Football: McManaman's national calling: Round-up

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THE England coach Terry Venables last night called the Liverpool winger Steve McManaman into his squad for Wednesday's match against Romania at Wembley as a replacement for the injured Darren Anderton. Venables saw 22- year-old McManaman enjoy another good game in Liverpool's 3-2 win over Aston Villa and said afterwards: 'I was very impressed with him. All the reports I have had say he is improving all the time.'

McManaman, Liverpool- born who joined the club from school has played for England youth and won seven Under-21 caps. His lack of goals - 11 in 93 games before this season - has been a concern but his hat-trick last week against Sheffield Wednesday illustrated a new finishing ability to accompany his wing play and willingness to work in defence. There remains a doubt, however, about Dennis Wise, who sustained a leg injury during Chelsea's win over Leicester City.

The Romanians secured a useful point in St Etienne last night after a scoreless draw against France in a European Championship Group One match. An experimental French team, captained by Eric Cantona, dominated but failed to break through, although Nicolas Ouedec hit the bar in the 58th minute.

Ian Rush and Ryan Giggs have been forced to withdraw from Wales's European Championship match with Moldova because of injury. Giggs aggravated a calf strain in training while Rush suffered a recurrence of a knee injury in Liverpool's 3-2 win over Aston Villa. Villa's Andy Townsend (groin) is out of the Republic of Ireland's match with Liechtenstein with his team-mate Ray Houghton a possible absentee.

Northern Ireland will have to choose between two part- time goalkeepers for Wednesday's European Championship game in Austria. Ards' Paul Kee has joined Linfield's Wes Lamont on the trip because Nottingham Forest's Tommy Wright is unfit.

This afternoon's big match at St James' Park between the Premiership nouveau riche of leaders Newcastle United and Blackburn Rovers, already a mouthwatering prospect, took on even greater significance after second-placed Nottingham Forest failed to get more than a point out at Manchester City and Manchester United lost at Sheffield Wednesday.

'We got out of jail, to be honest,' the Forest manager Frank Clark admitted. 'We didn't play at all well and I think it was possibly the character of the team that got us a point.' But they remain unbeaten.

Character will be in as great demand for this afternoon's clash. The match will test the central defenders on both sides to the utmost. Newcastle's back line will be missing the injured Barry Venison and Phillipe Albert, on international duty with Belgium. Steve Howey will partner experienced centre- back Darren Peacock. 'We've got to try to cut out the balls before they reach the front men,' Peacock said.

The Blackburn manager Kenny Dalglish thinks his side has been thwarted only by 'inspired goalkeepers and bad bounces' this season. But, he continued, 'if we start to feel sorry for ourselves, we can't turn it round. We have proved that we are prepared to work hard to change our luck.'

The progress in recent weeks of West Ham United and Crystal Palace has been like a pair of old troupers hobbling along together in a three-legged race. But after a struggling start, unexpected away wins in London derbies and streakier Coca-Cola Cup wins against Third Division opposition had put them in better heart.

That is until the Palace manager Alan Smith saw reports linking his striker, Chris Armstrong, with Leeds. 'I spend all week preparing a team then pick up a newspaper and read that,' he fumed. 'I've not had an offer for Chris Armstrong from anybody and I'm not going to sell him.'

West Ham took the points when Don Hutchison met Tim Breacker's cross at the far post, his third goal since moving south from Liverpool and Palace's first away defeat.

The top two in the Endsleigh First Division both lost, allowing Reading, Tranmere and Swindon to close ranks. Second-placed Middlesbrough put Tranmere under tremendous pressure at Ayresome Park and then John Aldridge scored late on.

Reading, third, also won away, at Charlton. Former Palace midfielder Simon Osborn with a superb 25-yard volley and Michael Gilkes, capitalising on a slip by Charlton skipper Phil Chapple, were on target for Reading who had not won at the Valley for 68 years.

John Frain, the Birmingham captain, is to have hospital tests on a heart murmur after he complained of being short of breath after the Second Division game against Huddersfield.