AFTER THE rise and fall of Barnsley, Crystal Palace and Bolton, the First Division of the Nationwide League is preparing more potential lambs for Premiership slaughter.
Having fired ill-equipped Charlton Athletic into the stratosphere last May, the unpredictable, fiercely competitive but largely under-funded second tier of the English professional game is contriving to place Huddersfield Town among its promotion candidates.
Town went to the top on Friday evening after victory over Tranmere Rovers completed a run of four straight wins and stayed there on Saturday as Birmingham crashed at Bolton and Wolves and Sunderland drew. It is the highest position the Yorkshire club have occupied since they were last members of the old First Division 26 years ago.
Optimism abounds, even though it is only a week or so since manager Peter Jackson was appealing for supporters to come out of the woodwork and give attendances at the futuristic McAlpine Stadium a desperately needed boost.
Jackson has brought about a remarkable transformation in his club's fortunes, having taken over 11 months ago when they were under serious threat of relegation. But he has had to work with a shoestring budget with gates averaging only 10,000 this season.
While Jackson has been fending off enquiries, however tempting, for striker Marcus Stewart, chairman Malcolm Asquith has been quietly talking buy- outs with a Bradford businessman, Barry Rubery, with a view to securing a pounds 20m cash injection.
Rubery made a fortune when the satellite receiver firm Pace Microtechnology plc went public two years ago. The 49-year-old former joint chief executive made a reported pounds 50m from his shareholding when the company was floated with a value of pounds 375m.
Ailing Macclesfield still making history
MACCLESFIELD TOWN may be finding life in the Second Division somewhat tougher than their successful debut season in the Third, but there is still no shortage of work for the Cheshire club's busy historians.
Last Tuesday, midfielder Matthew Wood's 66th-minute penalty at Oldham secured Town's first Second Division victory - three days after the same player had ended the club's six-match, 506-minute wait for a first goal at the higher level.
However, both these records paled into insignificance alongside Saturday's historic first League derby against near-neighbours Manchester City, an encounter few would have dreamed possible as recently as three seasons ago, when City were a Premiership club and Macclesfield playing in the GM Vauxhall Conference.
City's "nightmare derby" drew a full-house crowd of 6,381 to the Moss Rose ground, establishing another record as the club's biggest Nationwide League attendance. City survived the ordeal and sneaked the points with Shaun Goater's strike four minutes from time.
Meanwhile, the BSkyB takeover at United has made City the butt of more cruel Red-inspired Manchester humour. Apparently, Paramount are planning to bid for control at Maine Road - so they can show City's matches on the Comedy Channel.
The number of goals scored in stoppage time in the Premier and Nationwide Leagues on Saturday.
The number of yellow cards so far clocked up by Everton, the most punished side in the Premiership.
The number of consecutive away defeats suffered by Reading, beaten 4- 0 at Preston on Saturday.
The number of goals scored by Kevin Phillips in 50 appearances for Sunderland.
I TOLD YOU SO
'I don't see a 4-1 defeat by one of the best sides in Europe as cause to panic."
Charlton manager Alan Curbishley, after losing to Man Utd in midweek. How about a 2-0 defeat at home to Derby?
Premiership Team Of The Week
Manager of the week: John Gregory - proving there is life after Dwight Yorke at Aston Villa Performance of the week: Barnet - bouncing back from a 9-1 defeat to beat Hull City 4-1
Missing... making it... and mistaken
After seven goals in seven starts following his pounds 1.6m arrival from Stockport in February, the 23-year-old striker was looking forward to Middlesbrough's Premiership campaign but must now resign himself to months of frustration after damaging an Achilles tendon pre-season. "He will not figure in my plans until January or February," his manager Bryan Robson said.
The relative obscurity of life in the First Division seems to be nearing an end for the England Under-21 goalkeeper, whose performances for Tranmere seem certain to result in a move to the Premiership. The target of a pounds 2.75m bid from Everton, the 19-year-old has been left out of John Aldridge's team recently after being unsettled by the transfer speculation.
Lee Dixon: Christopher Timothy
All creatures great and small make up the Arsenal line-up, including a dead ringer for television's most famous North country vet. As for Lee Dixon, only Chelsea wing-backs seem to bring out the animal in him.
Fact and fiction from the Sunday papers
TWO GOALS on Saturday failed to damp growing speculation over Alan Shearer's future at Newcastle. While the News of the World reports a pounds 16m offer by Aston Villa for the England striker - also a target for Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester United - the Mail on Sunday says Internazionale are ready to bid pounds 20m to team up Shearer with Ronaldo and Roberto Baggio.
The Mail says Ruud Gullit must sell to finance his plans for Newcastle and would also sell David Batty - subject of reported interest from his old club, Leeds - as well as Laurent Charvet, Lionel Perez, Gary Speed, Alessandro Pistone, Andreas Andersson and Steve Watson.
Portugal's Rui Costa is still a target, the Mail insists, despite Gullit denying a move for the Fiorentina midfield player. The News of the World, meanwhile, says Gullit has agreed a pounds 4.5m fee with Inter for the defender Taribo West.
The People says the BSkyB takeover of Manchester United will give Alex Ferguson the clout to make a pounds 25m bid for Chile's Marcelo Salas if the striker fails to settle at Lazio, where his Serie A career began yesterday.
Middlesbrough are on the trail of pounds 3m-rated Colombian striker Victor Aristizabal, according to the News of the World, while the People says Bryan Robson is considering a move for Villa's Stan Collymore after Everton quoted pounds 12m for Duncan Ferguson.
The Express says Nottingham Forest are not interested in taking Collymore back but the News of the World reckons they are keen on Ajax forward Gerald Sibon, for whom the Dutch want pounds 2.5m.
The Mirror says Glenn Hoddle is ready to quit the England job in the face of mounting criticism and says Alex Ferguson is favoured by some at Lancaster Gate to take over. The Express, more realistically, confirms Roy Hodgson as No 1 choice.
Blackburn's Tim Sherwood, courted by Tottenham, may instead go to Villa for pounds 5m, the People reports.Reuse content