Football: That was the weekend that was

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Reckless tackle revives the dark side of Rioch

BRUCE RIOCH'S explosive outburst at Molineux on Saturday was not the first instance of the former Scottish international letting his emotions get the better of him.

The Norwich City manager had to be restrained by his assistant, Bryan Hamilton, at the Wolverhampton ground after a crude challenge by the Wolves defender Kevin Muscat left the Canaries' striker Craig Bellamy requiring nine stitches in a leg wound.

Rioch stormed on to the field as 19-year-old Bellamy lay in agony, remonstrating both with Muscat and with Sheffield referee John Kirkby for failing to penalise the tackle.

"I thought that sort of tackle went out of the game years ago," Rioch said afterwards.

If I might jog his memory, however, he may recall something similar as recently as February 1995, when he was manager of Bolton, and which prompted much the same reaction.

On that occasion, a lunge by Marco Gabbiadini of Derby left Bolton's Simon Coleman with a broken leg and had a raging Rioch rushing on to the field at the Baseball Ground, waving an accusing finger at Gabbiadini, who is now with Darlington.

Witnesses close to the touchline said Rioch was so incensed he asked a policeman to arrest Gabbiadini, although Rioch himself denied that part of the story.

He said then, in the same way, that he thought it was a challenge confined to the dark vaults of history. Perhaps now he will revise his opinion.

Christmas time but no card for Manu

IT IS, perhaps, only a minor consolation after losing at home to Barnsley, but First Division promotion-chasers Ipswich at least had something to smile about on Saturday evening.

It was one of the rare occasions that French defender Manuel Thetis managed to play through 90 minutes without a caution.

The former Seville player has picked up nine bookings in just 16 appearances for the Portman Road club, much to the delight of the tougher elements in the North Stand, who serenade their hero with the chant: "He's big, he's hard, he's got a yellow card."

Much as he could do without losing Thetis to suspension - his second ban will mean he misses next Sunday's trip to Sheffield United - manager George Burley has a certain sympathy with his charge, who is acquiring among Nationwide referees a reputation similar to that given Arsenal's Patrick Vieira in the Premiership.

"Manu has been unfortunate on a number of occasions," Burley said. "He's a big, strong lad who perhaps attracts the referee's notice more than some other players."

Curiously, Arsene Wenger was quoted as saying something along much the same lines when answering questions about the causes of Vieira's troubles.

KEY NUMBERS

14

the months since Middlesbrough last lost a home match in the Premiership or Nationwide Leagues. They have played 28 matches at the Riverside unbeaten since then.

51

Sunderland's total goals for the season so far, the first side in the Leagues to pass the half-century mark

82

John Taylor's goals tally for Cambridge United, taking him past Alan Biley's 18-year-old mark as the club's all-time record scorer since graduating to League status

I TOLD YOU SO

I want to play from the beginning and I've had talks with Luca [manager Gianluca Vialli] about the situation

Tore Andre Flo clearly made a good case for himself in midweek, getting Vialli's nod on Saturday - and scoring

Missing... making it... and mistaken

Liam Daish

Coventry City

THE 30-YEAR-OLD central defender has not made a first-team appearance in almost two years following a cruciate ligament injury - more than enough time to find his first-team place filled. Now ready to return, the pounds 1.5m former Birmingham City man has attracted interest from Nationwide League clubs but is determined to stay at Highfield Road.

Luke Young

Tottenham

HAVING LAUNCHED the career of Jonathan Woodgate at Leeds, George Graham seems to have found another defensive gem at Spurs, where 19-year- old former England youth international Young - given his debut last month - has been so impressive as Sol Campbell's new sidekick that he has kept his place for three more matches since.

AFTER GETTING short shrift from Glenn Hoddle, the fans of Southampton's maverick star always said he would return to haunt England. Only trouble is he seems to have wreaked his revenge in the wrong sport, coming back as an Aussie fast bowler...

RUMOURS

United to pay over odds for Ferdinand

IF WEST HAM really have agreed to sell Rio Ferdinand for pounds 12m at the end of the season, as the Sunday Mirror asserts, they may regret not having read the People first. According to them, Manchester United are ready to pay pounds 14m to secure the England defender in time for the Champions' League quarter-finals.

By all accounts, it has been a busy week for Liverpool. While the News of the World reports that Bayern Munich defender Thomas Helmer has confirmed an approach from Gerard Houllier, the Mail on Sunday says their French manager is negotiating to sign Bayer Leverkusen's Dutch striker Eric Meijer. And the Mail believes Houllier is also attempting to steal Borussia Dortmund goalkeeper Stefan Klos from under the noses of Rangers, as - according to the People - are Aston Villa. Manchester United, in the People's opinion, have set their sights on Wimbledon's pounds 5m-rated Neil Sullivan. The News of the World, meanwhile, reckons Villa and Liverpool are chasing the French World Cup keeper Fabien Barthez.

The Express says that Newcastle are close to signing the midfielder Ibrahim Ba for pounds 4m from Milan and that Ruud Gullit is also keen on Liverpool's Paul Ince. The People says the Tynesiders are poised to bid for Steve Stone, for whom Nottingham Forest would want pounds 6m.

The News of the World says Chelsea are considering a pounds 13m swoop to bring Juninho back to England from Atletico Madrid and that Villa have targeted West Ham's pounds 6m-rated Frank Lampard Jnr.

The Express says David O'Leary is stalling on his contract at Leeds because of fears over transfer cash. The People says he wants to sign Celta Vigo's Israeli striker Haim Revivo, whose goal saw off Liverpool's Uefa Cup hopes.

THE WEEK AHEAD

Today: The return of David Batty in a Leeds United shirt ensures full attention on Coventry's visit to Elland Road, where Gordon Strachan and Gary McAllister join the old boys' reunion. David O'Leary's progressive team should win.

Tomorrow: Leeds will be watching how Doncaster - managed by another old boy, Ian Snodin - fare at Rushden & Diamonds among a raft of FA Cup second- round replays: the winners face Leeds at home. Elsewhere, Brentford will earn a home tie with Chelsea if they beat Oldham, while a Kingstonian win at Leyton Orient (winners away to Southport) would guarantee a non- League presence in the fourth round. On the same night in the Nationwide League, Sunderland will extend their lead in the First Division if they beat Crystal Palace.

Wednesday: The first of two meetings in 15 days between Premiership title contenders Manchester United and Chelsea as television wields its influence. First leg at Old Trafford, return on Tuesday 29 December.

Friday: Brentford (3rd in Third Division) against Cambridge United (4th) is a modest pick of five Nationwide League matches largely for the committed.

Saturday: Another Premiership blockbuster for Chelsea, at home to George Graham's Tottenham. Bryan Robson takes Middlesbrough to Old Trafford while Liverpool face another potential banana skin in Sheffield Wednesday.

Sunday: Yet another reunion, this time for David O'Leary, who returns to Highbury for the first time as manager of Leeds.

Premiership Team Of The Week

DAN PETRESCU

Chelsea

LUKE YOUNG

Tottenham Hotspur

DON HUTCHISON

Everton

BENITO CARBONE

Sheffield Wednesday

DION DUBLIN

Aston Villa

NICKY BUTT

Manchester United

GARY PALLISTER

Middlesbrough

STEVE HARPER

Newcastle

United

SOL CAMPBELL

Tottenham Hotspur

PAUL GASCOIGNE

Middlesbrough

STEVE GUPPY Leicester City

Manager of the weekend: Danny Wilson, beginning to prove wrong those critics who said he was not up to the Sheffield Wednesday job.

Performance of the weekend: Paul Gascoigne, the rehabilitated icon coming back to his sparkling best.

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