Football: Weekend guide to the Premiership

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MATCH OF THE WEEKEND

Nottm Forest v Chelsea

SO MUCH for Ron `Red Adair' Atkinson's fire-fighting ability. A win in his first game in charge may have doused the flames for a few days - but that match was followed by an 8-1 home defeat to Manchester United and a 2-1 submission to the recently out-of-sorts West Ham. On current form, he could be facing a towering inferno by the time Gianluca Vialli's title-chasing Chelsea have left the City Ground this afternoon.

Atkinson yesterday admitted he was facing a further dilemma over Carlton Palmer, whom he signed for pounds 1.1m from Southampton last month and wanted to play as a midfielder. In the lanky dynamo's first three appearances for the Premier League's bottom club, Atkinson has had to play Palmer at the heart of the back four in an attempt to plug Forest's leaky defence. Big Ron still wants to push the 33-year-old - who, contrary to his image, must be one of the hardest working players in the country - into midfield to provide attacking options and admits he is now faces a selection problem.

Palmer himself said: "I really don't have much of a standpoint on the issue. It was Big Ron who converted me into a midfielder. I'm happy in either position and feel I can do a job in both." If Atkinson does decide to ask Palmer to play in midfield, it is likely to open the way for club captain Steve Chettle to return to the starting line-up. Chettle has yet to start a game under Atkinson but stepped off the bench in last weekend's defeat at the hands of the Hammers to make his 500th senior appearance for the club. "That wasn't the way I wanted to pass that milestone, and I'm just hoping to get back in again," Chettle said. "None of us will give up hope until it's no longer mathematically possible for us to stay up," he added of the relegation struggle. Atkinson is considering recalling Jean-Claude Darcheville to partner Pierre van Hooijdonk (left) at the expense of Neil Shipperley. Another change he will have to make is at right back. John Harkes has a calf injury so Matthieu Louis-Jean will deputise.

Albert Ferrer (knee) is back in Chelsea's and could play some part alongside Franck Lebeouf (right) but manager Gianluca Vialli is without suspended the midfield duo Dennis Wise and Roberto Di Matteo. Tore Andre Flo is back in training after his knee operation, and Graeme Le Saux should be fit despite a kick on the hip forcing him out of Wednesday's 1-1 draw against Blackburn. After Vialli's sending-off in midweek, Gianfranco Zola is the Blues' only remaining striker neither injured nor facing a suspension.

NOTTINGHAM FOREST (from) Beasant, Louis-Jean, Stensaas, Chettle, Hjelde, Palmer, Stone, Gemmill, Johnson, Rogers, Darcheville, Shipperley, Van Hooijdonk, Freedman, Porfirio, Bart-Williams, Bonalair, Woan, Gray, Crossley.

CHELSEA (from): De Goey, Lambourde, Leboeuf, Desailly, Babayaro, Le Saux, Morris, Petrescu, Vialli, Zola, Forssell, Newton, Hitchcock, Goldbaek, Myers, Ferrer, Nicholls, Terry.

Suspensions: Chelsea: Wise, Di Matteo.

Referee: G Willard.

Arsenal v

Leicester

DENNIS BERGKAMP is back from a one-match suspension and will be one of several Arsenal changes from the team that drew 1-1 at Manchester United in midweek. The Dutch striker is likely to replace new signing Nwankwo Kanu, who made an impressive Premiership debut at Old Trafford. Full-back Nigel Winterburn is out with a one-match ban for eight yellow cards, centre-half Martin Keown is still out with hamstring trouble, and captain Tony Adams or veteran Steve Bould could be rested. Nicolas Anelka may also be rested, and Arsene Wenger has already said Emmanuel Petit - who completes a three-match suspension today - will not be recalled for Tuesday's FA Cup replay against Sheffield United after aggravating an ankle condition in the England-France game. Nelson Vivas replaces Winterburn, while either Stephen Hughes or Remi Garde will deputise for Petit.

Leicester's Emile Heskey faces a late fitness test on a back injury but is likely to struggle to pass it. The attacking duo of Andy Impey and Arnar Gunnlaugsson return to the squad after being cup-tied for Wednesday night's Worthington Cup semi-final win over Sunderland.

ARSENAL (from) Seaman; Dixon, Adams, Bould, Upson, Vivas, Parlour, Vieira, Hughes, Garde, Overmars, Bergkamp, Anelka, Diawara, Kanu, Grimandi, Manninger.

LEICESTER CITY (from): Keller, Arphexad, Guppy, Ullathorne, Taggart, Sinclair, Walsh, Elliott, Kaamark, Izzet, Lennon, Savage, Parker, Gunnlaugsson, Impey, Cottee, Heskey, Wilson, Campbell, Marshall, Zagorakis.

Suspensions: Arsenal: Petit, Winterburn. Leicester: Taggart.

Referee: P Durkin.

Blackburn v

Sheff Wednesday

CHRIS SUTTON will have a lunchtime fitness check to see if he is fit enough to lead the Blackburn line. He injured an ankle at Chelsea in the 1-1 midweek draw. Billy McKinlay and Christian Dailly both remain absent through injury. Stephane Henchoz (thigh) is expected to get the all-clear. Long-term absentees Kevin Gallacher, Garry Flitcroft and Damien Johnson are still out. Brian Kidd, the Rovers manager, said yesterday he was optimistic about Sutton: "We won't take risks with him. We'll have a look at him before the game and make a decision then." Blackburn have lost only once under Kidd, who has steered the club from bottom to fifth bottom.

Sheffield Wednesday's England left-back Andy Hinchcliffe is doubtful with a knee problem, while his potential replacement, Dejan Stefanovic, has a shoulder injury. Centre-back Jon Newsome is also doubtful with a hamstring strain, so youngsters Steven Haslam and Mark McKeever are in the squad. Wednesday have won just once in their last nine visits to Blackburn, 3-2 in October 1982.

BLACKBURN ROVERS (from) Filan, Kenna, Henchoz, Broomes, Croft, Dunn, Marcolin, McAteer, Jansen, Sutton, Ward, Gillespie, Blake, Duff, Flowers, Peacock, Davidson, Davies.

SHEFFIELD WEDESDAY (from): Pressman, Atherton, Jonk, Newsome, Walker, Carbone, Booth, Sanetti, Cobian, Humphreys, Briscoe, Stefanovic, Oakes, Hinchcliffe, Emerson, Rudi, Alexandersson, Sonner, Morrison, Haslam, McKeever, Clarke.

Suspensions: None.

Referee: A Wilkie.

Coventry v

Man Utd

STRUGGLING COVENTRY will be unchanged from the side that lost to Newcastle in midweek. Bosnian international centre-back Muhamed Konjic will make his home debut after playing his first full game on Wednesday following his pounds 2m move from Monaco.

Manchester United have Denis Irwin back in contention for a place. The Republic of Ireland full-back could take over from Phil Neville. Ryan Giggs is likely to start on the bench even though he has recovered from his hamstring injury. The Welsh international returned to action after two weeks on the sidelines when he came on near the end of Wednesday's 1-1 draw with Arsenal at Old Trafford. Alex Ferguson wants to improve Giggs' match fitness but he is also wary of the threat heavy pitches pose to his player, with their European quarter-final first leg against Internazionale looming. "I want to see the conditions at Coventry, and with a lot of rain about, heavy pitches are playing a part at the moment," Ferguson said. Giggs himself said: "I've been training now for about a week. I'm just looking to get a few games under my belt with the Internazionale game coming up." United have won five out of six Premiership matches at Coventry.

COVENTRY CITY (from) Hedman, Nilsson, Konjic, Shaw, Burrows, Boateng, McAllister, Soltvedt, Froggatt, Huckerby, Whelan, Clement, Aloisi, Giaocchini, Edworthy, Quinn, Ogrizovic (gk).

MANCHESTER UNITED (from): Schmeichel, G Neville, Johnsen, Stam, P Neville, Beckham, Keane, Butt, Blomqvist, Cole, Yorke, Scholes, Solskjaer, Irwin, Giggs, May, Brown, Berg, Van Der Gouw (gk).

Suspensions: None.

Referee: D Gallagher.

Derby v

Charlton

DERBY COULD be without the creative skills of the Italian Francesco Baiano, who has a sciatic problem. Their manager, Jim Smith, has Lars Bohinen lined up to replace Baiano in midfield. Bohinen is fit again after a bout of flu, and the striker Paulo Wanchope has recovered from a hamstring injury and could also be involved at some stage. Rory Delap, who has been out since Boxing Day when he injured knee ligaments at Everton, is back in full training and is included in the squad.

Charlton's leading scorer, Clive Mendonca, is in contention for a return. Mendonca has been out since injuring his groin in training on Christmas Day, but is in the squad after completing his third reserve game in midweek. Paul Mortimer played a reserve match on Wednesday and could also be added to the squad, with Andy Petterson moving up to reserve goalkeeper following Sasa Ilic's injury in training. Alan Curbishley could name an unchanged side from the team that beat Liverpool last weekend, meaning John Barnes would again have to settle for a place on the bench.

DERBY COUNTY (from) Hoult, Prior, Carbonari, Stimac, Laursen, Carsley, Eranio, Bohinen, Dorigo, Burton, Sturridge, Wanchope, Delap, Powell, Schnoor, Hunt, Harper, Baiano, Knight (gk).

CHARLTON ATHLETIC (from): Royce, Mills, Powell, Tiler, Kinsella, Robinson, Redfearn, Newton, Hunt, Brown, K Jones, Lisbie, Konchesky, Bright, Parker, Pringle, Mendonca, Mortimer, Barnes, Petterson (gk).

Suspensions: None.

Referee: K Burge.

Leeds United v Everton

LEEDS' YOUNG defender Jonathon Woodgate is struggling to be fit after missing the midweek win over Aston Villa with a knee injury. Lee Bowyer, who was also missing at Villa Park with an ankle injury and flu, hopes to be back for what would be his 100th appearance in league and cup matches since leaving Charlton in the summer of 1996. Bruno Ribeiro, Stephen McPhail, Alan Maybury and David Batty are all still injured, so Bowyer's return in place of Matthew Jones or Willem Korsten is likely to be the only change.

Everton's confidence will have given a lift by last week's FA Cup victory over Coventry and the 5-0 Premiership thrashing of Middlesbrough on Wednesday. The return to fitness of David Unsworth and the end of Marco Materazzi's suspension meant that veteran defender Dave Watson was on the bench against Boro and he is likely to be so again. Mitch Ward, Alex Cleland and Slaven Bilic are unavailable with long-term injuries. Everton's last league win at Leeds was a 2-1 victory in September 1951, since when they have played 32 league games at Elland Road and come away with nothing better than a draw.

LEEDS UNITED (from) Martyn, Halle, Wetherall, Radebe, Harte, Haaland, Jones, Bowyer, Hopkin, Korsten, Kewell, Hasselbaink, Smith, Granville, Knarvik, Wijnhard, Woodgate, Robinson.

EVERTON (from): Myhre, Dunne, Unsworth, Materazzi, Ball, Barmby, Grant, Dacourt, Oster, Hutchison, Jeffers, Simonsen, Watson, Bakayoko, Cadamarteri, O'Kane, Weir.

Suspensions: None.

Referee: D Elleray.

Liverpool v

West Ham

Paul Ince will miss his former club's visit to Anfield through suspension. Also banned is Dominic Matteo, which gives Rigobert Song the chance of his full home debut in defence. Patrik Berger is likely to be available after a hamstring injury, which could see him in an attacking midfield trio alongside Jamie Redknapp and Steve McManaman. Liverpool need to close the five-point gap between themselves and Aston Villa, with fourth place in the Premiership the only certain Uefa Cup qualification position. Three successive away defeats have not helped their cause, but they have won their last five home league games. West Ham have a poor record at Anfield, but they beat Liverpool 2-1 at Upton Park earlier in the season.

West Ham's Harry Redknapp faces injury problems. Italian striker Paolo Di Canio is out with a groin strain and Neil Ruddock will miss the return to Liverpool with a calf injury. An outbreak of flu has thrown doubts over the chances of Trevor Sinclair, John Moncur and Samassi Abou. Gavin Holligan, Jimmy Bullard, David Partridge and Michael Carrick have all been included in the squad.

LIVERPOOL (from) James, Heggem, Staunton, Carragher, Song, Bjornebye, Redknapp, Berger, McManaman, Thompson, Owen, Fowler, Riedle, Friedel, Harkness, Leonhardsen, Babb.

WEST HAM (from): Hislop, Ferdinand, Pearce, Lomas, Sinclair, Lampard, Berkovic, Lazaridis, Berkovic, Kitson, Potts, Foe, Cole, Minto, Forrest, Bullard, Holligan, Partridge, Carrick.

Suspensions: Liverpool: Ince, Matteo. West Ham: Dicks.

Referee: N Barry.

Middlesbrough v Tottenham

MIDDLESBROUGH FACE continued injury problems as they attempt to bounce back from their 5-0 midweek drubbing at Everton. The defenders Gianluca Festa and Curtis Fleming, midfielder Phil Stamp and strikers Brian Deane and Hamilton Ricard are all out injured and their manager, Bryan Robson, includes the youngsters Robbie Stockdale, Craig Harrison, Mark Summerbell and Andy Campbell in an 18-man squad. Boro have beaten Spurs only once at home in the last five visits by the Londoners, managing a 3-0 win in April 1993. Robson will be desperate for a result to stop Boro's free fall continuing.

Tim Sherwood is likely to make his full Premiership debut for Tottenham. George Graham's pounds 3.8m signing from Blackburn missed the Worthington Cup semi-final win over Wimbledon on Tuesday because he was cup-tied, but is back in the squad for the trip north. Sherwood made an instant impact on his full debut in the FA Cup last weekend at Leeds, giving Spurs the lead in a 1-1 draw. Graham's other recent signing, Mauricio Taricco, was also cup-tied in midweek but is back in a near full-strength squad. Spurs have kept a clean sheet in four of their last five league wins at Boro.

MIDDLESBROUGH (from) Schwarzer, Beresford, Stockdale, Cooper, Vickers, Pallister, Gordon, Harrison, Kinder, Maddison, Summerbell, Townsend, Gascoigne, Mustoe, Moore, Beck, Campbell, Blackmore.

TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR (from): Walker, Carr, Freund, Calderwood, Nielsen, Fox, Anderton, Ferdinand, Armstrong, Ginola, Vega, Iversen, Taricco, Sherwood, Sinton, Campbell, Young, Baardsen.

Suspensions: None.

Referee: R Harris.

Southampton v

Newcastle

SOUTHAMPTON MANAGER Dave Jones' plans to unleash Latvia's answer to Michael Owen on the Premiership have been held up because 22-year-old striker Marian Pahars' work permit may take up to three weeks to come through. Pahars scored a hat-trick on his debut in English football last week for Saints' reserves. Mark Hughes starts his fourth suspension of the season, a two-match ban imposed after he collected his 14th booking of the campaign. Defender Francis Benali is in line for a recall after missing the last two months with a broken arm while midfielder Matt Le Tissier could make a surprise return to the squad after three weeks out with a torn hamstring.

Newcastle's midfielder Stephen Glass is out after picking up a knee injury in Wednesday's 4-1 win over Coventry. Ruud Gullit otherwise has a virtually full squad from which to choose, although Croatian midfielder Silvio Maric will not figure because his work permit has yet to be issued.

SOUTHAMPTON (from) Jones, Dodd, Monkou, Lundekvam, Colleter, D Hughes, Marsden, Oakley, Kachloul, Ostenstad, Beattie, Le Tissier, Hiley, Monk, Benali, Marshall, Bridge, Stensgaard.

NEWCASTLE (from): Given, Harper, Charvet, Barton, Howey, Dabizas, Domi, Speed, Solano, Hamann, Brady, Shearer, Ketsbaia, Saha, Hughes, Georgiadis, Pearce.

Suspensions: Saints: M Hughes.

Referee: G Poll.

TOMORROW 4PM

Wimbledon v Aston Villa

ASTON VILLA'S Mark Bosnich could make a dramatic return to action tomorrow. Villa's manager, John Gregory, had initially planned for Bosnich to return in the Midlands derby with Coventry on 27 February, but now intends to include the Australian in his squad to face the Dons if he passes a late test. "Mark is looking good in training at the moment. Providing he gets the all-clear from the final check with the specialist, I have told him I want him in the squad for Sunday," Gregory said yesterday.

If he plays, the game will be Bosnich's first for five months and come after an unconvincing display by his deputy, Michael Oakes, in Wednesday's 2-1 home defeat at the hands of Leeds. Gregory believes having Bosman in the side is a vital factor if the club are to reignite their title challenge. The news was less encouraging regarding the central defender Ugo Ehiogu, who has had an operation to correct a fractured eye socket sustained in a collision with Alan Shearer three weeks ago. Gregory said: "He might come back before the end of the season. But the eyes are very delicate and you have to be careful." Stan Collymore is expected to keep his place on the substitutes' bench while Dion Dublin will again play through his groin problem.

Wimbledon, who will be looking to bounce back from the disappointment of losing out on a Worthington Cup final place to Tottenham in midweek, will be without the suspended John Hartson. Gareth Ainsworth is a long- term absentee with a groin injury, but Joe Kinnear has Jon Goodman and Peter Fear back in first-team contention.

WIMBLEDON (from) Sullivan, Heald, Cunningham, Kimble, Perry, Blackwell, Thatcher, Jupp, Pearce, C Hughes, Earle, Euell, M Hughes, Roberts, Ardley, Fear, Kennedy, Ekoku, Gayle, Goodman, Leaburn, Cort.

ASTON VILLA (from): Oakes, Watson, Scimeca, Southgate, Barry, Wright, Merson, Taylor, Hendrie, Joachim, Dublin, Grayson, Thompson, Vassell, Standing, Samuel, Enckelman.

Suspensions: Wimbledon: Hartson.

Referee: P Alcock.

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