Football: Newcastle have reason to fear the Beardsley factor

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The Independent Online
The atmosphere is mutinous on Tyneside, but Bolton Wanderers and Peter Beardsley might make it worse. Guy Hodgson looks at the task facing Newcastle United today and other leading Premiership fixtures this weekend, while (below) our sports staff assess the programme game by game.

It does not take much to move a Newcastle United supporter to tears these days - through boredom if not sorrow - and a look at the team the last time their side met Bolton Wanderers at St James' Park should be enough to do it.

Peter Beardsley, Paul Kitson, Lee Clark and David Ginola, with Darren Huckerby making an appearance as a substitute: the list reads like the fallen in battle, gone but not forgotten. A bygone age then when Newcastle could score and, if memory serves me well, thrill? No, just two years ago.

Newcastle won 2-1 that day, with goals from Kitson and Beardsley and if you could find anything to make Kenny Dalglish's week more depressing than it already is, it is the prospect of Beardsley popping in the winner before an adoring Toon Army today. You could twist the knife further by having it set up by Scott Sellars but, no, even Hammer Films would consider that too gruesome.

Dalglish put up a spirited defence on Thursday saying that Faustino Asprilla was desperate to leave, but that is not likely to appease supporters who have seen the cavaliers of Kevin Keegan's team evolve into the Premiership's Mogadon men. Worse, the discarding of the frills has not improved the basics and Newcastle have gained only two of their last 24 points.

On Wednesday, as news of Asprilla's pounds 7m move to Parma broke, Radio Five Live was inundated with distressed Tynesiders demanding Dalglish's or the board's dismissal. The gist was they wanted a return to the heady play of the recent past, but most of all they wanted a win.

The return of Alan Shearer would help - and there is a prospect of that today as a substitute - but even the England striker is unlikely to score if the supply is not there. In the last nine matches, Newcastle have scored just five goals, two of which were against the Premiership's Aunt Sallys, Barnsley.

Defeat today against opponents, who last won at St James' Park in 1959 and Newcastle will be drawn closer to the relegation places and Dalglish's position will be hurtling towards the untenable.

Brian Little, too, is discerning a chill in the atmosphere after Aston Villa's season of Premiership underachievement. The team were booed off the pitch after they laboured to beat Portsmouth in a midweek FA Cup replay, a reaction that the manager described as hurtful. "There's nothing you can do," he said, "but accept the criticism an work harder."

Hard work is an appropriate phrase for Villa's trip to Ewood, where Blackburn will be anxious to atone for Sunday's 3-1 defeat at Derby as well as to make inroads in Manchester United's seven-point lead. The champions do not play until Monday when they travel to Southampton and every member of the chasing pack will be praying for a repeat of last season's 6-3 rout.

Barnsley know more about routs than any team, but they hope to include their new striker Jan Age Fjortoft against Crystal Palace. Last week they were crushed 6-0 by West Ham, but 19-year-old Brian Wilson will keep his place. "He was the only player to come out of the game with any credit," their manager, Danny Wilson, said.

Sweden's Tomas Brolin makes his first return to Yorkshire after his disastrous spell at Leeds and believes that he has made the right choice, despite Palace's lurch towards the bottom three. "They believe in me, which is a good thing to know when you go on the pitch," he said.

Ten miles down the A61, Brolin's erstwhile employers will meet Sheffield Wednesday in a derby which is difficult to predict because the participants are sending out conflicting signals. Are Leeds slipping out of the European places and Wednesday moving the opposite direction, or are their recent results just blips? Today should clarify things.

Just as Coventry's Dion Dublin will probably have a better idea whether he will move to Middlesbrough. The striker has been accused of being greedy in refusing a pounds 17,000-a-week contract and his reception against Arsenal might fall short of the usual home adulation.

Not that it is all sweetness and light at Filbert Street where there is talk of unrest about Leicester's pay scales. Matt Elliott, Emile Heskey and Neil Lennon are all said to have noticed they could pick up more cash elsewhere, including Liverpool who are today's opponents.

Christian Gross has also had his fair share of scepticism directed towards him since he arrived at Tottenham and yesterday's pronouncements on the eve of their home game against West Ham will not have helped. A team that plays together wins together seems to be the gist as he outlined a series of social events, including an M People concert and a meal.

You feel a trip to the circus to see the Cirque du Soleil at the Royal Albert Hall might have been left off the list, however. Was that an Arsenal fan saying "You'd think he'd seen enough clowns"?

Barnsley v C Palace

Redfearn 8 Leading scorer Shipperley 6

Last season: 0-0

Jan Age Fjortoft will make his Barnsley debut after completing an pounds 800,000 move from Sheffield United. He will partner Ashley Ward up front. The Swede Peter Markstedt is likely to play alongside Chris Morgan in the centre of the home defence as Arjan de Zeeuw and Adrian Moses complete two-match bans.

Crystal Palace's injury problems will ease slightly with the return of defender Jamie Smith after an ankle injury. However, Neil Emblen is likely to be ruled out with a hamstring injury and Simon Rodger will undergo a late fitness test on his hamstring strain. Palace's attacking options are also limited. Attilio Lombardo aggravated a hamstring complaint on Thursday which may delay his return and his fellow Italian Michele Padovano, who has also been out since before Christmas, will have a late fitness test. Neil Shipperley, who is troubled by a groin strain, is unlikely to play. Tomas Brolin is therefore likely to partner Bruce Dyer again in attack, despite the fact that the Swede has yet to regain full match fitness.

Blackburn v Aston Villa

Sutton 14 Leading scorer Yorke, Taylor,

Milosevic 6

Last season: 0-2

Colin Hendry is doubtful for Blackburn after he missed training during the week with a stomach illness while Lars Bohinen, who broke down in training with a calf injury, could be out for several weeks. Roy Hodgson, the Rovers manager, could recall the midfielder Billy McKinlay, who was restricted to the substitutes' bench last weekend on his return from a two-match suspension. However, sweeping changes are unlikely despite Sunday's 3-1 defeat at Derby.

Dwight Yorke is set to make his first Premiership appearance for seven weeks. The Aston Villa forward made a successful comeback from a calf operation in the FA Cup win over Portsmouth on Wednesday. However, Villa expect to be without the defender Gareth Southgate for the third successive game because of an ankle injury. With Riccardo Scimeca (hamstring) also very doubtful, David Hughes or Lee Collins could be given a chance in defence. The midfielder Mark Draper is also very doubtful because of a hamstring problem. Fernando Nelson or Lee Hendrie are likely to deputise.

Coventry v Arsenal

Dublin 10 Leading scorer: Bergkamp 13

Last season: 1-1

Arsenal will be without Marc Overmars and Ian Wright because of hamstring injuries. Luis Boa Morte is set to deputise for Overmars while either Nicolas Anelka or Christopher Wreh will replace Wright.

David Platt is still also out of action with a groin injury, but Emmanuel Petit returns after ankle trouble. The youngsters Jason Crowe and Alberto Mendez are added to an 18-man Arsenal party. Tony Adams, who has been in the south of France in an attempt to regain his fitness, will not return to first team action yet, but he will play in a reserve match next Tuesday.

Dion Dublin will play for Coventry despite speculation that he is on the way to Middlesbrough. He will lead City's attack alongside Darren Huckerby, with the recent Romanian signing, Viorel Moldovan, on the substitutes' bench. Coventry welcome back George Boateng from suspension, but Marcus Hall, who has turned down a pounds 1.5m move to Sheffield Wednesday, completes a two-match ban. Roland Nilsson returns after flu.

Hasselbaink 10 Leading scorer Di Canio 10

Last season: 0-2

Leeds v Sheff Wed

Mark Beeney will make only his second first-team appearance in 20 months when he replaces the suspended Nigel Martyn in goal for Leeds. Beeney, who has been on the bench 152 times in the five years he has spent at Elland Road since joining the club from Brighton, last played a year ago in a goalless draw against Derby. Beeney will be called upon to defend Leeds' good home record: they have not been beaten in the Premiership at Elland Road since a 1-0 defeat to Leicester in September. The Leeds captain, David Hopkin returns after tonsillitis, while David Robertson is back after a two-match suspension.

Des Walker is Sheffield Wednesday's only doubt. The former England defender was forced off in extra time of the midweek FA Cup third-round replay penalty shoot-out victory over Watford with a twisted ankle. If Walker is unfit, Dejan Stefanovic will return from a one-match ban. The Italian striker Benito Carbone is completing a two-match suspension.

Leicester v Liverpool

Marshall 8 Leading scorer Fowler 12

Last season: 0-3

The Leicester manager Martin O'Neill has doubts about the fitness of his leading scorer Ian Marshall who is struggling with a groin injury which has troubled him for over a month. Better news is that goalkeeper Kasey Keller has shaken off a virus. O'Neill has previously used man-marking tactics on Steve McManaman and may ask the Swedish defender Pontus Kamark to shadow the Liverpool danger man.

Liverpool's German international striker Karlheinz Riedle is suffering from a groin injury and will miss the match, leaving Michael Owen and Robbie Fowler as Roy Evans' front-line pairing as his side look for their sixth successive Premiership win. Oyvind Leonhardsen picked up a leg injury in training this week, but the Norwegian midfield player should be fit to take part in a crucial four-day spell that could see Liverpool rise to second in the Premiership with wins in this match and over Newcastle on Tuesday. If Leonhardsen does not make it, Patrik Berger will step in.

Newcastle v Bolton

Barnes, Asprilla 6 Leading scorer Blake 9

Last season: No corresponding fixture

Apart from being able to consider Alan Shearer again, there is more good news for the Newcastle manager Kenny Dalglish with defenders Alessandro Pistone and Stuart Pearce back in his squad. Both missed last Saturday's defeat at Sheffield Wednesday. The Italian had flu while the England international was absent with a hamstring strain. Dalglish is is able to call upon the 24-year-old Frenchman David Terrier, who is in the squad after he joined Newcastle on a six-month contract on Thursday.

Peter Beardsley could face his former club in a Bolton shirt. The midfield player Alan Thompson begins a two-match suspension and Beardsley may replace him in the starting line-up. The Bolton captain Gudni Bergsson is also beginning a two-game ban and his place in the heart of Wanderers' defence will be taken by the South African international Mark Fish. Mike Whitlow is still unavailable with a knee problem, while Bob Taylor, who is currently on loan from West Brom, will continue up front alongside Nathan Blake.

Tottenham v West Ham

Ginola 7 Leading scorer Hartson 19

Last season: 1-0

Tottenham's David Ginola will undergo a late fitness test to see if he has recovered from a calf injury. If fit, the Frenchman is likely to partner Jurgen Klinsmann in attack with the Portuguese winger Jose Domingues making way. Les Ferdinand is still out with a thigh injury. Spurs' 20-year-old Norwegian goalkeeper Espen Bardsen retains his place as Ian Walker has still not recovered from a shoulder injury. Nicola Berti makes his home debut, while David Howells is likely to be among the substitutes after recovering from a stress fracture just below a knee. Andy Sinton, a substitute at Old Trafford last week , is set to replace Stephen Clemence in the starting line-up.

West Ham's Northern Ireland midfielder Steve Lomas returns from suspension, which means that the former Spurs player John Moncur returns to the bench. With Andy Impey and Tim Breacker both injured, Steve Potts will probably fill in at right wing-back.

Iain Dowie returns to the bench with Paul Kitson still out with a groin strain and Paolo Alves having returned to Portugal.

Wimbledon v Derby

Cort 6 Leading scorer Baiano 12

Last season: 1-1

The Wimbledon manager Joe Kinnear is expected to keep faith with the side that beat Wrexham in the midweek FA Cup replay. The Wimbledon striker Efan Ekoku played the last 15 minutes against Wrexham, after having been out for two months out through injury, but is only likely to win a place on the bench for today's game. The Dons' recent signings Carl Leaburn and Stale Solbakken will be hoping to be involved at some stage, but Kinnear is still without long-term injury victims Ben Thatcher, Jason Euell and Brian McAllister.

Dean Sturridge is the latest casualty for a Derby team again depleted by injuries and suspensions. A thigh strain rules Sturridge out of today's game, providing an opening for the Jamaican international Deon Burton. Three Derby midfielders - Stefano Eranio, Darryl Powell and Lee Carsley - will be missing because of suspension but their wing-back Robbie Kozluk has recovered from the groin injury which kept him out of last Sunday's 3-1 win over Blackburn.

Everton v Chelsea


Speed, Ferguson 6 Leading scorer Vialli 14

Last season: 1-2

The French striker Mickael Madar will make his home debut for Everton having scored in his first game in the win at Crystal Palace last weekend. Having let their right-back Earl Barrett join Sheffield United on loan during the week, Everton have a host of injury problems on the right side of their team. Mitch Ward is still out, Tony Thomas is a major doubt with a hamstring injury while Terry Phelan and Tony Grant both picked up calf strains in a reserve game on Thursday. Graham Allen and Jon O'Connor are on stand-by.

Chelsea's Romanian Dan Petrescu has recovered from a bout of flu which kept him out of last week's defeat of Coventry, but Roberto di Matteo begins a two-match suspension while Andy Myers is out with a hamstring injury. Steve Clarke received a knock in training in the week, but should be fit enough to play, as will Dennis Wise who is still troubled by the effects of a toe injury. Kevin Hitchcock has a sore throat and will be replaced on the bench by Dmitri Kharin if he fails to recover in time.