Football: McGhee surviving on borrowed time and players

NATIONWIDE LEAGUE
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The Independent Online
The respective fortunes of Mark McGhee and Graham Taylor make grim reading for Sir Jack Hayward as a Wolverhampton Wanderers side lying 15th in the First Division prepare to receive second-placed Swindon today.

When the Molineux crowd turned on Taylor two years ago, the agony was not prolonged the way it had been during the final months of Graham Turner's tenure. No longer sure of the board's backing, the former England manager felt forced to resign, allowing Wolves to woo McGhee from Leicester.

Taylor retired hurt, though to Watford's delight, not for long. A headline which gloated "He'll never work in this country again", while not as instantly memorable as the famous "turnip" jibe, made him more determined to succeed in his second spell at Vicarage Road, where he stepped up from the general manager's role to the frontline again this season.

Although too urbane and generous a spirit to show satisfaction at the travails of others, Taylor could be excused a wry smile at how things have turned out. Wolves have taken two points from the last 12 and slid out of the Coca-Cola Cup in midweek to another club jilted by McGhee, Reading.

The Scot's honeymoon with a restless support ended long ago. Many, indeed, expected the divorce to have gone through by now. While acknowledging that Wolves have had appalling luck with injuries, Sir Jack wants to see results before funding further spending.

Hence the loan signing of the 23-year-old Crystal Palace striker Dougie Freedman, who plays today. He will complete his transfer on Monday, with Kevin Muscat also arriving at Molineux in exchange for Jamie Smith.

In contrast, Taylor's team are five points clear in the Second Division. Watford drew nearly 14,000 spectators for the last home match, a mundane looking affair with York, and anticipate at least as many for the visits of third-placed Millwall today and Kevin Keegan's Fulham on Tuesday. The other half of the top four, Northampton Town and Gillingham, also meet.

Nottingham Forest could go four points clear in the First if they beat Tranmere and Wolves ease the pressure on McGhee. But the division's heavyweight encounter pits Sheffield United, whose Coca-Cola Cup defeat at Walsall was their first since the play-off final at Wembley, against a Queen's Park Rangers outfit who still flatter to deceive.

Paul Merson, who was with England in Rome's Olympic Stadium a week ago, will step out in the spartan surrounds of Gresty Road as Middlesbrough play Crewe for the first time. Dario Gradi hoped to have a pounds 750,000 defender to mark the pounds 5m man, only for Shrewsbury's Dave Walton to thwart his uncharacteristic spending plans by rejecting personal terms.

Talking of money, spare a thought for Boro's hard-up neighbours Darlington, who face Doncaster at Feethams in the Third Division's first six-pointer of the season. The bottom two have a solitary win between them from 22 games, and Doncaster, if anything even worse off, could be seven points adrift if they lose again.

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