That was the weekend that was

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Hodgson is blamed for plight of Rovers

AS ROY HODGSON looks for a return to coaching on the Continent, it is clear that he has left behind a somewhat bitter legacy at Blackburn Rovers, where the blame for relegation - should it happen - would be laid by some critics at his door rather than Brian Kidd's.

The former Ewood Park manager has been accused of using the job for his own ends. The charges were levelled by Duncan McKenzie, the one-time Blackburn striker turned pundit, who is keen to see the club keep faith with Kidd, Hodgson's successor, whatever their fate.

"Roy Hodgson saw Blackburn as a stepping stone for the England job, which is appalling," McKenzie said. "Brian Kidd came into a desperate situation and if Blackburn do go down, the worst thing they could do would be to blame him."

Urging the club to hold their nerve even if Rovers go down, he added: "You know that Kidd has got the pedigree, he has learned under the best boss in the business. But it takes time for things to gel. Just look at Manchester City. Their downfall started the day they sacked Peter Reid. Since then they have had every Tom, Dick and Harry in charge and it is only by sticking with Joe Royle that they have stopped the rot."

McKenzie, whose playing career was a classic case of potential unfulfilled, also rounded on Hodgson's overseas imports. "They just don't want to know when the chips are down," he said. "If they were on pounds 200 a week and pounds 20,000 an appearance they wouldn't miss a match. But if your team goes down, they want away and leave a town in mourning." It is safe to assume that McKenzie will no longer be on Hodgson's Christmas card list.

Parkin deserves a medal of honour

AMONG THE season's unsung achievements, it would be hard to find one to match Steve Parkin's feat in keeping Mansfield Town in the Third Division play-off zone.

The Stags missed a chance to advance their cause when they failed to see off 10-man Southend on Saturday, but Parkin's remarkable record is in no way diminished.

The Mansfield manager has had to contend with a transfer embargo lasting almost a year and a revolt by players over unpaid wages, not to mention the threat of the club being wound up over a debt of just pounds 10,000.

Loans from the Professional Footballers' Association staved off the threat of a strike by the players but it took almost 12 months to repay them, during which time Parkin was forbidden to spend anything on new players. The winding-up order, relating to planning work on a pounds 5m new stadium since placed on hold, was thwarted when the stadium development company picked up the tab.

If Mansfield make the play-offs, Parkin ought to be named manager of the season after the year he has had - but his predicament, amazingly, could yet become worse still if players exercise their rights under the Bosman ruling.

So hard-up are the East Midlands club they have been unable to offer new contracts to any of their 21 senior players - and 16 are on deals that expire this summer.

KEY NUMBERS

12

The number of consecutive home League wins clocked up by First Division champions-elect Sunderland, one short of a club record standing for more than 100 years.

75

John Taylor's total number of League goals for Cambridge United following his 87th-minute strike against Halifax on Saturday, overtaking Alan Biley's club record.

500

Gary Pallister's career total of League appearances, a milestone he reached for Middlesbrough against Charlton on Saturday.

I TOLD YOU SO

"At the present time we just need a win in whatever way it can be achieved. But Gareth Southgate feels we have regained the competitiveness and hunger which may have been lacking before."

John Gregory foresees the end of Villa's three months in the doldrums

Missing... making it... and mistaken

Nigel Quashie

Nottingham Forest

A pounds 2.5M signing from Queen's Park Rangers last August, the 20- year-old midfielder was the former Nottingham Forest manager Dave Bassett's costliest buy, but failed to make the impact anticipated and has drifted to the fringes of the team. His faltering form may not be entirely his fault, however - he was recently found to have been playing with a stress fracture in his left foot.

Aaron Hughes

Newcastle United

ALREADY A regular Northern Ireland international, the 19-year- old wing back, who made his senior debut in no less daunting surroundings than Barcelona's Nou Camp stadium, has had to bide his time waiting to impress Ruud Gullit, but made such a good impression in his first action for three months as Newcastle won 4-3 win at Derby that the manager could hardly leave him out.

Robbie Savage

LEICESTER'S WELSH midfielder has been getting some verbal stick lately - mainly from outraged Tottenham players. Whether: "Why don't you get your hair cut, you sad Andy Gibb lookalike?" was among the jibes thrown his way is not known. But it may have been...

RUMOURS

Replacements for

Schmeichel line up

CONFUSION PERSISTS over who will be Manchester United's goalkeeper next season. The Sunday Mirror says Peter Schmeichel has rejected a pounds 1m offer to stay at Old Trafford a further year and has already agreed to join Monaco as replacement for Milan-bound Fabien Barthez. The People reports Dutch sources as saying that Edwin van der Sar is bound for United and quotes Italian rumours that Schmeichel is to join Fiorentina, with Francesco Toldo moving in the opposite direction. The News of the World, meanwhile, says United are planning a pounds 5m summer raid for Coventry's Magnus Hedman.

The People also claims that United are set to bid pounds 12m for Tottenham's Sol Campbell but that their supposed interest in Zinedine Zidane will be knocked on the head by his club, Juventus. The News of the World reckons United's Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is a pounds 5m target for Torino.

The Sunday Express says George Graham is likely to show the Tottenham door to Les Ferdinand, Chris Armstrong and John Scales among others this summer and scour the German market for replacements after being delighted with Steffen Freund. However, the News of the World predicts Graham will land Wolves striker Robbie Keane for pounds 6m and says the Midlands club will also lose out-of-contract defender Dean Richards to Liverpool.

Both the News of the World and the People claim Leeds will step up their interest in Real Mallorca defender Marcelino - the one Dennis Wise appeared to bite - after being impressed with his performance against Chelsea.

The Mirror echoes the News of the World's suggestion that Newcastle are planning a pounds 4.5m swoop for Auxerre's midfielder Bernard Diomede. The Mirror says Newcastle could also move for Chelsea's Dan Petrescu.

SEEN AND HEARD

BRISTLING BRUCE: "You can't tell me that the linesman knew Dwight Yorke was going to get the flick-on when he gave him offside." An indignant Sheffield United manager Steve Bruce, Sky's studio guest at yesterday's Villa Park semi-final, on the flag that may have denied his old teammates a trip to Wembley.

RUEFUL RON: "The most annoying thing was not the sending-off or anything to do with Pierre van Hooijdonk. It was watching one of their defenders go past two of my players and put the ball in the net." Forest manager Ron Atkinson, after Derby's late winner pushed the Nottingham side closer to the brink.

FA Cup Team Of The Week

STEPHEN CARR

Tottenham Hotspur

LUKE YOUNG

Tottenham Hotspur

PATRICK VIEIRA

Arsenal

ALAN SHEARER

Newcastle United

DENNIS BERGKAMP

Arsenal

ROY KEANE

Manchester United

JAAP STAM

Manchester United

SHAY GIVEN

Newcastle United

TONY ADAMS

Arsenal

DIETMAR HAMMAN

Newcastle United

ANDY GRIFFIN

Newcastle United

Manager of the week: John Gregory - rewarded after toughing out the most difficult three months of his Villa career.

Performance of the week: Middlesbrough - who have quietly turned the Riverside Stadium into a fortress.

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