Football Round-Up: Gazza has tibia set

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PAUL GASCOIGNE had a steel rod inserted in his right tibia during a three-hour operation yesterday and should be able to resume his playing career next year. John Browett, who performed the surgery at the private Princess Grace Hospital in London, said he was confident the England midfielder would play again next year, although it would be in six months' time, when the pin should be removed, that an accurate assessment could be made.

'There is no such thing as a categoric assurance in surgery but in my opinion, with God's will, a following breeze and his own determination, he will play again,' Browett said. 'I feel quite optimistic about it.' He added that neither the injury - fractures of the tibia and fibula - nor the operation had troubled the knee he damaged in 1991.

To the list of clubs in danger of playing in the First Division rather than the Premiership next season must be added Ipswich Town. Julian Dicks sunk them with a 75th-minute penalty for Liverpool yesterday in a match short on entertainment that kicked off early at Anfield to accommodate the Grand National. Ipswich lost 10 out of their last 16 last season, and yesterday's defeat is their fifth in six outings.

The battle to join the top- flight continued apace yesterday with six of the top seven securing the full three points. Only Millwall tripped up and that was to Crystal Palace whose place atop the First Division looks as safely insured as anything Endsleigh have ever touched. Charlton had their hopes damaged, at home to Nottingham Forest, as did Stoke who lost 4-2 at Derby. Joe Jordan's men have not won away for five months now and the pressure told both on his players - five were booked.

Five Southend players also went into the book yesterday in a fixture that was not for the soft of heart. Southend played Birmingham, home to the beleaguered Barry Fry who did a runner from Roots Hall in favour of the supposed big-time at St Andrews. Birmingham may well be in a lower division than Southend next season, but they held on to the relegation lifeline yesterday, scoring twice straight after the break and recording a 3-1 victory.

The promotion fight in the Second Division tightened yesterday with Reading's lead over Plymouth being cut to three after their home draw with Cardiff. At the bottom, though, the clubs have already started to drop. Barnet were sentenced to a Third Division future last week and Hartlepool followed them yesterday, beaten 7-0 at Rotherham.

The bitter scrap to avoid relegation from the Third Division and into non-League territory was fought out by Wigan (third bottom) and Darlington (bottom) yesterday with Darlington coming out 2-0 worse off.

Wembley's protagonists for the second FA Cup semi-final this afternoon are still undecided, with Oldham's Nick Henry and Paul Bernard yet to pass fitness tests in order to face Manchester United.