Ferguson `not ruled out' of final

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Everton are facing an anxious wait to discover whether Duncan Ferguson will be fit for the FA Cup final. The £4m striker has undergone a hernia operation which may rule him out for the rest of the season. However, the club know he could be crucial to their battle to avoid relegation, and also to the outcome of the final against Manchester United on 20 May.

"Thanks to modern surgery, recovery times from operations are getting shorter and shorter. On the other hand, Duncan could suffer a setback from the surgery," said Joe Royle, the Everton manager. "I've not totally ruled him out of the final."

The Canadian international goalkeeper, Craig Forrest, has rejected a new three-year contract with relegated Ipswich. Forrest, 27, is due a testimonial at the club, but wants to stay in the Premiership.

The Ipswich manager, George Burley, said: "We have made him a marvellous offer, and I have told him that there are not many better clubs he could be with. But he has turned it down officially and I have to look elsewhere, as he could walk out of the club in the summer under freedom of contract."

Keith Houchen has been appointed manager of the struggling Third Division side, Hartlepool, just hours after David McCreery vacated the job by mutual consent. Houchen has played for the club since 1993, after a successful career in England and Scotland. Hartlepool are currently in 20th place, four points above bottom side Scarborough, who have a game in hand.

The relegated Second Division side, Chester, are searching for their fourth manager in 10 months following the resignation of Derek Mann after only six weeks in the job. However, Mann will stay on as Chester's youth development officer. Temporary control of team affairs will be handled by his assistant, Kevin Ratcliffe, the former Everton captain.

Airdrie have failed in their attempt to reopen the debate on League reconstruction in Scotland. The First Division club had written to the Scottish League asking that their proposal of a three-league set-up of 16-12-12 be voted on at next month's annual meeting.

However, the League Management Committee threw out the proposal because of lack of support from the clubs. Airdrie needed the backing of 20 clubs, but only 13 were interested.

The Scottish League has confirmed that even without sponsorship, the cup tournament for First, Second and Third Division clubs - formerly the B&Q Cup - will go ahead next season.