Football: Popescu pops in to spur Ardiles

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The Independent Online
(First Edition)

GHEORGHE POPESCU will carry something of a Messianic air when he makes his debut for Tottenham in the Coca-Cola Cup at Watford tonight. After all, nothing less is expected of the Romanian than that he should do the footballing equivalent of turning water into wine - shoring up one of the Premiership's most porous defences.

Three defeats in the last four games have taken the edge off the 'Klinsmannia' that had Spurs fans in raptures in August. Ossie Ardiles, their beleaguered manager, is coninced, nevertheless, that Popescu is the man best equipped to plug the glaring gaps. 'I will never compromise my principles about attacking football and the way the game should be played,' he insisted. 'We have to get the balance right and learn that we must fight for the ball before we can play.'

Popescu dashed back to the Netherlands on Monday to obtain a new visa, whereupon international clearance and a British work-permit came through yesterday to ensure his pounds 2.3m move from PSV Eindhoven could be completed. Although the midfield anchorman, Colin Calderwood, is favoured to make way for Popescu, centre-backs Stuart Nethercott and Sol Campbell are also under threat.

Leeds have been beset by mounting injury problems prior to their Coca-Cola Cup second round, first leg tie at home to Mansfield. Gordon Strachan and Rod Wallace are doubtful after picking up strains in Saturday's defeat at Coventry, supplementing a casualty list already numbering David White (heel), David O'Leary (Achilles) and Tony Dorigo (knee). Question marks also hang over David Wetherall (thigh) and his central defensive partner Carlton Palmer (foot). South African international Lucas Radebe is on stand-by to make his debut should they fail to recover.

Nottingham Forest will be defending a proud League Cup record when they meet Third Division strugglers Hereford: the hosts have not lost a game in the competition - in its various guises - at the City Ground since 21 September, 1976 - 18 years ago to the day. Steve Chettle's return from suspension is likely to be the only change in Frank Clark's unbeaten side as they seek to extend that run to 47 games.

As if propping up the Second Division were not enough, Bournemouth are struggling to raise a team for their visit to Chelsea, so much so that the club's 37-year-old physio, Sean O'Driscoll, may be drafted in at full-back alongside two untried 17-year-olds, James Reeve and David Town. Manager Mel Machin has only 17 senior professionals and three - including top scorer Steve Cotterill - are definitely out, with two more extremely doubtful.