Stoke look to Sheron for success

Trevor Haylett previews the action this weekend in the Nationwide League
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The Independent Online
The early guess was that once again envious glances would be cast in the direction of the North-west. Failing that, it was likely the North- east would hold sway. South Yorkshire was not rated an area of likely prosperity, but after a surprise opening two weeks of the season, we are forced to salute the region's twin pace-setters.

If Sheffield Wednesday's dismissal of Aston Villa, Leeds and Newcastle did not follow the script, then Barnsley's ascent to the head of the Nationwide League with a matching unbeaten run was more predictable. Danny Wilson's shrewd management maintained their pursuit among the promotion challengers for much of last term and the first evidence would suggest they have now acquired the habit of turning more winning positions into wins. Their scheduled game at Birmingham today has fallen victim to the weekend's international programme.

Where Trevor Francis has been able to persuade players to drop out of the Premiership for Birmingham's promotion cause, the resources at the disposal of his former Wednesday colleague are not so bountiful. As a result, Wilson has had to sharpen his eye to the raw talent he can develop into something special. There are signs he has unearthed a diamond in Clint Marcelle, a Trinidadian international. West Bromwich Albion and Huddersfield are the first to be exposed to his goal scoring prowess and others will surely follow.

With Barnsley idle, Stoke City can put themselves out in front by avoiding defeat at Reading. Should Mike Sheron continue his devastating form - 19 goals in 29 games - the visitors have grounds for aiming higher than that.

Lou Macari, always reluctant to throw off his cloak of caution, was underplaying the significance of their start. "We have begun OK, but it's fair to say that every year two or three sides begin OK. Millwall were top after four games last season and ended up relegated. Three games and three wins mean nine points in the bag for later in the year when things are not going so well."

Or, put another way, all they have achieved so far is a solid foundation against the threat of relegation. Should Oldham, sorry starters with four successive defeats, stumble again today at home to Ipswich, then the dreaded R word will doubtless occupy a few minds at Boundary Park.

The visit of Wolves to Carrow Road is billed as one of the most attractive games of the day, although for the Norwich manager, Mike Walker, it is an occasion demeaned by the impact international calls have had on his already slim squad.

The East Anglian side are not alone in feeling aggrieved by the summer switch by the Football League to allow for postponements only when three players are called away by their country, a ruling, moreover, which applies only to full internationals. Six players out because of the Under-21 fixtures? Tough luck.

The League is adamant the fault lies with the national associations who have scheduled World Cup fixtures for weekends, thereby affecting domestic games on a Saturday and also those in the preceding midweek.

"We are looking at a possible eight separate fixture programmes being disrupted" the League spokesman, Chris Hull, said. "This was an ill-thought move by the national association. If we hadn't raised the limit for postponements from two players to three and if we hadn't excluded those at Under-21 level, there is no way we would have been able to complete our programme by the first week in May."

n Plymouth Argyle extended their lead in the Second Division to three points with victory over last season's Third Division champions, Preston. Richard Logan, one of their three central defenders, scored the winner in the 66th minute.