Football: Pressure grows on Souness: Derek Hodgson detects a hardening of attitudes at Anfield

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The Independent Online
GRAEME SOUNESS'S position as manager of Liverpool was still safe yesterday, despite some boardroom mutterings at the end of last week. However, the manner of Saturday's defeat at Wimbledon alarmed even his friends, including the chairman, David Moores, and the indications are that he is no longer invulnerable.

Defeats in their next two games, at Arsenal on Sunday week and then at home to bottom of the table Nottingham Forest, would turn a poor run of form into a crisis and the board might feel compelled to act. The directors were willing to accept two, possibly three years of rebuilding but Wimbledon gave them a glimpse of the abyss, the thought that was unthinkable since Bill Shankly's arrival: relegation.

Elimination from the FA Cup has given both Liverpool and Everton an unexpected holiday, which both are using to play friendlies in Ireland. Liverpool's next board meeting is a week tomorrow.

A key figure in any transfer dealings on Merseyside may be Joe Royle, the manager of Oldham Athletic, whose team are now second from bottom, with a defence almost as porous as Liverpool's. If Royle is to stave off relegation he has to reinforce his defence. To do that he has either to raise some money by selling assets or exchange players. 'We cannot afford pounds 1m fees,' he said.

Everton have enquired about the possibility of bringing Graeme Sharp, 32, back to Goodison. He joined Oldham in July 1991 for pounds 500,000. If he does return to Merseyside a more likely destination is ambitious Tranmere, for about pounds 300,000.

Liverpool are known to be interested in Richard Jobson, 28, the accomplished central defender Royle signed from Hull in August 1990 for pounds 465,000. Oldham are currently playing a 19-year-old goalkeeper, Paul Gerrard, who has given some promising performances but a manager needs, most of all, an experienced keeper in a relegation struggle. Liverpool cannot seem to decide whether James, Hooper or Grobbelaar is their first-choice.

Souness has to decide, in the next 10 days, whether he has the resources at Anfield to save Liverpool's season, or again seek outside reinforcement.

Manchester United have been counting the cost of their game at Loftus Road on Monday. The leaders won much praise and three points for their win over Queen's Park Rangers, but the team may have to be reshaped for the fourth-round FA Cup tie against Brighton at Old Trafford on Saturday. Mark Hughes, with nine stitches in a calf injury, is definitely out and yesterday Parker, Irwin, Sharpe and Ince were all receiving treatment and rated doubtful.

Alex Ferguson confirmed that Eric Cantona will be fit to take Hughes's place while Lee Martin and John O'Kane, 18, a youth team defender, may join the squad.

Newcastle United have refused permission for Ray Ranson, their full-back on loan to Manchester City, to play in the fourth-round tie at Queen's Park Rangers on Saturday. Kevin Keegan told City's manager, Peter Reid, that he did not want Ranson, once a City player, cup-tied. Ranson was under consideration as City try to get fit Keith Curle and Michael Vonk.

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