Football: That was the weekend that was

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Lee keeping the Hornets buzzing

Happy days appear to have returned with some permanency to Vicarage Road, where Elton John's romantic decision to turn back the clock and recreate the glory days of Graham Taylor is yielding every indication that a handsome dividend awaits come the end of the season.

The Hornets, with Taylor at the helm, stretched their advantage at the top of the Second Division to eight points with Saturday's 4-1 defeat of Blackpool, a lead which will take some pegging back.

Their success has brought to the much maligned Taylor a glow of satisfaction he has not known for some time as he plots a repeat of Watford's phenomenal rise to the top flight 15 years ago.

But Taylor is not the only figure in the Watford revival who has seen his damaged reputation undergo some overdue repairs.

The team's success has also set in motion an upward curve on the career graph of the former Nottingham Forest striker Jason Lee, who scored two goals and made another in Saturday's victory.

Lee, it will be recalled, was turned into a national joke after his so- called "pineapple" haircut became the butt of comic duo Skinner and Baddiel's jibes on the cult television show Fantasy Football. Already burdened with the thankless responsibility of leading Forest's line in the desperate fight against relegation, Lee's confidence was shot to pieces.

The barbs still come, even though the unfortunate hair adornment has long since been shorn. On Saturday, the few Blackpool supporters who made the trip south were soon into a chorus of "Where's the pineapple?"

Happily, Lee has developed a skin thick enough to ensure the barbs fail to penetrate these days, thanks in no small part to the counselling of his manager, who, after all, knows a thing or two about insults. "It hurts for a while," Taylor says, "but in time you learn to take it in your stride."

Pleat must beware the ides of November

"I'm not going to walk away," David Pleat said as the questioning became more intense in the wake of Sheffield Wednesday's disastrous afternoon at Old Trafford and a scoreline that seemed to push him a step closer towards what now seems to be his inevitable fate.

"Where would I walk to? You have to be positive. You know you can do it. You just have to make it happen."

They sounded like the words of a worried man and with good reason. Pleat knows only too well that if the axe is to fall it will almost certainly fall soon. The season of mists and mellow fruitfulness is also the season in which football managers face the greatest risk of being sacked.

Indeed, the critical month is already here. For football chairmen, who tend to be creatures of habit, November is the most popular month of the year for showing the manager the door.

If Pleat goes, he will be in good company. In the last three seasons, November has claimed a string of high-profile casualties among 19 managers to part company with their clubs.

In the blood-letting of 1994, Tottenham sacked Ossie Ardiles, Aston Villa axed Ron Atkinson and Everton kicked out Mike Walker during November. It was also the month in which Russell Osman (Bristol City), Lennie Lawrence (Bradford City) and John Gorman (Swindon) found themselves out of work.

The following November, Brighton dismissed Liam Brady and Wolves ran out of patience with Graham Taylor.

And it was in the same month last year that Ron Atkinson - among those tipped to take over at Hillsborough should chairman Dave Richards summon Pleat to his office - found his "supervisory" role at Coventry deemed an unnecessary drain on the pay-roll.

Survive the next 27 days, however, and Pleat will find the odds against his survival improving sharply. The total dismissals for December, January and February average only a little more than half the count for November.

Missing...

Scott Taylor

(Leicester)

The 26-year-old former Reading midfielder - a typical Martin O'Neill bargain at just pounds 250,000 two years ago - has not been seen in a Leicester shirt since 12 April, having suffered the disappointment of recovering from one serious injury only to succumb to another that was even worse. Taylor missed the Coca-Cup final replay in order to have knee surgery but, having completed his rehabilitation, sustained a ruptured patella tendon in the last training session before the new season, which he is expected to miss in its entirety.

Chris Greenacre

(Manchester City)

Frank Clark has turned to City's well-stocked youth ranks in his latest bid to spark a Maine Road revival, among them the 19-year-old striker Greenacre, whose brief appearances last season brought comparisons with Colin Bell. Given his full debut against Crewe last week, he rewarded Clark with the winning goal.

So what does a world-class striker do when a bunch of referees combine to deprive him of the means to make a living? As Dennis would say, there are other football boots, and there are other careers... maybe as an international rock star.

FAMILY

TREE

Home games at the new Pride Park stadium are a real family affair for the Sturridges, who almost need a team coach of their own when they arrive to support Derby striker Dean.

Their numbers are regularly swelled this season by Dean's fellow forward, Simon, whose career with Stoke City has been placed on temporary hold by injury.

Simon, 28 next month, suffered cruciate knee ligament damage just a month into the 1996-97 season and has still to recover full fitness.

Born, like 24-year-old Dean, in Birmingham, Simon spent five years at St Andrew's before moving to the Potteries in 1993.

"I've got five brothers and a sister and we're a very close family," Dean says. "Simon and I have a keen interest in one another's career and we go to watch each other whenever we can"

Both drew their inspiration from older brother Michael, who was also on Birmingham's books in the early 1980s.

How much longer the Smith connection lasts remains to be seen. Dean's future at Pride Park is a matter of repeated speculation and has been since Smith swelled the ranks of his forwards by signing Deon Burton and Francesco Baiano in addition to the prolific Paulo Wanchope.

Sturridge scored Derby's third goal against Arsenal on Saturday but is no longer guaranteed a first-team place, despite a contract said to be worth pounds 13,000 a week.

Fact and ction from the Sunday papers

Sheffield Wednesday may be desperate enough to forgive and forget Ron Atkinson's dramatic walkout in 1991 as they seek an end to their current crisis. The Mail on Sunday says former manager Atkinson, out of work since leaving Coventry in the summer, is being lined up as a possible replacement for David Pleat...

Meanwhile, the People reckons that both Liverpool and Tottenham are exploring the idea of bringing in 64-year-old ex-England manager Bobby Robson to help take the pressure off Roy Evans and Gerry Francis in an "upstairs" role...

Howard Kendall's interest in towering Dutchman Pierre van Hooijdonk has been cooled by a revival in Duncan Ferguson's form, according to the People, which claims a swap deal had been suggested to Nottingham Forest, while the News of the World believes Everton are planning to go to the other extreme by paying pounds 2.5 million for QPR's diminutive John Spencer, reviving Goodison's strange obsession with vertically challenged strikers...

Odder still is the People's suggestion that Newcastle have singled out Forest's in-form but traditionally unreliable Kevin Campbell to stand in for Alan Shearer and Faustino Asprilla...

Arsenal (Express) and Middlesbrough (People) are said to be on the trail of Oldham defender Carl Serrant, while Liverpool supposedly want Leicester's Matt Elliott (People) to inject new strength into their defence...

The Sunday Mirror says Manchester United are checking on Stuttgart's German international striker Fredi Bobic.

The 1st Eleven

Eleven Premiership players born in their club's back yard.

Francis Benali (Southampton)

Nicky Butt (Manchester Utd)

Robbie Fowler (Liverpool)

Marcus Hall (Coventry)

Emile Heskey (Leicester)

Paul Hughes (Chelsea)

John Moncur (West Ham)

Ray Parlour (Arsenal)

Alan Shearer (Newcastle)

Ian Taylor (Aston Villa)

Dave Watson (Everton)

GOOD BOYS . . .

THE PREMIERSHIP'S

LEADING SCORERS

John Hartson 12

(West Ham)

Dennis Bergkamp 11

(Arsenal)

Chris Sutton 11

(Blackburn)

Ian Wright 9

(Arsenal)

Paulo Wanchope 9

(Derby)

. . . and BAD BOYS

THE SEASON'S RED AND YELLOW CARDS

Leeds United

Arsenal

Bolton

West Ham

Blackburn

PREMIERSHIP TEAM OF THE WEEK

KEITH BRANAGAN

BOLTON

ALAN MAYBURY

LEEDS

FRANCK LEBEOUF

CHELSEA

IAN MARSHALL

LEICESTER

DAVID BURROWS

COVENTRY

JOVO BOSANCIC

BARNSLEY

CARLTON PALMER

SOUTHAMPTON

TIM SHERWOOD

BLACKBURN

FRANCESCO BAIANO

DERBY

KEVIN DAVIES

SOUTHAMPTON

PAULO WANCHOPE

DERBY

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