Cold puts weekend fixtures on ice

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NICK DUXBURY

The freeze has taken its expected toll of the sporting weekend, with temperatures so low that even today's all-weather racing - added at short notice to provide betting shops with much needed action - looks in danger of cancellation.

The cold hit even harder than on Boxing Day as most of the day's football and rugby matches were called off and turf racing ruled out completely for the fifth day in succession.

Three Premiership, five Endsleigh League First Division, 10 Second Division and nine Third Division matches were called off 24 hours before kick-off. Only 19 out of 46 matches were still on with widespread snow and frost expected overnight.

The highest-profile casualties were Aston Villa v Sheffield Wednesday, Southampton v Manchester City and the visit of the leaders, Newcastle United, to West Ham United. The three Premiership grounds do not have undersoil heating.

Scotland has been even harder hit, with 17 out of 20 matches postponed. The Premier division leaders, Rangers, and First Division Dundee United - the only teams able to host a match on Boxing Day - are again in action. They are joined by Third Division Queen's Park, who host Ross County at a heated Hampden Park.

The non-League programme has been decimated, along with rugby union's schedule of league and friendly matches. All of England's Courage League One matches are off, as well as three out of five top division games in Wales. In rugby league, St Helens and Warrington's Regal Trophy semi-final game, due to be televised live by BBC, has been moved to next Thursday.

More fooball and rugby matches over the long holiday weekend are sure to follow, with Halifax rugby league already postponing their New Year's Day home clash with Oldham and instead travelling to the new Alfred McAlpine Stadium in Huddersfield to play Bradford.

Wolverhampton's all-weather track was punters' only hope of racing today, but even synthetic Fibresand may not be able to beat record temperatures. The prosopect of racing, due to be staged in the afternoon and evening, going ahead was yesterday described as "hopeful rather than certain".

Fixtures, page 20

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