Football: The final chapter: Match-by-match guide to the last day of the Premiership season
Sunday 16 May 1999
Paul Merson could drive to drink the fans who once adored him by inspiring Aston Villa to spike Arsenal's championship guns. Arsenal, needing to win to have a chance of retaining their title, will be hoping that Dennis Bergkamp can produce another piece of magic to finish off the work of Emmanuel Petit and Patrick Vieira in midfield. Aston Villa have nothing to play for except their futures at the club after an unimpressive second half to the season. Steve Stone's combative work in midfield will be crucial to their chance of causing an upset. And, of course, there is Merson, who could find himself alongside Julian Joachim in the Villa attack.
According to the form book, Manchester United should win this one comfortably, but then on that basis they would have sewn up the title during the week when they consigned Blackburn to First Division football. With or without Roy Keane, they should carry the midfield battle and it will be down to Dwight Yorke and Andy Cole to outwit Sol Campbell and whoever George Graham chooses as his partner in the centre of the Tottenham defence. Spurs do not need to win but then Graham accepts nothing less than maximum effort. Woe betide any Spurs player who does not do his best. Fear of defeat could rule both sides.
Mark Kinsella will have to stamp his authority on midfield if Charlton are to have any chance of picking up the victory they need to have a hope of staying up. Goalscoring has been a problem for much of the season but at least Clive Mendonca is fit. The participation of the defender Richard Rufus is in doubt due to a sprained ankle while goalkeeper Andy Petterson's place is under threat from Sasa Ilic, who is fit again. Sheffield Wednesday seemed to have gone off the boil before beating Liverpool last week. Dejan Stefanovic will deputise for Andy Hinchcliffe at left- back in his last game for Wednesday before heading to Italy.
Southampton's three-match unbeaten run, including last week's rare away win at Wimbledon, has given them a good chance of survival, but they must beat Everton to be sure of staying up. Their manager, Dave Jones, must check the fitness of Hassan Kachloul, Jason Dodd, Claus Lundekvam and David Hughes before naming his side. Everton expect to field the players who thrashed West Ham 6-0 last week but for some it could be a farewell outing. Olivier Dacourt looks set to leave in summer and Walter Smith hopes to use the profit from sales to pay for Kevin Campbell, whose nine goals in seven games have made Everton safe.
Chelsea, their championship hopes thrown away through carelessness, have a full squad to select from against Derby, apart from the long-term injured, Pierluigi Casiraghi and Andy Myers. They will not be facing Tony Dorigo, who has a persistent back injury, while Rory Delap is doubtful with a groin problem. Paulo Wanchope and Dean Sturridge could return but Lars Bohinen is doubtful with a calf injury.
COVENTRY CITY-LEEDS UNITED
Coventry look likely to give the Swede Roland Nilsson his last game for the club before he heads for Helsingborg where he will be football director, while David Burrows could return after a thigh strain. Defender Richard Shaw can claim to have been fairly influential for them, having collected only two yellow cards in 42 games. The only doubt for Leeds is Lee Bowyer, who has an ankle injury. Matty Jones could replace him.
Steve McManaman will make his farewell appearance for Liverpool while Oyvind Leonhardsen, the Norwegian who thinks he may no longer be wanted, will be playing for his future at a club that could finish in its lowest position since it was promoted 37 years ago. Neil Sullivan could also be playing his last game in goal for Wimbledon; others may discover in summer that this was theirs, too, after the Dons' ragged run- in.
A couple of weeks ago Blackburn fans might well have been postulating theories on how Rovers could stay up by beating two sides with their minds on other things. Oh, well. Whether or not Newcastle have a bad case of the after-you-Claudes today, it matters not. The Cup finalists' Andy Griffin hopes to play, but Laurent Charvet will not resume training until tomorrow. Silvio Maric will not risk a hamstring problem.
Ron Atkinson is poised to name an unchanged Nottingham Forest line-up for the final game of his 28-year managerial career. Striker Pierre Van Hooijdonk is almost certain to be unfit to sit on the bench because of a rib injury. Leicester expect to have Emile Heskey and Steve Walsh back in the starting line-up after missing last week's match against Newcastle with groin injuries. Ian Marshall must test a hamstring injury.
Upton Park will ring to the sound of chickens coming home to roost as West Ham attempt to secure a chance of European football (Uefa might offer an extra place or there is always the Intertoto Cup) without the suspended Hislop, Lomas, Wright and Moncur. Boro have defender Colin Cooper back but Gary Pallister is struggling with a knee problem and Jason Gavin is suspended.
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