HULL CITY fans drowned out the final whistle at Boothferry Park on Saturday singing the theme tune from The Great Escape, after a 31st- minute goal by David Brown ensured that their club would survive in the Nationwide League after a recovery few thought possible.
On the pitch before kick-off, the manager, Warren Joyce, and his No2, John McGovern, signed contracts that will keep them at the club for three years. Joyce acknowledged the approval of the crowd and noted the irony in their rapturous applause - when he was appointed Mark Hateley's successor last November, they had jammed the club switchboard, asking if the new chairman, Tom Belton, had gone completely mad.
Belton had persuaded the board to choose Joyce ahead of Neil Warnock, Mick Wadsworth and John Ward, all proven managers in the lower divisions. Joyce, decent player though he was, had not even managed a Sunday pub side.
His start was hardly auspicious. Although they knocked Luton out of the FA Cup, Hull lost six of Joyce's first seven League matches in charge and ended 1998 six points adrift at the foot of the Third Division.
But he took the club's shoestring budget and rebuilt the side, parting with little more than pounds 250,000. Hull climbed off the bottom in February and have only lost three of their last 21 League games.
They deserve to celebrate. The defender Jon Whitney summed up the mood: "Next season, we fancy a crack at promotion."
Ndlovu's knee stands up to test of time
PETER NDLOVU'S part in Birmingham's 1-0 victory over Ipswich at St Andrew's was limited to stepping off the bench for the last 11 minutes - but the Zimbabwean striker still broke a record in doing so.
Indeed, just by being named among the substitutes he became Birmingham's most expensive player at pounds 1.6m after the conclusion of one of modern football's more unusual transfer deals.
The Birmingham manager, Trevor Francis, paid just pounds 200,000 up front for the former Coventry forward in 1997, a week after pulling out when Ndlovu failed a medical on his knee.
The remainder was to be paid depending on appearances, on the bench as well as on the field. Saturday's was his 98th and by handing over the last installment of pounds 15,000 Birmingham completed the deal and enabled Coventry to realise a profit of more than pounds 1.5m on a player for whom they originally paid just pounds 20,000.
Francis said that the injury has never been a worry. "I've never had to think about the fact he failed the medical," he said. "The knee has not caused him to miss a single game.
"But from a financial point of view, if we could do every deal on the basis of paying when the player plays, we'd have very happy owners."
Ndlovu, who has scored 24 goals in his two seasons at St Andrew's, overtakes Paul Furlong and Jon McCarthy as the Blues' record signing.
The number of players used by Everton and Newcastle during the season, 11 more than Manchester United and Wimbledon, who have needed fewest.
Fair Play pacesetters' Sheffield Wednesday's card count (46 yellow, two red) with two matches left. Next lowest are Liverpool (51-1) and Manchester United (50-2).
I TOLD YOU SO
"This is a game we must win. We haven't won enough games at home. Too many times at home, we've only picked up a point when we should have had all three."
Charlton manager Alan Curbishley, who forecast the Blackburn result.
Missing... making it... and mistaken
HAVING SURVIVED some jousts with relegation during his Everton time, being confined to the sidelines as Birmingham push for the Premiership has been especially frustrating for the 33-year-old centre-back, who succeeded Steve Bruce as skipper at St Andrew's. Out since February with knee ligament damage, Ablett is unlikely to be fit until December at the earliest.
THE LATEST of David O'Leary's nerveless teenagers, the 18-year- old Wales Under-21 captain's big disappointment on being given his first home start against Manchester United was that Ryan Giggs was not playing. "I was hoping to be up against Ryan because I have so much respect for him and it would have been a great experience to play against him," he said.
Oscar Wilde once said that if there were such a thing as reincarnation, he would want to come back as a flower. Seems like he almost did... except somebody misread his wish and put the "l" in the wrong place.
Houllier ready to pip United for Van der Sar
WHILE THE Sunday Mirror announces Gerard Houllier's plan to snatch Ajax goalkeeper Edwin van der Sar from under the noses of Manchester United with the aid of an pounds 8m cheque, the People reckons Liverpool are wondering whether to pull the rug from under Houllier and replace him with the Dutchman Dick Advocaat, currently managing Rangers, after Liverpool's disappointing season.
Meanwhile, the People says, ex-Liverpool boss Kenny Dalglish is poised to become Celtic's technical director, an appointment they say will lead to a Celtic bid for Alan Shearer, which might appeal to Ruud Gullit because he wants money to finance a Tyneside refit.
According to the Mirror, Gullit is planning to spend pounds 9m this week on Clarence Seedorf, said to have agreed a pounds 5.5m move from Real Madrid, and the Paris St-Germain defender Alain Goma, valued at pounds 3.5m. Gullit, the story says, is also chasing Milan's Zvonimir Boban and Blackburn goalkeeper Tim Flowers. The News of the World carried news of the Seedorf deal but claims the defender in Newcastle's sights is Real Mallorca's Marcelino Elena (the one with so closely acquainted with Dennis Wise's teeth).
The Express suggests the kind of budget George Graham requires to rebuild Tottenham might even mean David Ginola and Darren Anderton being put up for sale, even though the News of the World claims Ginola is ready to stay at White Hart Lane after being offered the same pounds 30,000-a-week terms as Sol Campbell and that Graham wants Anderton - a pounds 5m target for Middlesbrough, according to the Mirror - to sign a new deal.
The People says Chelsea will sell Celestine Babayaro, Bernard Lambourde, Dan Petrescu, Andy Myers, Eddie Newton and Dmitri Kharine in order to put an extra pounds 12m in Gianluca Vialli's transfer kitty.
SEEN AND HEARD
SEEING RED "Clubs have a responsibility to their fans not to go bankrupt ... and if we get the same increase [in salaries] for next season and the one after as we did in the last one, then the clubs could be in serious trouble," - Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger sounds a grim warning.
DOUBLE CROSSER "Steve Guppy must be as good a crosser of the ball as David Beckham," - a gracious Dave Jones, taking time out from his delight at steering Southampton to another vital win to offer overdue credit to Leicester's underrated winger.
COULD DO BETTER "Frankly, I thought we were disappointing," - Leeds manager David O'Leary. Come on, boss - we won 5-1! What more do you want?
Premiership Team Of The Weekend
Manager of the weekend: Dave Jones - a non-quitter who might yet pull off a great escape on the South Coast
Performance of the weekend: Liverpool - on recent form, who would have thought they could mount a three-goal comeback