The Southampton manager, Alan Ball, prepared his team for tonight's vital visit to Anfield by claiming: "We've proved we're worth our place in the Premiership."
A run of 12 League games without a win - although nine of those were draws - had dropped the Saints deep into the relegation zone, with only the almost doomed Ipswich and Leicester below them. However, the Hampshire club have responded to Ball's urgings by earning dramatic home victories over Newcastle and Spurs to move up above Joe Royle's Everton into 17th place.
Ball is confident that a continuation of the form that his side has shown in the past fortnight will ensure The Dell stages top-flight football for the 18th consecutive season next term. "I've been delighted with everybody at the club has responded," he said. Southampton will again lack the suspended Francis Benali, while Liverpool, their place in Europe next season assured by Sunday's Coca-Cola Cup final victory over Bolton, should field the team on duty at Wembley.
The scramble for the other Uefa Cup places continues elsewhere: Leeds will expect maximum points against Ipswich at Elland Road. Andy Couzens, despite an excellent defensive display alongside Carlton Palmer which did much to thwart Manchester United in Sunday's 0-0 draw, may be dropped in favour of Gary Speed, who missed the United game through suspension. The former Leeds striker, Lee Chapman, could feature in the Ipswich line- up in place of Ian Marshall.
Injury-hit Norwich City, now down in 14th place after just one win in their last 13 Premiership outings, could call up their assistant manager, Gary Megson, for their trip to Leicester. The 37-year-old supposedly retired at the end of last season but - with Andy Johnson, Ian Crook, Jeremy Goss and the suspended Mike Milligan all out - he seems certain to be at least a substitute at Filbert Street.
Bolton return to First Division action tonight seeking to restore their status in the promotion race. They dropped to fifth place at the weekend, seven points behind the leaders Middlesbrough, as all their main promotion rivals won.
With Bryan Robson's team also in action at Oldham, the Burnden Park club can scarcely afford anything other than three points from their trip to their Coca-Cola Cup semi-final victims, Swindon Town. Middlesbrough, who would extend their lead over the chasing pack to seven points with a fourth successive win, are without the Bolivian striker, Jaime Moreno.
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