A first Premiership win for Bobby Robson's Newcastle in the meeting of the sides propping up the table could put Danny Wilson's tenure with Sheffield Wednesday under intolerable strain after just 15 months. Wilson is no stranger to bottom place. But even Barnsley gleaned six points from their first seven games, compared with the one apiece Wednesday and Newcastle take into this potentially grim struggle.
A midweek trip to Second Division Stoke in the Worthington Cup could not trick Wilson's team into winning or scoring. Even if he survives the weekend, his fate could be sealed by a Stoke side managed by a former Hillsborough player and self-confessed Wednesdayite, Gary Megson, in next week's second leg. In the meantime, Wilson finds his plans for Newcastle undermined by injuries and infighting.
Peter Atherton, his captain, has now joined his most experienced players, Wim Jonk and Andy Hinchcliffe, on the casualty list. The Benito Carbone saga has rumbled on, raising doubts about Wilson's ability to handle top- class players. And the board's reluctance to sanction the re-signing of Carlton Palmer, reputedly on financial grounds, fuelled suspicions about a lack of faith in his judgement.
Without creating the same interest nationally, Wednesday's plight is reminiscent of the situation Ruud Gullit left behind. How much brighter the position at St James' Park looks already, with the restored Rob Lee making the No 37 shirt his own and the Uefa Cup trek to Bulgaria producing Newcastle's first win anywhere since 11 April. The emotional tide generated by Robson's homecoming will make it even harder for Wednesday to earn the respite their manager needs.
The Sunday programme also features a match between two thriving teams, Everton and West Ham United, whose managers have not always looked secure. Walter Smith, who spent the summer selling in order to trim Everton's overdraft and wondering when, if ever, the impasse over the club's ownership would be resolved, has transformed last season's goal-shy side into the Premiership's second-highest scorers.
Harry Redknapp has also answered his critics in the most unlikely way, making West Ham's defence the second tightest in the division so far. This, remember, is the team who capitulated 6-0 at Goodison Park in May, and the improvement has not come at the expense of the club's attacking traditions. The partnership of Paulo Wanchope and Paolo Di Canio mocks the conventional wisdom about the folly of fielding one loose cannon, let alone two blazing away together.
The third of tomorrow's games offers Leeds United an opportunity to demonstrate against Middlesbrough that they are not developing a complex about playing at Elland Road. Away from home, Leeds have won four domestic and European matches, rattling up 12 goals in the process.
Before their own fans, Leeds have drawn with Derby, beaten 10-man Sunderland only 2-1, lost to Liverpool and transparently missed Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink's physical presence against packed defences. Since Boro have also saved their better displays for the road, an intriguing duel is in prospect.
Today, Wimbledon attempt to slow the Manchester United juggernaut at Old Trafford. Mission implausible, perhaps, given that the Dons have leaked 16 goals amid their confusion over Egil Olsen's switch to a zonal defence. Yet who would have backed any team coached by Ossie Ardiles to leave the treble winners with a 0-0 draw as Croatia Zagreb did this week?
Plenty of interest will centre around whether Raimond van der Gouw or Mark Bosnich provides goalkeeping back-up to Massimo Taibi. Bosnich's position at the club he rejoined in June will look tenuous indeed if it is the Dutchman.
Arsenal can ill-afford any reaction from their Florentine rigours away to Southampton. Chelsea, with games in hand on the leaders, are under no such pressure at Watford. But the likely absence of Franck Leboeuf may encourage Graham Taylor's splendidly named new Dutch striker, Nordin Wooter, to believe in beginner's luck.
Leicester's match with Liverpool promises to be a highly charged affair thanks to the latest boardroom melodrama. No such excitement for Aston Villa, who look set to continue in their unwelcome role as exceptions to the rule of booming interest in the Premiership with another sub-30,000 crowd against Bradford.
Keane sees expert, page 30Reuse content