascertain which clubs are paying high salaries to recruit proven performers. In the Third Division, Brighton and Hove Albion have put behind them the troubles of the 1990s and have invested in a new striking partnership which they hope will steer them towards promotion.

At Shrewsbury Town, Lee Steele looked a class act in a struggling team, and Micky Adams' side beat off fierce competition from Plymouth Argyle and Doncaster Rovers to tempt the out-of-contract striker to Withdean stadium. This week the Seagulls paid £100,000 to Bristol Rovers for the 19-year-old Bobby Zamora, who scored six goals in six games while on loan to the Sussex side late last season.

There is also plenty of optimism at Cardiff City. The imminent takeover of the South Wales club by the former Wimbledon owner, Sam Hammam, will boost their spending power. The Bluebirds' new manager Bobby Gould, back at the level best suited to his talents, may have up to £500,000 at his disposal.

Kidderminster Harriers are a good bet to secure their second successive promotion. Their wily manager, Jan Molby, has made some wise additions to a squad with a winning habit, such as the clever forward Andy Ducros, who has Premiership experience with Coventry City, and the rugged centre-half Mark Shail.

Cheltenham Town, who came up a year before Kidderminster, should prosper. The Robins have done well to hang on to their inspirational manager, Steve Cotterill.

Plymouth, like Cardiff and Brighton, have fans who believe they belong at a higher level. Their chairman, Dan McCauley, is increasing his expenditure again after several years of under-investment, and Argyle's new signings include Jason Peake from Rochdale, among the best midfielders in the division last term.

Darlington, who played the best football in the Third last year and were unlucky in the play-offs, are widely tipped to do well, but faith in them may be misplaced. Their chairman, George Reynolds, seems to be shrinking his financial input, and the prolific striker Marco Gabbiadini has left.

Brian Little may be wondering why he ever agreed to take charge of Hull City. Since the end of the last campaign he has had to cope with a transfer embargo, the temporary closure of Boothferry Park and a Fraud Squad investigation into the club's finances. The former Aston Villa manager will do well to lift the Tigers into the top half of the table.

Four to go up

Brighton Brighton's chairman Dick Knight says: "Albion are definitely going to be the team to watch this season." If he continues to support his combative and determined manager, Micky Adams, he could well be right.

Cardiff City Bobby Gould is inheriting a squad which includes players better than most at this level, such as Andy Legg, Kevin Nugent and David Greene, and will have the spending power torecruit good reinforcements.

Kidderminster Every side elevated from Conference in the 1990s either went up another level or threatened to do so, and Jan Molby's Harriers are strong enough to go straight up. Barry Horne will be effective at this level.

Cheltenham Town The Robins' squad is short on big names but big in purpose and unity. Few teams will work harder and, in Julian Alsop and Jason White, they have two new strikers who know their way around the bottom division.

One to go down

Exeter City With the no-nonsense Ian Atkins in charge, Carlisle United may not have to spend a third successive year worrying about relegation. Kevin Ratcliffe should inspire similar improvement at Shrewsbury Town. The club who may be most at risk, then, are Exeter City, who have recruited 14 new players of limited reputations in what could be a vain attempt to improve their fortunes.

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