Football: THAT WAS THE WEEKEND THAT WAS

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The Independent Online
Limited options for Venables?

Having removed himself from one set of political problems when he left behind the England manager's job, Terry Venables may have walked into another in his new role as national coach of Australia.

Venables, who watched his newly acquired Portsmouth beat Leeds on Saturday, is being asked to build a World Cup squad against subtle pressure to exclude players of non-Australian background.

It is part of a movement led by David Hill, the chairman of Soccer Australia, to reduce the influence of the ethnic minorities that dominate the professional game Down Under.

Over half Australia's 12 league clubs evolved from communities of post- war immigrants - mainly Italians, Greeks and Yugoslavs - and Hill believes the fervent nationalism of these clubs is limiting football's popularity among Australians at large, who still prefer cricket and Aussie Rules.

Earlier this season, Hill banned clubs from including national flags in their logos, which prompted critics to accuse him of pursuing a policy of "ethnic cleansing".

But Hill may have a point. Interest among Australians in the progress of their footballers abroad is minimal. Indeed, the former Sydney Marconi player Paul Okon, whom Channel 4 viewers may have noticed in a Lazio shirt yesterday, reports that even playing in Serie A, to which he moved last summer after five years in Belgium, has scarcely raised his profile at home.

"In seven months in Rome I've only done one interview with an Australian journalist," Okon, himself half-Italian, reported last week.

Hartson's yellow peril

Another Saturday, another booking. John Hartson may have swapped his Arsenal shirt for West Ham's, but his relationship with the yellow card remains constant.

Saturday's caution for the big Welshman on his Hammers debut at Derby brought his total for the season to 11 in all competitions, of which nine have come in just 20 Premiership matches, and he now faces his third suspension of the season.

But if Hartson's departure from Highbury will benefit Arsenal's appalling disciplinary record, it might be premature to expect a startling improvement.

For things to change to a degree of real significance, Arsene Wenger might also have to invite bids for Patrick Vieira, Martin Keown and Ian Wright.

Hartson has been by some distance the biggest offender, but among 15 Arsenal players to be shown the yellow card this season, this quartet have been responsible for more than 50 per cent. But Arsenal are not the only Premiership club with their own version of Bad Boys Inc.

Middlesbrough, who can ill afford to lose players to suspensions, can point the finger at Neil Cox, Robbie Mustoe, Derek Whyte and - surprise, surprise - Emerson, who between them also account for half their side's yellow cards, among a staggering 19 different players to be booked so far.

To some, such statistics would only confirm the view that referees are reaching for their pockets at the slightest misdemeanour but if that were true, it might be asked how Sheffield Wednesday, the best behaved side in the Premiership, have reached this stage with only 11 players cautioned and just 24 League bookings in total?

MISTAKEN

IDENTITY

Here's another question Glenn Hoddle should answer. Was it really a knee injury that kept David Seaman out of England's World Cup showdown with Italy at Wembley last Wednesday? Or had this particular English Patient been out celebrating his Oscar nomination the night before?

Take a bow

RAY HARFORD

Who watched his new West Bromwich charges take apart fancied Norwich with passing and movement that was "terrific" in his own description and still refused to let his poker face slip, which must have taken an enormous effort. "I may not be smiling, but I am very pleased," he confessed.

Red card

HARRY REDKNAPP

Sorry, Harry. Perhaps David Mellor does have a point, after all. Granted, things may be looking desperate for West Ham and you may well have been correct in thinking that a couple of decent strikers might put matters right. But pounds 5m for John Hartson? You cannot be serious.

Rumours...

fact and fiction from the Sunday papers

The People's spies have been working overtime. First, they spotted the Internazionale manager Roy Hodgson in London, dining with the Newcastle manager Kenny Dalglish and his assistant Terry McDermott. Then they saw Inter's Paul Ince "warmly greeting" the Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger and vice-chairman David Dein after the match against Italy at Wembley. Which added up to "Dalglish bids to outflank Wenger in battle for Paul" in yesterday's editions. But they hadn't seen the News of the World, who revealed that Chelsea are "sensationally poised" to snatch Ince from under both their noses. In any case, says the News of the World, Dalglish will be far too busy spending pounds 2.5m on Charlton's Richard Rufus, pounds 1.5m on Crewe's Danny Murphy and pounds 1.5m on the Watford goalkeeper Kevin Miller. Wenger, according to the Sunday Mirror, is preoccupied with an pounds 8m move for the Lazio striker Giuseppe Signori. Meanwhile, Aston Villa, the Mirror reckons, are ready to spend pounds 2.5m on Emile Heskey.

Missing person

Rob Jones (Liverpool)

A year ago, the idea that the England full-back would find himself out of favour at Anfield seemed unthinkable. But after switching from right back to left to accommodate Jason McAteer, the former Crewe player was sidelined by a cracked vertebra in the summer and now, with only one first- team appearance since the 1996 Cup final, finds Stig Inge Bjornebye barring his way to a comeback.

Watch out for...

Keith O'Neill (Norwich City)

Norwich have been fending off Premiership predators keen on the 20-year- old Dubliner. But O'Neill, whose form has also caught the eye of Republic of Ireland manager Mick McCarthy, will not be moving on yet, having signed a new contract with the First Division promotion hopefuls.

Good boys

THE PREMIERSHIP'S

LEADING SCORERS

IAN WRIGHT

(Arsenal)

Premiership 17;

Coca-Cola Cup 5; Europe 2.

ALAN SHEARER

(Newcastle Utd)

Premiership 20; FA Cup 1;

Coca-Cola Cup 1; Europe 1.

ROBBIE FOWLER

(Liverpool)

Premiership 12; FA Cup 1;

Coca-Cola Cup 5; Europe 3.

FABRIZIO RAVANELLI

(Middlesbrough)

Premiership 10; FA Cup 3

Coca-Cola Cup 7.

This season may be the first since 1975 in which none of the so- called "big five" can contest the FA Cup final, but the year of West Ham's triumph over Second Division Fulham at Wembley cannot compare with this for high-profile casualties.

The 1974-75 competition lost Manchester United and Tottenham in the third round, Liverpool in the fourth, Everton in the fifth and Arsenal in the quarter-finals, when West Ham's Wembley hero Alan Taylor scored both goals in a 2-0 victory over their London rivals.

Even so, seven of the last eight survivors were from the top flight, the other ties matching Birmingham and Middlesbrough, Carlisle against Fulham and Ipswich with Leeds. Fulham, who made it to Wembley, were the only side among them not from the First Division. Carlisle? Yes, it was First Division Carlisle in 1974-75, albeit briefly.

The high-fliers from Highbury, in fact, ended an undistinguished campaign in 16th place while Ipswich finished third, having been title candidates right up to the wire.

Even in 1960, the only other year in the past 37 without a representative from the aforementioned "elite", six of the quarter-finalists were First Division teams, Wolves, Burnley and Preston North End among them.

As a low-key season, perhaps the current one should be measured against 1981-82, when the sixth round comprised Leicester, Shrewsbury, West Bromwich Albion, Coventry, QPR, Crystal Palace, Chelsea and the eventual winners, Tottenham. Only three were First Division teams, which remains the smallest top-flight survival rate since the same number qualified in 1931.

THE SEASON'S RED AND YELLOW CARDS

1 Leeds Utd

Still top of the pile, despite Arsenal's growing list.

2 Arsenal

Parlour and Bould booked against Tottenham.

3 Middlesbrough

Missing nine-times cautioned Emerson.

4 Chelsea

Yellow cards are shared between 17 players

FA CUP TEAM OF THE WEEK

Steve Ogrizovic

COVENTRY CITY

Mark McGregor

WREXHAM

Chris Perry

WIMBLEDON

Paul Holland

CHESTERFIELD

Graeme Le Saux

BLACKBURN

Eoin Jess

COVENTRY CITY

Bryan Hughes

WREXHAM

David Hillier

PORTSMOUTH

Mathias Svensson

PORTSMOUTH

Juninho

MIDDLESBROUGH

Marcus Gayle

WIMBLEDON

NOISES OFF...

The fact we are Cup favourites is recognition of what the players are achieving, but I won't be backing us at 5-2 - I should have got on when we were 100-1."

Joe Kinnear, keeping his money in his pocket as Wimbledon roll on.

"The scoreline flattered us. We had eight or nine players below par and you cannot carry that many."

George Graham, glad he was not the punter who had pounds 10,000 on Leeds.

"Chris has said he is sorry, but he didn't do it on purpose."

Tony Parkes, the Black-burn caretaker manager, on Chris Sutton's critical penalty miss against Coventry.

"I keep telling people he doesn't make great saves week in, week out because he's lucky. In my book, he is as good as anyone in this League."

Gordon Strachan applauds Steve Ogrizovic, who saved Sutton's kick.

"I'm disgusted with the way we played. Chesterfield wanted it more than we did and everyone at this club should feel let down."

Stuart Pearce grimly reflects on Nottingham Forest's demise.

"It's simply the most magical day of my career and it's amazing to think we are only two games from Wembley. Of course, it's impossible for us to go there and win - isn't it?"

John Duncan, the Chesterfield manager.

"With ourselves and Chesterfield in the quarter-finals, perhaps it is going to be one of those years. Who knows?"

Wrexham's Brian Flynn, victorious at Birmingham.

"You don't want to get too happy - but this competition is there for the winning."

Bryan Robson, daring to dream that Middlesbrough's season may not end in tears.

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