Football: Warnock is sent packing

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RELEGATION concerns yesterday cost the manager of a bottom- of-the-table Nottingham club his job. Not Brian Clough, who seems immune from the sack and having just celebrated his 18th anniversary with Forest now wants to become their longest-serving manager, but Neil Warnock - his adversary and neighbour across the River Trent at Notts County.

Warnock and his assistant, Mick Jones, were sacked after four years at Meadow Lane during which they lifted the club from the Third Division to the First with two stops at Wembley along the way.

Fears that they could be about to return to old haunts prompted the chairman, Derek Pavis, to seek a fresh approach. Last night, Martin O'Neill, the former County and Forest midfielder now pushing Wycombe Wanderers towards League status, and the Grimsby manager, Alan Buckley, were linked with the vacancy.

'The situation could not be allowed to continue. I am genuinely concerned that we could find ourselves in the Second Division next season,' Pavis said, for whom defeat in the FA Cup by Sunderland on Tuesday was the final straw. Mick Walker, the youth team coach, takes temporary charge.

Ironically, Warnock has frequently been linked with Sunderland, should they decide to replace Malcolm Crosby. Two years ago he rejected an offer from Chelsea to stay and lead the Midlanders in their first season back among the elite, but it ended in relegation.

His reaction yesterday was to open a bottle of champagne. 'Here's to my next job in football,' he said, satisfied that his was a job well done. 'I am secure in the knowledge that I have left the club in a much healthier state than they were when I joined them and they were fourth from bottom of the old Third Division. We've given the fans many wonderful experiences, two Wembley finals, two promotions and First Division football on a limited budget. We have a completely new ground financed solely by the sale of quality players, and in addition to that the club's finances have been dramatically transformed.'

Millwall fear another Football Association investigation after a handful of their supporters were involved in trouble during and after their FA Cup third-round defeat at Southend. Police made 20 arrests and seven officers were hurt in the clashes which were said to have been started following an alleged gesture by the Southend goalscorer, Stan Collymore. Two fans ran on to the pitch.

The referee, Ian Borrett, has confirmed he will include the pitch encroachment in his report. The Millwall chairman, Reg Burr, condemned 'the stupid and inexcusable' actions of a minority of his club's fans, but feels the police contributed to a confrontational situation when 10 officers went into the crowd to arrest one fan for allegedly shouting abuse.

Bernie Slaven, the Republic of Ireland striker who has been released on a free transfer by Middlesbrough following a dispute with his manager, Lennie Lawrence, is considering offers from West Bromwich, Wolves, Port Vale, Hartlepool, Bolton, Hearts and Partick Thistle.