Football: Evans aims to accelerate as the last lap approaches

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The Independent Online
ROY EVANS, the Liverpool manager, has warned his players as they prepare to take on Sheffield Wednesday at Hillsborough today that the championship is entering what he considers to be its most critical phase.has told his Liverpool players to roll up their sleeves for the title run-in.

Evans was disappointed by last week's defeat against Southampton, which ended their eight-match unbeaten run, but he claims the blow was softened by the fact that their rivals have also slipped up lately. Liverpool, along with Chelsea and Blackburn, are just five points behind the leaders Manchester United.

"It's always important to win at this stage now that it's getting towards the last lap," Evans said. "We've got to roll up our sleeves again and show a positive attitude."

Michael Owen is likely to start his 40th game of the season despite fears from Evans that the teenager is on the edge of "burn out". Owen has played 36 times for the Merseysiders this season plus three games for his country at under-18, under-21 and the full international side.

Evans said the 18-year-old must put his fine full England debut behind him and "get back to work with the bread and butter stuff. "There's always a concern about burn out with a lad of 18 and we will monitor him very closely," he said.

The Liverpool manager is also taking an interest in Jaap Stam, the PSV Eindhoven defender, who he has confirmed he is considering signing.

Ron Atkinson, the Wednesday manager, fears a Liverpool backlash after their 3-2 home humiliation by Southampton last weekend.

"They'll be like wounded tigers," Atkinson said. "Liverpool are supposed to be having a nightmare but they have won eight of their last 12 games."

Martin O'Neill is confident his rejuvenated Leicester side can overcome the threat of Tottenham's danger man, David Ginola, at White Hart Lane.

"In Ginola they have a player who can be outstanding on his day," O'Neill said. "I saw Spurs when they were knocked out of the FA Cup by Barnsley and he was simply fantastic on the night. But we are in a good frame of mind and will be going into the game with all guns blazing after winning our last two games."

Howard Kendall is urging his Everton side not to ease up and extend their fine recent record at home to Derby. They have lost only one of their last nine games, a run that has seen them move five points clear of the drop zone and Kendall land the manager of the month award for January.

He said: "Last week some of the bottom sides had great results, like Tottenham winning at Blackburn, but the five-point gap we've created between ourselves and the bottom three is pleasing. We've got to make that gap bigger, starting tomorrow against Derby.

Jim Smith, Derby's manager, is hoping the return of his wild card can deal Derby County a rare winning hand away from home. Paulo Wanchope, his Costa Rican striker, is back in the front line after missing last Saturday's home defeat by Aston Villa because of international duty in the United States.