Football: That was the Weekend that Was

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Wolves divided

in war of words

As Alex Ferguson fires more potshots in the Premiership's war of words, it is interesting to contemplate such sparks as might fly should Wolverhampton see their loftier ambitions come to fruition.

Ferguson could discover a fresh challenger on the "verbals" front in the shape of his former pupil, Mark McGhee. The Wolves manager, who observed Ferguson's methods at close quarters during his playing days at Aberdeen, spiced up the First Division promotion campaign on Saturday with some blatantly provocative comments about rivals Barnsley.

McGhee suggested that Premiership clubs would prefer to see Barnsley claim the second automatic promotion place rather than Wolves "because it would leave them with only two relegation places to avoid."

McGhee told the Sports Argus newspaper in Birmingham: "I would guarantee that most of the Premiership clubs would like it to be Barnsley. They might fancy the prospect that Barnsley would be annihilated next season and thrown to the sharks. They probably think they would go straight back down. I would perceive they know Wolves might be tougher because of our financial ability to go out and improve the playing staff on the transfer market."

According to transfer gossip, the improvements McGhee has in mind include a pounds 7m bid for Stan Collymore. However, it may be that McGhee should speak to the club's principal benefactor before taking that idea very far.

While McGhee was talking to the Sports Argus, the club's owner, Sir Jack Hayward, was telling the rival Express and Star a slightly different story.

"There will be no multi-million pound transfer bonanza," he said. "We already have the largest and most expensive squad in the First Division. The players are there to do well if we go up, and I don't expect to spend millions buying more."

Chelsea get the blues

It is just as well Chelsea and Wimbledon agreed in advance that neither would wear their home colours in the FA Cup semi-final. At least it avoided a repeat of the unseemly wrangle that preceded Chelsea's Premiership defeat at Coventry last week.

The yellow strip donned Chelsea yesterday was left behind when Chelsea travelled to the Midlands on Wednesday, leaving Ruud Gullit's team in a major spot when the referee, Dermot Gallagher, told them they could not play in their regular royal blue.

Red-faced Chelsea officials explained that this was the only kit they had brought with them, but could not persuade Gallagher to change his mind. Under the Highfield Road lights, he reckoned, there would not be enough contrast with Coventry's sky blue and navy stripes.

When a delayed kick-off was announced, spectators naturally assumed the reason to be late-arriving fans. In fact, in the dressing rooms, a stalemate had ensued. Chelsea wanted to wear their own shirts and their suggestion that Coventry should change was curtly refused.

In the end, Chelsea played in their own shorts and socks and the red and navy check away shirts normally worn by Coventry's reserves - the only ones available without first-team names and squad numbers on. Maybe that was why Chelsea found it so hard to pass the ball to one another as Coventry swept to a comfortable win.

MISTAKEN

IDENTITY

John Hartson

Ronan Keating

Not everyone at Upton Park is happy with Harry Redknapp's new striker. It was bad enough for the rest of the lads when the girls were swooning over Dani. Now it seems they've got a teeny idol from Boyzone monopolising the talent. No wonder Iain Dowie has asked for a transfer.

Take a bow

RUUD GULLIT

For having enabled English football to benefit from the warm character and exquisite skills of Gianfranco Zola, who has illuminated this season's Premiership and FA Cup competitions like no other player.

Red card

ALEX FERGUSON

Who attacked Arsenal and Liverpool for opposing his wish to extend the season and threatened to disrupt England's summer tour - yet will allow his "overworked" players to take part in Brian McClair's testimonial match against Celtic tomorrow.

Rumours...

fact and fiction from the Sunday papers

More bad news for Gianluca Vialli. The Sunday Mirror says Ruud Gullit wants to recreate Gianfranco Zola's old Parma partnership with Faustino Asprilla and will launch a summer swoop for the Newcastle striker, having had a pounds 6.5m pre-deadline bid turned down. According to the People, Chelsea have been offered the chance to sign Roberto Baggio from Milan. Asprilla's days on Tyneside are numbered if News of the World spies are correct. They reckon the Colombian will be off-loaded, along with Les Ferdinand, David Ginola, Warren Barton, Lee Clark, Darren Peacock and Philippe Albert, as part of a pounds 40m Newcastle refit by Kenny Dalglish, who apparently has his sights on Real Madrid's Davor Suker and Borussia Dortmund's Matthias Sammer, Liverpool's Jamie Redknapp and Blackburn's Graeme Le Saux. The Mail says he is pursuing Heerenveen's Danish striker Jan Dahl Tomasson, available at pounds 2.5m.

Missing person

Stuart Ripley (Blackburn Rovers)

The winger reached a career peak when Graham Taylor picked him for England in 1993, but he is now becoming a fringe figure at Ewood Park. A chance to rejoin his former manager Ray Harford at West Bromwich in February was blocked - but Blackburn still have not given him a first-team game since October.

Watch out for...

Gareth Farrelly (Aston Villa)

Probably in someone else's colours, judging by the Dublin-born midfielder's refusal to sign a new contract. Brian Little, the Villa manager, predicts a bright future for the 21-year-old, already a full Irish international, but has given him only one starting game all season.

Good boys

THE PREMIERSHIP'S

LEADING SCORERS

Robbie Fowler

(Liverpool)

Premiership 18; FA Cup 1;

Coca-Cola Cup 5; Europe 6.

Fabrizio Ravanelli

(Middlesbrough)

Premiership 14; FA Cup 5

Coca-Cola Cup 9.

Ian Wright

(Arsenal)

Premiership 20;

Coca-Cola Cup 5; Europe 2.

Alan Shearer

(Newcastle)

Premiership 21; FA Cup 1;

Coca-Cola Cup 1; Europe 1.

The best FA Cup semi-final ever? To some it was the epic 1990 encounter between Crystal Palace and Liverpool at Villa Park, a see-saw match that produced a result almost no one could predict.

Palace had been thrashed 9-0 by Liverpool at Anfield the previous September, when eight different players scored, a League record. Now they were meeting again with Liverpool, the Cup holders, leading the First Division and Palace, not surprisingly, deep in relegation trouble.

But this was a different Palace, showing six changes from the line-up humiliated in the autumn, and with Nigel Martyn, Steve Coppell's pounds 1m record buy, in goal.

Even so, Ian Rush gave Liverpool the lead after a quarter of an hour, and they seemed set for a comfortable passage to Wembley. But Rush and Gary Gillespie had to be replaced because of injury, preceding a second half of unforeseen drama.

Within seconds of the restart, Mark Bright volleyed home an equaliser. With 20 minutes left, Gary O'Reilly put Palace ahead with his first goal of the season. But it appeared that Palace's joy was to be a fleeting thing. Steve McMahon equalised and John Barnes put Liverpool ahead. With the seconds ticking away Palace, who had had to manage without the injured Ian Wright, confounded the pundits again when Andy Gray's 88th-minute header took the contest into extra time.

The underdogs were rampant, while Liverpool were in disarray. The winner came four minutes into the second period of extra time when Alan Pardew got on the end of Andy Thorn's near-post flick for another set-piece headed goal.

THE SEASON'S RED AND YELLOW CARDS

1 Leeds

Only four cautions in their last five League matches.

2 Arsenal

Two "clean sheets" in a row.

3 Chelsea

Four cautions against Coventry in midweek.

4 Middlesbrough

Eighteen bookings in their last 11 League games.

NOISES OFF...

It makes you feel they are conspiring against you. Liverpool were the worst. They saw it as their main chance."

Alex Ferguson, suspecting a plot behind the Premier League's refusal to extend the season.

"I agree with Alex Ferguson that we should not have the Coca-Cola Cup. You see, we can agree on something."

Arsene Wenger, among Ferguson's perceived conspirators.

"We needed something today but if we had got something it would have been undeserved."

The honest Leicester manager Martin O'Neill, after making eight changes from his Coca-Cola Cup final team.

"Before a ball was kicked we were being written off as relegation certainties and that was a driving force because we wanted to prove people wrong."

Jim Smith, the Derby manager, after watching his side almost certainly secure safety.

"We were poor, and you can't help but get the hump about that, so I launched into them."

Harry Redknapp, having had words with his West Ham players after the defeat against fellow relegation battlers Southampton.

"All season we've played decent football but been guilty of diabolical defending. Abysmal is not too strong a word."

Graeme Souness, on how Southampton's plight came about.

"I would think it might be a disciplinary matter."

Brian Little, a master of understatement, after the dropped Aston Villa goalkeeper Mark Bosnich went Awol at Derby.

TEAM OF THE WEEK

David Seaman

ARSENAL

Jamie Hewitt

CHESTERFIELD

Tony Adams

ARSENAL

Gianluca Festa

MIDDLESBROUGH

Phil Neville

MANCHESTER UTD

Paul Scholes

MANCHESTER UTD

Nicky Butt

MANCHESTER UTD

Gianfranco Zola

CHELSEA

Dennis Bergkamp

ARSENAL

Andy Cole

MANCHESTER UTD

Mark Hughes

CHELSEA

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