Football: Macari prepares for the Palace

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The Independent Online
Lou Macari says Stoke City's home game against Crystal Palace today is his side's toughest test so far. Macari, the manager of the month in the Nationwide League First Division after leading the Potters to second place in the table, admitted the Londoners will be hard to beat. "Palace came within 90 minutes of the Premiership last season and I'll be surprised if they aren't knocking on the door again next May," he said.

Buoyant Bolton will be expecting to keep their place at the top as they travel to the bottom club, Southend. The leaders await a fitness check on Gudni Bergsson, while the full-back Scott Green is doubtful.

While Macari was celebrating his award, West Bromwich's Alan Buckley must have been sweating after getting the dreaded vote of confidence from his chairman, Tony Hale. The club have yet to win in the league this season and they were knocked out of the Coca Cola Cup by Colchester on Tuesday. But Hale lays the blame with the players and he said: "I don't think you can blame the manager. I had a long chat with him after the Colchester game and I have every confidence in him putting the situation right." Albion travel to Queen's Park Rangers, who have no manager after the departure of Ray Wilkins.

Manchester City will be hoping for the kind of fortune that saw them home against Charlton when they face in-form Barnsley at Maine Road. Caretaker manager Asa Hartford will decide today whether to give Lee Crooks his full debut. The former England schoolboy and last season's youth team captain is in the squad with two other youngsters, Rae Ingram and Jeff Whitley. Hartford said: "I have seen these lads in the reserves. They have developed well and have big futures in front of them." On his management future, Hartford said: "I am in charge of the team until the chairman tells me otherwise."

Bradford City go to fourth- placed Norwich looking to avenge last season's FA Cup defeat while Tranmere, currently fifth, entertain Birmingham.

The Second Division leaders Plymouth are at home to Notts County, who have only lost once in their last 11 visits there, while the Third Division leaders, Wigan, welcome Scunthorpe, who have had just one win at Springfield Park in the last eight games.