Football: Business as usual as Evans stays in charge

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The Independent Online
ROY EVANS and Gerard Houllier, Liverpool joint-managers, yesterday presented a defiant face of unity to the world and vowed to soldier on.

Evans and Houllier, preparing for tonight's Worthington Cup fourth-round tie at home to Tottenham, sat side by side again in a bold bid to deflect the criticism aimed at their twin management role in the face of a poor run of just one win in their last eight League games.

Speculation that the Liverpool board is about to end the "marriage" by dispensing with Evans after 30 years' service to give Houllier sole control was not given any credence by the pair. However, the club chairman, David Moores, pointedly refused to make any statement despite a request for clarification of the management position, and it is clear that Moores is praying for time and hoping that Liverpool's much- maligned under-achieving players can turn a disaster into a triumph.

Evans clearly turned the spotlight on the board after Saturday's disastrous home defeat to Derby by suggesting that "other people in other places have to make a decision" about the future running of the club. Although it is believed that the management role will be discussed at boardroom level this week, the response to Evans' plea has been silence from the club's hierarchy.

Liverpool's plight has not been helped by a catalogue of injury problems that make Jamie Redknapp (knee), Patrik Berger (thigh), Steve Staunton (ankle), Steve McManaman (Achilles), David James, Steve Harkness and Paul Ince (all flu) major doubts for tonight's match.

The only bright injury news is that Karlheinz Riedle trained after a groin injury and has a 50-50 chance of playing in a game that has taken on a hugely significant importance to Evans' future at the club.

Lennie Lawrence, the Luton Town manager, is set for a reunion with two of his former players when Barnsley visit Kenilworth Road.

Barnsley's player-manager, John Hendrie, and Peter Shirtliff both featured in Lawrence teams - and the Hatters manager is looking forward to the challenge as his current side look to add the First Division club to their list of victims.

"I know John Hendrie because he played for me at Middlesbrough and Peter Shirtliff played for me at Charlton," Lawrence said. "I saw Barnsley at Queen's Park Rangers last Wednesday so I know what's happening there. They are not having the best of times at the moment but there are one or two match winners in their side."

The Hatters secured their entry to the last 16 with a magnificent victory over Coventry City, a giant-killing result which saw them capture the Worthington award for the best performance of the round. But Lawrence admits his Second Division side must again be at the top their game if they are to succeed against the Tykes.

"Coventry were below par on the day and we played as well as we could. We are hoping the same circumstances exist against Barnsley," Lawrence said. "If we play as well as we can do and they are a bit below par, we can win. If they play well and we don't, we can't."

Bolton Wanderers have suffered two major blows before their fourth-round tie against Wimbledon at the Reebok Stadium. Their goalkeeper Keith Branagan has gone into hospital for a hernia operation and his place will be taken by the Finn, Jussi Jaaskelainen. The South African international defender Mark Fish is also rated as very doubtful with a leg injury.

Wimbledon will be without the midfielder Michael Hughes, who has been struggling with a groin injury, but Neal Ardley is expected to return.