Football: Time for a turn-around for the troubled Saints: With relegation threats looming, Henry Winter looks at today's games for clubs facing the cut

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The Independent Online
CHELSEA, of the Premier League, meet Luton Town, of the Football League, today; a host of other Premiership clubs will be endeavouring this afternoon to ensure they do not face the Hatters next season.

Relegation is still a mathematical possibility for the 13 clubs on 50 points or less, but the majority of managers residing in the bottom half of the table consider 44 to be the cut - five fewer than last season.

Most obviously in danger of trips to Kenilworth Road, Roots Hall and Ashton Gate are one club left idle this weekend, Swindon Town, who look down and out after a season of winning friends but few matches at the top level, and Southampton, who must prevail at Norwich City today if they are to commence the climb from 21st place.

The Saints, whose awkward run- in also includes Blackburn Rovers and Manchester United, enjoyed a brief honeymoon glow when Alan Ball arrived but disillusionment is beginning to resurface at The Dell.

True to type, Ball is defiance personified. 'I will use all of my experience in the game to pull Southampton out of trouble. We are in a difficult position now.

'But the players have got to accept some responsibility and produce some input. They can't hide behind the manager all the time. They have to cope.

''In this position one win can make a lot of difference and we have to remember that Oldham won their last three last season to stay up. It can be done.' Ball's ambition will not be encouraged by the prospect of Mark Robins re-forming a potentially potent front partnership with Chris Sutton at Carrow Road.

One of the many highpoints of Ball's career arrived in 1970 in Everton's fine championship-winning side. Goodison is less lively nowadays and if the Blues are to extend their 40-year association with England's top division, they desperately need to find the net as Joe Royle, currently manager of fellow strugglers Oldham, did so emphatically for them 24 years ago. One goal and a solitary point from their last five games has dragged Mike Walker's men into the mire and the onus will be on Tony Cottee, the scorer of that lonely strike, to trouble the opposition keeper at Upton Park today.

The venue should stimulate Cottee: the former England striker managed almost a goal every other outing for West Ham. The 28-year- old admits that his pounds 2m transfer to Merseyside in 1988 has not proved a prodigious success. 'When I first joined Everton I wanted to win trophies and score lots of goals,' he said. 'My goals tally is mounting up but I'm still disappointed not to have won anything.'

Manchester City, like Southampton and Everton, will be anxious to exploit the momentary mothballing of Swindon, Sheffield United and Oldham. Unlike the Saints and Blues, City have just discovered how to score again, but will still be pushed to secure more than a point from the visit of Uefa hopefuls, the normally prolific Newcastle.

Those First Division clubs anxious to replace the Premiership's rejects face important tests in south- east London. Crystal Palace, the leaders, play host to Millwall in what promises to be a tough, tense affair at Selhurst Park while second- placed Nottingham Forest must regain their stride at Charlton Athletic. The biggest roar of the day, however, will undoubtedly come at Wolves, if Steve Bull starts against Peterborough following a lengthy lay-off. What City, Everton and Southampton would give for a centre-forward of Bully's power.

(Table omitted)

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