Hold The Back Page: 05/03/2011

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The Independent Online

It's a big weekend for...

Stephen Ireland

If he overcomes a thigh injury to make his Newcastle United debut today, Stephen Ireland will start what might be his last chance.

His spell at Aston Villa was rendered even more disastrous yesterday by the publication of a So Foot interview in which he called Birmingham a "crap city". He was finished at Villa anyway, but the interview further revealed a self-destructive side that has already cost him his international career. Newcastle could be the making of him – he revels in popularity and 50,000 cheering Geordies could help. But, if he does not discover the set of circumstances that allow him to perform, tactically, personally and emotionally, his future as a top- flight player will be unclear.

We applaud you wholeheartedly

Kevin O'Brien

An Irish sportsman rather more comfortable with himself. The "Dublin Sehwag" struck an innings that would have been shocking and historic – 115 runs from 63 balls – in the most banal context, never mind a World Cup victory for Ireland over England. The question now is what he will do next. England's recruitment pool for batsmen has diversified in recent years to include not just South Africa but also the Emerald Isle. Ed Joyce and Eoin Morgan have both been tempted across the Irish Sea, with fairly mixed results, but there is certainly a vacancy in England's limited-overs middle order. He could not possibly do a worse job than Michael Yardy, surely?

Plus the stories you may have missed

Ecclestone plays god

If ever there was a man who demanded to decide the weather by personal fiat, it was Bernie Ecclestone. It is not a shock, then, to read that he intends to introduce "artificial rain" this season in Formula One, sprayed from sprinklers, to make races exciting. As Mark Webber said, Ayrton Senna would be "turning in his grave".

Two-match ban for bird killing

Luis Moreno, who plays for Deportivo Pereira in the Colombian league, has been banned for kicking to death an owl that was the mascot of an opposition side, Atletico Junior. Sir Alex Ferguson, if found guilty of criticising a referee, will likely be banned for longer.