McGhee faces a baptism of fire

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Had Mark McGhee found a spare minute these last two days in his new premiership surroundings, the chance is that a telephone call would have found its way to Alex Ferguson from filbert street. That being so, the leicester manager would doubtless h ave been reminded of his outstanding iou, and the opportunity today to repay a favour. It was Ferguson's recommendation which gave mcghee, part of his triumphant European Cup-Winners' Cup side at Aberdeen, the chance to learn the managerial trade at read ing.

He no longer needs glowing references from influential voices; his record at Elm Park was enough to swing the job McGhee's way, even though his own mind swung many times between a "no" and a "yes" before giving Leicester the answer they wanted. Now in his first game, McGhee comes up against Blackburn, the league leaders. There will be shared smiles if Leicester win, thereby helping Manchester United to regain their position at the head of the class.

McGhee follows the visit of Blackburn with a home game with Liverpool, and then Leicester meet Manchester United two days later. "i would like a victory today because apart from anything else, it would enable me to go to old trafford in 11 days time without feeling embarrassed,'' he joked yesterday.

It is certainly a testing beginning, but one he insists was part of the reason why he was lured to Filbert Street. "Leicester City wanted the challenge of Premiership football for the opportunity to play against these teams, so you can't say you don't want them just because they all come in a row," he says. "You have got to believe that you have earned that privilege. You've got to believe you can stand up to the likes of Blackburn and Manchester United, and we should all go out and enjoy the experience."

The last time today's opponents met was at Wembley in 1992 in the Second Division promotion play-off final, when only a penalty following a theatrical tumble from Dave Speedie separated the two sides.

Leicester later forgave Speedie, and indeed signed him. two years on, after another Wembley defeat, they have finally caught up with Blackburn. It will not do the credibility of the promotion decider any good if they were to return after the briefest of stays in the top flight, which was Swindon's fate last season.

McGhee's first team selection could see a return for the quick-witted Julian Joachim, whose chance of impressing this afternoon will be enhanced by the absence of Colin Hendry, who is away on international duty.

Only Manchester United have a better defensive record than Blackburn and at home, where they have won all nine matches, they have yet to concede a goal. It suggests Kenny Dalglish's team will need to spoil McGhee's day to avert a fall from the top, although Nottingham Forest, today's visitors to Old Trafford, have regained the goal-scoring habit. in Stan Collymore, they have a striker coming under scrutiny from Ferguson as a potential new-year signing.

United have Ryan Giggs, Eric Cantona and Mark Hughes fit and available again, giving their manager his weekly selection headache, although this time it is to his liking.

They are untroubled by Scotland's European championship fixture in Greece, as are Tottenham, although Spurs do lose Jurgen Klinsmann to Germany's cause. Gerry Francis is also unhappy that his preparation before the visit to Everton has been badly disrupted by international calls for the Romanian pair, Gica Popescu and Ilie Dumitrescu, Ronnie Rosenthal with Israel and also Sol Campbell and Nicky Barmby for England B.

Francis knows that there are easier tasks just now than facing a Goodison side undergoing an impressive revival under Joe Royle, and who have gone more than nine hours depriving the opposition of a goal.