Armstrong `will escape ban'

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THE Crystal Palace striker Chris Armstrong, who tested positive for marijuana in a random drug test on 23 January, will not be punished by his team or by the Football Association according to the Palace manager Alan Smith.

"No disciplinary action has been taken and I have not changed my opinion of Chris Armstrong," said Smith, who first raised suspicions about Armstrong when he left him out of the line-up for Wednesday's FA Cup replay against Watford. "The FA are involved, but there is not a problem with them."

The players' union chief executive Gordon Taylor said Armstrong could be back in action in two weeks. Taylor said there was no comparison between Armstrong's situation and that of Arsenal's Paul Merson, who was out of the game for more than two months earlier this season after admitting to cocaine abuse and gambling addiction.

"Armstrong has been seen by the FA's medical staff and I am hoping he will be back in the next two weeks," said Taylor. "Cannabis is at the bottom end of the whole catalogue of drugs. It is a social drug and not a performance-enhancing drug and it would be naive to think the drug culture apparent these days is not prevalent in football."

He claimed the new random tests, which replaced the previous system of targeting first-team players after matches, are beginning to reap rewards.

"There have been nine players who have tested positive," he revealed, "but the vast majority are on social drugs and they will go through the same procedure."

The Uefa president Lennart Johansson has denied urging that Arsenal's disgraced manager George Graham should be banned from football for life.

Graham, sacked by Arsenal last week following the Premier League investigation into irregular payments, is awaiting the Football Association's decision on whether to punish him for banking £425,000 from the transfers of John Jensen and Pal Lydersen to Highbury.

Johansson, European football's top official, told Sweden's TT news agency yesterday: "It's not up to me to fix the punishment. It's for the disciplinary committee of Uefa to decide. I have not given an interview to a British paper. I am not demanding Graham is banned for life, but I have reason to believe he would not be desired in the world of football."

Johansson was quoted in Saturday's Guardian advocating harsh punishment. The paper quoted the Swede as saying: "If it's proven that a manager has taken money from a transfer he must be banned for life worldwide. Arsenal have already reacted and I would think it would be very difficult for the man to get a new job.

"Our sanctions will follow when the English FA reports are on our table, though I am certain the English FA will take the necessary actions."

Lancaster Gate will make no decision on the former Arsenal manager until the Premier League commission's full report into the case has been received later this month.

Meanwhile, Uwe Fuchs, the Kaiserslautern striker on loan to Middlesbrough until the end of the season, might supplant his player-manager Bryan Robson as the hero of Teesside if he keeps up his present rate of goalscoring.

Yesterday's hat-trick at Ayresome Park, which accounted for struggling Bristol City, made it five goals in six games and gave Boro the same number of points as the First Division leaders, Tranmere, with a game in hand.

Fuchs rounded Bristol's goalkeeper, Keith Welch, to open the scoring after 10 minutes and it soon got much worse for the visitors when striker Wayne Allison was sent off just past the half hour. Boro's superiority showed in an assured second-half performance and, after completing his hat-trick, Fuchs limped off to a generous ovation eight minutes from time. Tranmere meet Sunderland this afternoon.

Sheffield United could only manage a draw at home to lowly Port Vale, but Reading rediscovered their touch with a 4-1 humbling of Watford, who had conceded only two goals in their 11 previous games. The Hornets' FA Cup replay extra-time defeat at Selhurst Park should take some of the credit.

At the bottom, rejoicing at Turf Moor as Burnley won their first point of the year thanks to Liam Robinson's 89th-minute equaliser against West Brom.

In the Second Division, leaders Huddersfield had Tom Cowan sent off for violent conduct in the home match against Yorkshire rivals Bradford and hung on for a 0-0 draw. That kept them a point up on Brentford, who beat promotion candidates Crewe 2-0. Birmingham, who had a brick lobbed at their coach en route to Hull also shared a goalless draw.

After Steve Davis and Chris Eubank, has Barry Hearn met his Matchroom in Leyton Orient, the struggling east London side he has agreed to take a controlling stake in? A 1-1 home draw against Oxford did little to ease their relegation worries.

Two goals in 12 first-half minutes by Dean Walling helped Third Division leaders Carlisle to open up a 14-point gap, but the season's latest new recruit on the managerial treadmill, Paul Futcher of Darlington, trudged off to a losing start, 1-0 at Colchester.