Rovers look to stretch lead

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The Independent Online
FOOTBALL The holiday will be over for most of the population come tomorrow morning, but for the nation's footballers the end of the festive season will at last offer a temporary break from what has been a hectic and demanding schedule. Most teams will beplaying their fourth game in eight days this afternoon, a programme which has been a make-or-break period for the League ambitions of many of them.

In the Premiership, the biggest winners so far over the holiday period have been Blackburn Rovers, the leaders, and Liverpool. Both have 100 per cent records and have taken advantage of the indifferent form shown over the same period by their championship rivals.

Manchester United (five points from three games) are three points behind Blackburn, who have a game in hand after one of their holiday matches was postponed last week, while Newcastle (three from two) and Nottingham Forest (four from three) are now 10 points adrift.

With Manchester United not playing until tomorrow, Blackburn will go six points clear if they beat West Ham at Ewood Park today. Kenny Dalglish, Blackburn's manager, is expected back on duty after spending Christmas in hospital having his appendix removed.

Third-placed Liverpool will be just one point behind United if they beat Norwich at Anfield. Liverpool are unbeaten in eight matches and there is a growing belief within the club that the title may not be out of reach.

Newcastle and Forest, who both lost away from home on Saturday, should return to winning form on home soil.

Newcastle entertain Manchester City, who have lost seven times on their travels this season, while Forest face Crystal Palace, who have gone eight games without a goal.

Palace may bring back John Salako, who damaged a hamstring last week and was originally expected to be out for up to a month. The England winger appears to have made a prompt recovery and only failed to make Palace's starting line-up on Saturday after failing a fitness test.

Apart from Liverpool and Blackburn, the only Premiership team with a 100 per cent record since Christmas Day are Sheffield Wednesday. They have moved up nine places in the process and hope to continue their climb at home to Southampton today.

Tottenham Hotspur, who have taken seven points from their last three games and are unbeaten in their last eight, face Arsenal at White Hart Lane. The injury-hit visitors are still without Tony Adams and David Seaman.

The biggest change at the bottom of the table over the holiday period has been the improved form of Aston Villa, who have taken five points from their three matches. Leeds travel to Villa Park with Brian Deane available after suspension, but Tony Dorigo faces a lengthy absence after tearing a hamstring.

The first full programme of January may be a little early to start talking of relegation deciders, but surely neither of the bottom two clubs, Ipswich and Leicester, can afford to lose when they meet at Portman Road today. Both have taken only one point from their three holiday matches so far.

More football: Pages 20, 21

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