Forest hope the fire is still burning for Clough: Henry Winter looks forward to a weekend programme set to run the gamut of emotion

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The Independent Online
THE LAST time Nottingham Forest were in England's second division the Queen was celebrating her silver, not counting it. Since 1977, the Jubilee year of Red Rum, Virginia Wade and the Sex Pistols, Forest have been a cultured constituent of the elite, winning one championship, two European Cups and four League Cups. Today, Brian Clough's last game in charge at the City Ground could bring the ignominy of relegation.

Sheffield United, the uncompromising visitors, are equally anxious to preserve their Premier League paydays. It promises to be quite a scrap, with the Blades better suited to scuffling their way to at least a point. 'I know the world and his dog will want Cloughie to win tomorrow and get out of trouble,' Dave Bassett, the United manager, said yesterday. 'I always seem to be running into situations like this where I'm going to be the bad guy or the dirty dog.'

'Dirty' Harry does not intend to make Clough's day but Forest are not total underdogs. No team with players of the calibre of Nigel Clough, who moves up front, and the indefatigible Roy Keane can be discounted.

Bassett's side are three points clear of, in descending order, Oldham, Forest and Middlesbrough, the troubled trio tied on 40 points. The Latics, with a game in hand, are idle until their Villa Park date tomorrow, allowing Forest and Boro (who face a stiff challenge at Sheffield Wednesday) to steal the initiative. Above this fretful foursome, Steve Coppell has laid it on the line to his Crystal Palace team, who begin their search for the win to guarantee safety against Ipswich. 'The manager has already warned us that players will have to be sold if we go down,' Eddie McGoldrick, the Eagles' Irishman, said.

There will be some sweaty palms in the West Country come 4.40. If Barnet, the Third Dvision leaders by a point, lose to Lincoln and second- placed Cardiff beat Shrewsbury, a Devon man will be on the threshold of scooping the largest bet in football history - pounds 500,000. Two-thirds of his pounds 1,000 wager on Newcastle, Stoke and Cardiff to win their divisions already looks likely: Stoke have secured the Second while Portsmouth, who can return to the top of the First again today, are Newcastle's only real rivals.

If results go his way today (and he cannot discount Wrexham), such is Cardiff's goal record (eight more than Barnet) that he will need the Bluebirds to prise only a point next week for him to raid the Ladbrokes kitty.

Paul Gascoigne underwent an operation to repair his cracked cheekbone yesterday. 'Hopefully I can be right for the last Lazio game and the Poland and Norway games,' Gascoigne said. However, the surgeon who performed the operation at an Essex hospital, Jim Evans, cast some doubt on his ability to return for the World Cup ties on 29 May and 2 June, saying Gascoigne should protect the injury 'for the next few weeks'.