Football: Derby day dynamics complicate sack race form guide

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The Independent Online
After disappointing Coca-Cola Cup exits in midweek, both Gerry Francis of Spurs and Everton's Howard Kendal need convincing performances from their sides as the Premiership returns.

Phil Shaw looks at the weekend ahead, while Nick Harris (below) analyses the programme match by match.

To reverse an old maxim, the managerial sack race is a sprint, not a marathon. The odds against Howard Kendall or Gerry Francis making it to middle distance may shorten drastically if they run into fresh difficulties this weekend.

Given the disparity between expectation and achievement at Everton and Tottenham, it is perhaps surprising both have survived until late October. Last season had not even reached the starting blocks when Bruce Rioch was ousted at Arsenal. Howard Wilkinson lasted only marginally longer before Leeds lost patience.

Francis himself owes his job to Ossie Ardiles' dismissal three years ago next month, days before Kendall's predecessor, Joe Royle, replaced Mike Walker. Now the manner of their exits from the Coca-Cola Cup has fuelled fresh dissent. Yet while Spurs face a hiding-to-nothing tomorrow against Sheffield Wednesday Everton have the ideal opportunity to whip up a backlash.

The visit of Liverpool is one occasion when the partisanship of the Goodison Park faithful is unqualified. Beating the Reds takes precedence over protest, and Kendall's team go into action knowing that the approach which led to Royle to joke about his "dogs of war" has knocked Liverpool out of their stride so successfully that Everton are unbeaten in seven derbies.

Liverpool's discomfort in the face of such aggression was a major factor behind the purchase of Paul Ince. A week after the blood, sweat and fears of the Olympic Stadium, England's captain rejoins the fray at a venue where the gratitude will be grudging at best after more than a century of rivalry.

Though the fixture between Crystal Palace and the leaders, Arsenal, has less than three decades' history, it has already developed an its own internal dynamic. Players and managers come and go, but Palace's inferiority complex, born of just two wins and six draws in 22 meetings, is passed on like a baton.

Their last victory over the Gunners at Selhurst Park was in 1979. They have not won at home for six months while Arsenal have not lost away since Sunderland on 11 January, or anywhere other than Salonika since May. Palace to win, then.

World Cup Super Saturday appeared to come at a bad time for Derby. Nevertheless, a squad scattered around the globe reconvened smoothly at Spurs in midweek and today put a run of eight wins in nine to the ultimate test against Manchester United. Last season Jim Smith's team prised four points from the champions, and can consider themselves contenders if they repeat the Old Trafford triumph of April.

Meanwhile, the English game's Italian battalion suddenly find their mortality exposed. Gianfranco Zola, outstripped in the deification stakes only by Dennis Berg-kamp, will at least be among friends as Chelsea seek to put a sequence of four points from 12 behind them at home to Leicester.

This is another contest where the past, albeit recent, will exert a presence. On Leicester's last appearance at Stamford Bridge, for an FA Cup replay in February, they were undone by an erroneous late penalty decision. Mike Reed, who made it, is booked in for a quiet afternoon at Everton, though he is, intriguingly, down to take Leicester's next home game.

Elland Road tends to treat most visitors as if they were referees with a vendetta against Yorkshiremen, so the reception afforded to another of last weekend's heroes will be revealing. Newcastle's David Batty, the first of Howard Wilkinson's dream-team midfield to leave Leeds, will be the only native of the city on the pitch.

Ian Rush may be less warmly received on his return but will be unperturbed as he strives for his first league goal since January. However, with Rod Wallace already up to seven - one fewer than his tally last season - George Graham can claim vindication for marginalising a player who hits 36 on Monday.

While Newcastle hover in mid-table, with games in hand that could put them top, Blackburn might be sharing the leadership if they beat a Southampton side reinforced by England's great lost No 9, David Hirst. Roy Hodgson, whose insights into Serie A's finest filled endless column inches last week, has taken to Lancashire as if Internazionale and San Siro were a mere stepping stone to his true destiny.

The anniversary of Ray Harford's demise next week will be a reminder that Ewood Park had to wait until November for last season's opening victory, and compared with that kind of start the embattled Spurs manager may appear to have few worries.

But with Arsenal perched on the Premiership summit and their own side 14th with one goal to show for six Premiership matches, White Hart Lane regulars could be tempted to add insult to Francis' back injury in the event of another failure.