Football: Venables' search starts at Loftus Road: Trevor Haylett on the crucial encounters in the weekend programme in the Premiership and beyond

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The Independent Online
IF THINGS had gone according to plan, there would have been no Premiership football this weekend, Graham Taylor would still have been a manager England could swear by while, presumably, Terry Venables could be found entertaining in his West End club.

With England's qualifying ticket for the World Cup finals assured, the intention was for Taylor's team to fly out to the United States this week for a preparatory game against the host nation. As we know now, only too painfully, the Dutch had a crucial say in changing both the script and the destiny of two men.

It meant that the fixture-fixers had to go to work to resurrect as much of a programme for this weekend as they could, and although Oldham v Southampton, Swindon v Coventry and Manchester City v Ipswich do not at first quicken the pulse, there is the promise of some cracking games elsewhere, most notably in west and north London, at Carrow Road, and tomorrow at Villa Park, where Leeds United are the visitors.

Venables does not have to stray far from his Kensington home to begin the search for the new-look England. Today he goes to Queen's Park Rangers, where he developed his managerial reputation in the early 1980s.

The visit of Manchester United enables Venables to evaluate claims for a place in his squad to tackle Denmark at Wembley on 9 March from the likes of Les Ferdinand, Paul Ince, Gary Pallister and Paul Parker, and also the opportunity to discuss with the Queen's Park Rangers manager, Gerry Francis, Bryan Robson and Ray Wilkins his plans for his back-up coaching team.

Another manager making his first steps in a demanding office that proved beyond his predecessor is Roy Evans, at Liverpool. Like Venables, he will find the expectations are immense, and an immediate priority is to restore dressing-room morale after recent failures.

In that regard, he is probably fortunate to be starting at Norwich, where John Deehan is still waiting to post the first Premiership victory of his fledging reign. He has had a difficult week, with the departure of Ruel Fox following the end of their FA Cup hopes.

Fox has to wait to start with Newcastle, who are one of four teams idle this weekend. With Arsenal also enjoying a day off, Blackburn, who receive Wimbledon, can consolidate their position as Manchester United's only credible rivals, and as favourites for a Uefa Cup place next season.

Tottenham will be looking for a lift from the introduction of their new signings, Ronny Rosenthal from Liverpool, and Kevin Scott, the central defender from Newcastle, although they face a difficult baptism at home to Sheffield Wednesday.

The pick of the First Division action finds Crystal Palace seeking a third home win in quick succession against Derby, while tomorrow Leicester make the short journey to Nottingham Forest. In the Second, the leaders Reading are at home to Port Vale while their closest rivals, Bristol Rovers and Plymouth, battle it out at Home Park.

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