Saints ponder gamble on Grobbelaar

Phil Shaw looks forward to the weekend programme
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The Independent Online
Like sexually ambiguous vicars and Tory ministers with a sketchy knowledge of the North-east, eccentric goalkeepers are part of the fabric of English society. But after Ashen Face Day, when Bruce Grobbelaar and Hans Segers became acquainted with a different kind of custodian, woe betide any of their number unwittingly doing his bit for Comic Relief this weekend.

Grobbelaar, who pioneered red noses in football when Evertonians cast him as a clown, is more likely to see action today, although Alan Ball will not decide whether to recall him for Southampton's match at Nottingham Forest until the latest possible moment. Given that his understudy, Dave Beasant, has Kenneth Clarke's capacity for unforced errors, the odds, if one might venture a gambling allusion, are probably in the Zimbabwean's favour, even on a day when keepers' gaffes will be subject to intense scrutiny.

Segers was relegated to the Wimbledon bench a week ago after recent blunders, and Joe Kinnear had no hesitation in keeping faith with Neil Sullivan for the Selhurst Park meeting of tenants and landlords with Crystal Palace. When the match-rigging allegations surfaced four months ago, Grobbelaar laughed off the wallet-waving of opposing fans and gave his best performance since leaving Liverpool. Derby games can be acrimonious affairs; it is to be hoped Segers shares his sense of humour.

Palace and Southampton are among 10 clubs, reaching right up to Arsenal in mid-table, for whom relegation from the Premiership remains a worrying possibility. Fortunately for those above them, Ipswich and Leicester are effectively doomed. On recent form, which has seen Leicester leak 19 goals in six games, Mark McGhee's side will do well to avoid a catastrophe at Tottenham of the kind which befell their companions in distress at Manchester United.

Talking of whom, the last fixture Alex Ferguson might have wished for, coming off the back of an awkward home draw against Spurs which left the champions three points behind Blackburn, was tomorrow's visit to Liverpool. Last season the hosts gave United a three-goal start and still managed a point. This time, apart from the side issue of helping Kenny Dalglish take the title, Liverpudlian pride isat stake: Not since 1963, when "You'll Never Walk Alone" still belonged to the West End stage, has Anfield witnessed three consecutive defeats, and both Spurs and Coventry have won there in the past week.

Although Blackburn have an eminently winnable home game, against Chelsea, their form of late has been ominously patchy. The £1.5m move for Southampton's Jeff Kenna - who is likely to play at left-back, allowing Graeme Le Saux to stand in for Jason Wilcox in midfield - suggested Dalglish has convinced Jack Walker that the prize might be lost by default if his injury-hit squad was not reinforced for the run-in. Kenna's former Dell-mate, Alan Shearer, needs one for a century of League goals.

The managers most at risk, Brian Horton and Trevor Francis, face an anxious afternoon as Manchester City and Sheffield Wednesday do battle at Maine Road. Elland Road should be less fraught, with Ron Atkinson's Coventry emerging as rivals to Leeds for a European place, and two African strikers, Anthony Yeboah and Peter Ndlovu, on a hot streak.

In the Endsleigh League, one of the most attractive matches pits Birmingham, whose owner, David Sullivan, has ordered 30,000 blue noses for their forthcoming Wembley jaunt, against Wycombe in a six-pointer at the Second Division summit.

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