Football: Harford prepared for a rough ride at the Hawthorns

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The Independent Online
RAY HARFORD will not be unnerved by the expected hostile reception at the Hawthorns from West Bromwich Albion fans who have labelled him a "Judas" for walking out on the club just before Christmas.

"They can boo as much as they like, because it won't worry me," the Queen's Park Rangers manager said yesterday.

Harford left Albion after steering them to a promotion-challenging position, but having refused to sign a contract. When the chance came to return to his native London after QPR sacked Stewart Houston, Harford jumped at it, and left bitter recriminations behind in the Midlands.

Tony Hale, the Albion chairman, claims he had a gentlemen's agreement with Harford and has declared that he will not be able to bring himself to even talk to him at today's match.

"The chairman is just trying to protect himself. He knows what the position always was," Harford said. "I enjoyed my time at Albion and it was a difficult decision to leave, but after a long spell up north I was still sick of spending my life driving up and down the motorway. I needed to be working near my home in Surrey."

Albion have drifted out of the promotion play-off zone since Harford departed, but he has not yet been able to make a major impact at Rangers, who are still struggling below half-way in the First Division.

The England B midfielder Nigel Quashie has added to his problems by dropping out of the Albion game with a shin injury that became infected after he sustained it against Chile on Tuesday - ironically, at the Hawthorns. However, George Kulcsar and Simon Barker could be ready to return.

Alan Ball believes his Portsmouth side are still good enough to avoid relegation and that victory at Crewe Alexandra today can kick-start their season.

Ball, searching for his first win since returning to Fratton Park as successor to Terry Fenwick, admitted this is a vital match but pointed out: "Crewe like to play football, which will allow us to play our passing game. A first win will give us something to build on."

Ball will give John Aloisi his first start since being appointed - a week after the Australian striker claimed he has been victimised since Terry Venables left. "I've had a good chat with John and am perfectly happy he's committed to the club," Ball said.

Manchester City could be without Georgi Kinkladze against fellow strugglers Bury in the vital Maine Road derby. Kinkladze needs a late test after playing for Georgia in Malta on Tuesday, despite being stretchered off against Norwich three days earlier.

"We were happy for him to go, but with his ankle injury we didn't expect him to play," Frank Clark, the City manager, said. "He didn't even take his boots."

Middlesbrough can regain the First Division leadership from Nottingham Forest by beating Bradford at the Riverside Stadium at the start of a crucial three-match, eight-day programme.

"The Bradford game is more important than our Coca-Cola Cup semi-final against Liverpool on Wednesday," Bryan Robson, the Boro manager, said. "We must take three points."