Football: Keegan's Fulham prepare to be shot at

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The Independent Online
Fulham's brave new world under Kevin Keegan begins this afternoon at Wigan's Springfield Park. Phil Shaw says his career has come full circle.

With almost 150 caps between them and CVs listing Liverpool and Hamburg, Manchester United and Milan, Kevin Keegan and Ray Wilkins might be tempted to incorporate a new motto into Fulham's crest: "Been there, done that." But are Mohamed Al Fayed's dream team prepared for the Springfield Park experience?

Wigan Athletic's home is as far, figuratively speaking, from Craven Cottage or Harrods as Putney Bridge is from the Pier of Orwellian fame. Hemmed in by terraced houses, it has second-hand crush barriers from Villa Park and holds 7,000. A suitably spartan setting, in other words, for the former England captains to launch the Fulham owner's mission implausible.

According to the Second Division table, it is merely the meeting of the clubs lying 13th and 11th. However, as Chris Waddle has warned, everyone will be bursting to beat Fulham now. And Keegan has had no lower-division involvement since May Day 1971, when he led Scunthorpe to victory over Workington before coming off to sign for Liverpool.

The last club Wilkins managed, Queen's Park Rangers, must be watching developments at their neighbours with particular interest. Themselves bankrolled by Chris Wright's Chrysalis millions, Rangers stand second in the First Division, and today they and leaders Nottingham Forest face a Potteries double-header.

Forest entertain Stoke, for whom Peter Thorne looks a shrewd replacement for the prolific Mike Sheron. Rangers, reinforced by Sheron, travel to Port Vale keen to avoid a repetition of their first-half fiasco there in January, when they went in trailing 4-0. John Rudge later claimed Vale played like Real Madrid in those 45 minutes. Unreal defending helped the visitors back to 4-4.

Sheffield United's strong start will be tested by a Birmingham side whose own momentum has been slowed by successive defeats. Wolves, in mid-table but only four points off the pace, should be too strong for bottom-placed Huddersfield, whose manager, Brian Horton, returns to the ground where he watched as a boy desperate for points.

Steve McMahon is also back on familiar terrain, taking third-placed Swindon to Manchester City. For City, who revealed a pounds 4m loss this week and are stuck between Crewe and Stockport in the bottom six, every game seems to be a calamity waiting to happen. No sooner was their manager, Frank Clark, optimistic after gleaning four away points than they succumbed at home to Norwich.

Swindon have a place in Maine Road folklore which, were Clark looking for omens, is open to widely differing interpretations. Their visit in 1965 drew City's worst post-war gate of 8,015 and ended in a win for a Mike Summerbee-inspired Wiltshire side. Yet within three years, a team rebuilt by Joe Mercer and Malcolm Allison - and including Summerbee - had brought the championship to Moss Side.

City, at their lowest ebb since that day, are constantly struggling to reconcile a glorious past and an uncertain future. For the present, a first home victory since May would suffice.