Newcastle ready to reap revenge

Guy Hodgson on football's Premier League programme this weekend
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The Independent Online
If there has been one certainty so far in the Premiership it has been the irresistibility of Newcastle United at home. The notion that there is no such thing as an easy match among England's top flight does not sit too comfortably when the leaders have been banging in between two and three goals every time they have turned up at St James' Park.

Newcastle have played seven League matches on their own turf and their record reads: 21 points, 18 goals for and only three against. Les Ferdinand, in particular, loves the place having scored 11 times in front of his new and adoring supporters.

A home banker then against Leeds United today? It would seem likely, except that the visitors were the only team to beat Newcastle at St James' last season, a result that ultimately let Leeds into the Uefa Cup at the expense of their victims that day.

"There is an element of revenge," Robert Lee, the Newcastle midfield player, said. "I think we were bullied out of it that day. We're stronger now though; I don't think anyone can bully us now."

Les Ferdinand and Keith Gillespie both trained yesterday morning for the first time this week and are likely to be fit. Leeds meanwhile received international clearance yesterday to play their pounds 4.5m Swedish striker, Tomas Brolin. Whether he will start the match is open to debate, however.

"Tomas is not properly match fit," the Leeds manager, Howard Wilkinson, said, "and fitness is not like medicine: you can't take it and suddenly be better. It's something you have to work on and acquire." Nevertheless Brolin should make an appearance as a substitute at the very least.

Liverpool's visit to Middlesbrough is a meeting of teams trying to adjust their styles to suit expensive purchases. Boro are trying to use the long ball less to accommodate pounds 4.75m Juninho while the visitors, whose delivery of the final ball can sometimes take more time than the Christmas post, are looking at Route One instead of Route 101 to make the most of their pounds 8.5m striker, Stan Collymore. "Stan has to learn our way of doing things," Roy Evans, the Liverpool manager, said, "but we also have to adjust to him. We need to get the ball through to him more quickly."

Alan Ball is having to adjust, too, to rarefied heights after Manchester City's win over Wimbledon on Wednesday which moved them to third from bottom. They face Aston Villa who also risked vertigo in midweek after reaching third place. "We need a good result," Ball said, "because four teams down the bottom with us are playing each other today. We know some of them will be picking up points."

The four in question are bottom-placed Coventry who face Wimbledon with a record of two points from their last nine matches, while Southampton, back in trouble with two successive defeats, play host to Bolton. Coventry's plight was made worse by the 4-0 thrashing by Manchester United on Wednesday, a result their manager, Ron Atkinson, described as "the worst hiding I can remember for a long time".

Coventry have made their worst start since 1919 with one win in 14 matches, and Atkinson this week received the poisoned chalice of a vote of confidence. "At this moment things are not too bright," he said, "but I have always believed in being positive. Wimbledon is the most important game for this club since I came here."

Joe Kinnear, his Wimbledon counterpart, will scarcely be underplaying the occasion either as his side are faring no better with only one point to show from their last nine games.

A game with the emphasis on defence is likely at Highfield Road although the best stoppers of the day will be in evidence at the Abbey Stadium when Cambridge meet Torquay United. The match is being sponsored by the Cambridge and Huntingdon Health Promotions Service whose local campaign for World Aids Day will include free condoms for any adult supporter who asks for them. Which makes a change from the normal request of a meat pie and a cup of Bovril.