THE WATERLOGGED pitch that put paid to Kettering Town's third- round FA Trophy tie away to Kingstonian on Saturday at least spared the Conference leaders the unwelcome glare of one particular spotlight.
Kettering have stormed to the top of the fifth tier with seven wins in eight matches but have been subjected to unkind comments from rivals because their winning streak has coincided with an extraordinary sequence of red cards shown to opposing players.
In seven of those games, Kettering have ended with a numerical advantage with nine opponents dismissed, one of them - Hednesford's Lee Colkin - twice.
First, Forest Green had Chris Honor sent off in a 2-1 Kettering win on 28 November, then Hayes lost Jason Goodliffe during a 2-0 home defeat. In the Poppies' next fixture, Barrow had Paul Jones and Lee O'Keefe dismissed before half-time as Kettering chalked up another 2-0 win. Hereford, beaten 2-0, finished with 11 men but Kettering had a helping hand again next time out as Hednesford, beaten by a single goal, had Colkin and James Kelly ordered off.
Stevenage drew 2-2 despite a red card for Lee Howarth but Hednesford had Colkin sent off again as they went down 2-0 to the leaders, who then dealt a 6-0 thrashing to a Morecambe side reduced to 10 after 34 minutes with the sending-off of Kenny Mayers. Clearly, Conference referees are no more to be trifled with than their Premiership counterparts.
Rennie brings light relief to Leicester
URIAH RENNIE'S reputation as one of the more easy-going officials has taken something of a dip during the Sheffield referee's second season on the Premiership list - Saturday's five cautions at Anfield took his caution count for the season to 67, a total beaten only by Birmingham's Mike Reid.
None the less, the leisure centre manager is clearly a man with a sense of humour, if a slightly unusual one.
Shortly after Leicester City's 4-2 win over Birmingham in the third round of the FA Cup, the home side's second-year trainee, Karl Brennan, was sent to Rennie's changing room to retrieve the match ball, which was wanted for a sponsors' presentation.
Responding to Brennan's timid knock at the referees' room door, Rennie ushered the lad in and handed him the ball but refused to let him leave until he had told a joke.
Not surprisingly, this was not a situation the boy had encountered in his brief career and he was somewhat taken aback. After 10 minutes had passed with no sign of even a hint of a gag from a dumbstruck Brennan, Rennie's patience began to wear thin. "Come on, tell me a joke," he growled.
"I'm sorry," came his captive's reply. "Other than your performance in the game, I can't think of one."
Happily, Rennie saw the funny side...
The minutes it took Jamie Cureton to score four goals in Bristol Rovers' 6-0 win at Reading
Robbie Fowler's goals tally in 175 League matches for Liverpool
The total of League appearances by Mansfield's Tony Ford, overtaking Terry Paine's 22-year-old record
I TOLD YOU SO
I would like to play in this Chelsea side. Mind you, I could see myself having a few arguments with Dennis Wise.
Not to mention the kit man, Gordon Strachan should have added.
Missing... making it... and mistaken
Newcastle manager Ruud Gullit has been unable to find a place in his plans for former Liverpool and England star Barnes, linked last week with the manager's job at Crystal Palace. Denied a senior game since August, the 35-year- old looks unlikely to tolerate a life in limbo for much longer.
The 21-year-old from Birkenhead has had to bide his time at Anfield, where he made his Premiership debut last season but spent three months at Swindon. Having moved up the pecking order this season, he marked his 12th appearance on Saturday with his first senior goal.
Alan Titchmarsh is used to major career shifts - the TV gardener turned chat show host started out as the fall guy to Pinky and Perky. So you would not put it past him to show up as manager of FA Cup minnows Rushden & Diamonds, claiming to be Brian Talbot.
Premiership Team Of The Week
Manager of the weekend: Gerard Houllier - the Frenchman had his doubters, but Liverpool have gone from crisis club to title contenders in nine weeks.
Performance of the weekend: Andy Cole and Dwight Yorke - in tandem for Manchester United, currently the hottest strike partnership around.
Villa still in the hunt for unhappy Juninho
JUNINHO'S MOOTED move to Aston Villa is still on, according to The Mail on Sunday, which quotes a Villa "insider" as saying that last week's "I want to stay" story about the Atletico Madrid-based Brazilian was four months out of date. The Mail says a pounds 12m deal could go through this week.
According to another Mail report, however, Villa could find themselves banned from signing any players at all, following their refusal to meet the pounds 1m-plus transfer tribunal terms for their former Brighton centre- back, Gareth Barry.
The Sunday Mirror, meanwhile, says Villa want the Newcastle United goalkeeper Shay Given for pounds 3m.
Sacked Nottingham Forest manager Dave Bassett could return to Sheffield United, according to The People, which reckons that the consortium bidding to take over at Bramall Lane sees Bassett as a potential director of football, working over manager Steve Bruce.
Liverpool, who cannot find a place for the pounds 2m Sean Dundee, are none the less contemplating a pounds 2.5m move for the Marseilles striker Titi Camara, says the Mail on Sunday.
The People says Newcastle United will sell Paul Dalglish for pounds 2m. The paper also reckons that Tottenham Hotspur defender Colin Calderwood is a target for Nottingham Forest and also reports that Liverpool and Manchester United are rivals in the hunt for Manchester City's England under-21 goalkeeper Nicky Weaver.
The Sunday Mirror claims that Liverpool's Steve McManaman has been given 24 hours to sign a pre-contractual agreement with Real Madrid or look elsewhere for his planned move abroad.
THE WEEK AHEAD
Today: Critical moment for Aston Villa, pushed back into third place in the Premiership following Saturday's results. They take on Everton at Villa Park needing to win to draw level with Chelsea.
Tomorrow: In the FA Cup Barnsley and Swindon replay for the right to take on Bournemouth in Saturday's fourth round, while crisis-torn Crystal Palace travel to promotion-chasing Bradford City in Nationwide First Division. Plus seven ties in the Auto Windscreens Shield.
Wednesday: The prize for Sheffield United or Notts County, who replay their F A Cup third-round tie at Meadow Lane, is a home match against Cardiff City. Plus one more tie in the Auto Windscreens.
Friday: The television spotlight falls on record-breaking Tony Ford as Mansfield meet Rotherham in Nationwide Third Division.
Saturday: Great potential for FA Cup upsets as Blackburn meet Sunderland, Everton take on Ipswich and Newcastle face Bradford in three ties pitting Premiership strugglers against high flyers from the Nationwide. And there is banana skin potential for Chelsea at Oxford, Leeds at Portsmouth and Derby at West Ham's conquerors, Swansea.
Sunday: After Manchester United shot six goals past Leicester and Liverpool rifled in seven against Southampton, the high-noon Old Trafford showdown in the FA Cup will probably end 0-0. Holders Arsenal complete the fourth- round programme away to Wolves (3.30).Reuse content