City trial for second Georgian

Phil Shaw looks forward to an eventful programme of matches over the weekend
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The Independent Online
Manic Monday looms on Tyneside, but more than a third of the sides trailing the Uniteds of Newcastle and Manchester will today be concentrating on being clear of the Premiership's bottom three by mid-May rather than pondering the destination of the championship.

Relegation, with the lost face and finance it entails, could be catastrophic for Manchester City. The urgency of their plight yesterday prompted Alan Ball to sign a second Georgian international, Mikhail Kavelashvili, on trial from Spartak Vladivkavkaz with a view to a pounds 1.5m deal.

Kavelashvili, a striker recommended to Ball by Georgi Kinkladze - with whom he played for Dinamo Tbilisi last season - is not eligible to face Blackburn. Nevertheless his arrival suggests City aim to survive playing with freedom rather than fear.

Encouraged by having scored three times against champions-elect Newcastle a week ago, when Kinkladze's virtuosity was overshadowed by the Curle- Asprilla feuds, they may find the champions' travel sickness makes them ideal follow-up opponents.

City occupy the highest of the relegation places, although they have the same points tally (25) as the three clubs immediately above them. Sheffield Wednesday, who tackle a Bayern-bound Nottingham Forest with a 7-1 home humiliation to avenge, have only four more.

Apart from City, Coventry arguably have most to lose. They have enjoyed 29 years' unbroken membership of the top division and allowed Ron Atkinson to spend unprecedented sums to maintain it. Against West Ham, the form of newcomers Eoin Jess and Liam Daish is likely to come under even more intense scrutiny after the revelation that a Labour MP put pounds 5m towards transfers.

Superior goal difference makes Southampton the best-placed of the queasy quartet as they face the injury-troubled Teddy Sheringham and Chris Armstrong at Tottenham.

Wimbledon, sandwiched between the Saints and Sky Blues, receive Chelsea a week before their FA Cup quarter-final collision. Those who would not lament the Dons' demotion should know they have scored as many goals as fourth-placed Aston Villa.

Bolton's 16 points leave their position looking forlorn. John McGinlay and Alan Stubbs are recalled from the bench at Leeds, for whom Tomas Brolin starts for the first time since 31 January. Whether Howard Wilkinson lets him finish the match is another matter.

Queen's Park Rangers are being written off with 21 points, perhaps prematurely in the age of three points for a win. However, a 100 per cent record in London derbies this season (eight games, eight defeats) does not augur well for Arsenal's visit.

Villa's appearance on the fringe of the title race is an example to all the stragglers. After avoiding relegation on the final day last season, they go to Liverpool tomorrow with one Wembley place secure, another possible and a good chance of qualifying for Europe via the Premiership. Liverpool, 2-0 victors at Villa Park a month ago, must win to keep the pressure on the top two.

It is an important weekend in the First Division too, with the leaders Derby pitting a long unbeaten run against fourth-placed Huddersfield, who boast just one post-war win at the Baseball Ground. Derby may look assured of promotion, but Sunderland and Charlton have games in hand.

Stoke, in fifth place despite restrictions on Lou Macari's spending power, will also be strong candidates for one of the two automatic berths if they see off the sixth club, Barnsley.