FOOTBALL: That was the weekend that was

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Referee's whistle changes its tune

Wry smiles will have crossed the faces of Joe Royle and Joe Kinnear yesterday when David Elleray was provisionally named as one of the referees for this summer's European Championship finals.

The Harrow schoolmaster issued two red cards and 10 yellows when Everton travelled to Newcastle last season, prompting Royle, whose side finished with nine men, to describe his performance as "the most insensitive display of refereeing I have ever seen". And he was the target of a furious broadside from Kinnear after Wimbledon lost by a disputed goal to Tottenham in December.

With four dismissals and 59 bookings in just 15 Premiership games last season (an average of 3.93 cards per game) Elleray was easily top of the table when it came to dishing out coloured cards. This season, however, has seen a change.

While such as Graham Poll and Paul Danson have led the way with more than four cards per match Elleray has become strangely tolerant. Indeed, since cautioning 13 players in one match at Loftus Road in September, he has barely averaged two an outing. Does this mean the arch disciplinarian has gone soft? "Personally speaking, I have found games more straightforward," he explained recently.

Macari fired by love-hate affair

Had Bryan Robson sought the advice of Lou Macari before taking the plunge into management, he would doubtless have received no more than qualified encouragement from his former Old Trafford team-mate. "I love football," Macari once said, "but I positively hate being a manager."

But just as Robson is starting to discover what Macari meant, little Lou is probably enjoying the job more than he has for some time. While Middlesbrough's season is in free fall, Stoke's has positively rocketed. Macari's team, 21st in the First Division on 1 October, quietly slipped into third place on Saturday, victory over Birmingham increasing their recent points haul to 30 from 15 matches.

Five of Macari's team were former St Andrew's players, including match- winner Simon Sturridge. Not among them, however, was Paul Peschisolido - aka "Mr" Karren Brady - whom Barry Fry is considering rebuying from cash-strapped Stoke, though at a price nearer the pounds 400,000 he sold him for than the pounds 1m that Stoke want to fund new purchases. "We are the only team in the promotion hunt not to have spent any money," Macari said. "Having got this far it would be unfair to the fans if we did not have a go."

Bottoms up: Bolton happy to celebrate their first away victory whichever way it comes after finishing top of the pile at Middlesbrough on Saturday Photograph: Tom Finnie

Well,

obviously...

'It wasn't a brilliant performance by us, but Southampton were relieved to get the draw. You could tell by the reaction of their players. With four minutes to go they were asking the officials 'how long left?''- Steve McMahon, after Swindon's FA Cup dreams were put on hold by Southampton.

'I got my nickname at Bournemouth about six years ago and it just seems to have stuck. I certainly don't mind being called 'The Chief' tonight' - Efan Ekoku dispensing with modesty after his two goals saved Wimbledon's neck at Huddersfield.

'I came to this country to play football, not to be a kick-boxer, but there seems to be one in every side we play' - Derby's Croat sweeper, Igor Stimac, after being elbowed by Dave Regis.

'There's a big thing going on about kicking racism out of football. Well, if you're going to kick it out, it's got to start with the players. Stimac was intimidating David and it finally got to him' - Southend manager Ronnie Whelan putting Regis' side of the story.

'Before every game I tell him, 'No booking today, Julian - I need you playing and he's gone out there and done just that' - Harry Redknapp trying to convince us that Julian Dicks, the inspiration behind West Ham's win at Chelsea, is a reformed character.

'I believe in miracles' - Chris Fairclough, Bolton's never-say-die defender.

Rumours

Fact and fiction from the Sunday papers

If Leicester City supporters are irate over the sale of Steve Corica to Wolves last week, they will be more incensed than ever if the News of the World's information is correct. Next target for former Filbert Street boss Mark McGhee, they say, is Welsh international striker Iwan Roberts.

But new City boss Martin O'Neill may be tempted to cash in. Already linked with Birmingham's pounds 1.2m Steve Claridge, the Irishman wants Jason Cundy and David Kerslake from Tottenham, according to both the News of the World and the Sunday Express.

The News of the World also predicts another Dutch treat for Nottingham Forest, with Frank Clark checking on pounds 800,000-rated NAC Breda striker Yassine Abdellaoui, who holds Dutch and Moroccan passports.

Newcastle's attempt to prise David Batty from Blackburn for pounds 4m could succeed if Kevin Keegan allows out-of-favour Paul Kitson to move to Ewood Park, the Sunday Express says.

Meanwhile, The People says that Chris Waddle is a candidate to become player-manager of Burnley following the resignation of Jimmy Mullen, while Aston Villa may try to bring Dean Saunders back from Turkey and Newcastle may move for Aberdeen's Eoin Jess.

Turn back

the clock

Seekers of omens might note that the last time promotion-chasing Huddersfield Town figured in a sixth-round FA Cup draw they ended the season by leaving the First Division. Except that, in 1971/72, they departed in the opposite direction, at the start of a fairly rapid plunge down to the Fourth Division.

Of course, in those days the First Division was the premier league and thus the Terriers' FA Cup progress caused less of a stir, although the 4-2 fifth-round victory over West Ham at the old Leeds Road ground was by no means a modest achievement, given that the Hammers' line-up included Frank Lampard, Billy Bonds, Bobby Moore, Harry Redknapp, Geoff Hurst and Trevor Brooking.

Goals from Jimmy Lawson, Terry Dolan, David Smith and a hot young centre- forward called Frank Worthington gave a 27,000 crowd a new crop of heroes to hail.

But it was short-lived glory. Town, then managed by Ian Greaves, lost to Birmingham in the quarter-finals and by the following August, when they started life in the Second Division, they had lost defensive stalwarts Trevor Cherry and Roy Ellam to Leeds, and Worthington to Leicester.

Red card

IPSWICH TOWN

Take a bow

MARK McGHEE

Missing person

SCOTT MINTO (Chelsea)

Hailed as the brightest young left-back around when Chelsea paid Charlton pounds 775,000 for him 21 months ago, Minto (right) has watched the Glenn Hoddle revolution largely from the sidelines. Not that he has been able to do much about it, having been out of action since injuring an ankle in September. Back in reserve team action after surgery, he is near to full fitness - but now has Terry Phelan blocking his way into the first XI.

Watch out for...

JULIAN JOACHIM (Leicester City)

Two years ago, Leicester might have raked in pounds 3m-plus for their pacy England Under-21 star with Manchester United and Arsenal reportedly ready to swoop. Since then, however, injury and loss of form have hampered the progress of Brian Little's protege. But Little thinks the best is yet to come from the 5ft 8in forward and, with Tommy Johnson injured, may be tempted to relaunch his career at Aston Villa, especially if Leicester accept a knock-down pounds 1.2m. Programme notes

No 11: Middlesbrough Price: pounds 1.50. Pages: 48. A double award-winner last year, which suggests the competition was less than red hot. Includes, however, a fascinating poll to name the best opposition player at the Riverside, in which Manchester City's Georgi Kinkladze came top by a huge margin.

Verdict

7/10

reasons why...

European club competitions should not be tampered with

1 If proposed changes go ahead they'll have to call it the Champions' And-Big-Clubs-That-Weren't-Good-Enough-To-Be-Champions League.

2 Wasn't everybody complaining that there were too many fixtures anyway?

3 There is a limit to how many matches poor Archie McPherson, of Eurosport, can commentate on, even from his Soho studio.

4 It will just provide more opportunity for the likes of teams from Liechtenstein and San Marino to embarrass us further.

5 Who (apart from those motivated by pure greed) said there was anything wrong with the present set-up?

6 Clubs might start taking the Intertoto Cup seriously.

7 Travel companies make enough money as it is.

8 The draw for the Uefa Cup could go on longer than voting for the Eurovision Song Contest.

9 They might ask Graham Kelly to conduct it - the draw, we mean.

10 Qualifying will be about as meaningful as qualifying for a place on the pools coupon.

n Reading's Bulgarian keeper Bobby Mikhailov, who complained bitterly earlier in the season when his name was misspelt, will be pulling his hair out again over reports on their game at Grimsby in which he was referred to as Mick Haylov.

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