Football: Evans and Robson join fixture debate

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The Independent Online
Liverpool's manager, Roy Evans, and Middlesbrough's Bryan Robson last night joined the debate over whether the Premiership season should be extended to ease the pressure on those club's who face a fixture backlog.

The issue has already caused friction between Manchester United's Alex Ferguson, who wants an extension because his side faces a crush of European and Premiership fixtures, and Arsenal's Arsene Wenger, who is equally adamant that the season should end on time.

Evans, whose Liverpool side missed the chance to go top by losing to Coventry yesterday, backs Wenger, who has put Arsenal in second place.

"I believe it would be totally out of order for one club to play a game in isolation," he said, referring to Ferguson's wish to play United's final game of the season, against Newcastle, after the rest of the programme has finished. "You can't shift the goalposts at this stage of the season. The fixtures may not be ideal but they are on the list.

"We have a tough programme starting this week of four games inside the space of nine days. Of course we should be doing what we can to help clubs in Europe. But you have to be fair to all clubs, big and small. Wimbledon, Leicester and Middlesbrough also have fixture problems. The games should all finish on the same day. The time for sorting out something like this is when the fixtures are arranged."

The issue will be reassessed and the leading club's managers are waiting impatiently for a ruling this week, none more so than Ferguson, who drew support from the former United captain, Bryan Robson, whose Middlesbrough side were taken to a replay by Leicester in the Coca-Cola Cup final at Wembley yesterday.

"We are getting into a situation now where the backlog of games is ridiculous. I would prefer to see the season extended because that would only be fair, although Alex Ferguson's already had a knock-back and perhaps there's no point in me trying," Robson said.

"We could end up playing four games in seven days, maybe five in seven days if we draw with Chesterfield in the FA Cup semi-final next Sunday. Surely that's ridiculous. If there's any way we can get an extension to the season I would like to try it. If you ask players to play that many games you will pick up a lot of injuries."