That was the weekend that was

Halifax's ambition shines in The Shay

NATIONWIDE LEAGUE newcomers Halifax Town are trying desperately hard to keep their feet on the ground after a successful return to the big time.

Saturday's 1-0 victory over Third Division promotion favourites Brentford maintained a 100 per cent record in three matches - two in the League, one in the Worthington Cup - and three clean sheets.

The Halifax manager, Kieran O'Regan, struggled to impose self-restraint. "I'm not going to start shouting from the rooftops, but if we carry on like this who knows what is going to happen," he said.

Not for the first time in Halifax's recent history, the decisive goal was supplied by Geoff Horsfield, leading GM Vauxhall Conference scorer last season, whose 32nd-minute strike ensured that Halifax's first League match at the revamped Shay since 1993 ended in victory.

Their opening to the new campaign is all the more remarkable given the trauma that has accompanied the build-up to their reintroduction to the League.

The first shock came only three days before their opening fixture at Peterborough when the then manager, George Mulhall, rewarded with a three- year contract after steering Town to the Conference title, suddenly announced his resignation to take up the post of director of football, leaving O'Regan in charge.

Then came stories that Peter Butler, a summer signing from West Bromwich Albion, had been appointed player-coach without O'Regan's knowledge. Last week, the chairman, Chris Holland, resigned only two months after accepting the post, handing over the reins to Halifax businessman Jim Brown.

Yet finding harmony on the field, the team followed an opening-day 2- 0 win over Peterborough by defeating Wrexham by the same score in the Worthington Cup before Saturday's win over Brentford, with Horsfield on the mark in all three games.

And there was the added satisfaction of a bumper crowd on Saturday, where an attendance of almost 4,000 represented six times the number who would turn up only two years ago.

Premiership Team Of The Week

MARK BOSNICH

Aston Villa

HORACIO CARBONARI

Derby County

ROBERT MOLENAAR

Leeds United

GARETH BARRY

Aston Villa

ALEX CLELAND

Everton

PAUL GASCOIGNE

Middlesbrough

OLIVIER DACOURT

Everton

MUZZY IZZET

Leicester City

MICHAEL HUGHES

Wimbledon

DION DUBLIN

Coventry

EFAN EKOKU

Wimbledon

Manager of the week: Wimbledon's Joe Kinnear - who started the season as he means to go on, defying the odds with victory over the team he most likes to beat.

Performance of the week: Coventry City against of Chelsea, reassurance that the latest Moneybags XI will have to do a bit more than simply turn up.

Taylor II - now would he like that

WHISPER IT softly - but the Premiership may have to brace itself for the second coming of Graham Taylor and Watford.

Taylor made his managerial name with the Vicarage Road club with a charge up the Football League that began 20 years ago, overseeing the Hornets in an incredible five-year rise that took them from the old Fourth Division to runners-up in the First Division.

It was an era that launched a number of successful careers, most notably that of Newcastle's former England international John Barnes. Now Taylor is threatening to repeat the trick after Saturday's win over Bradford City placed Watford among the early-season pacesetters in the new First Division, only three months after claiming the Second Division title.

With his old friend Elton John giving the once-derided England manager his full support, it must seem like old times for Taylor, although there is no hint yet of his rock star chairman reaching for the cheque book.

Taylor spent only pounds 225,000 on incoming players during the summer yet still managed to bring in several new names, including his one-time Aston Villa and Wolves winger Tony Daley and the former Derby centre-back Dean Yates, neither of whom cost a penny.

It looks good business alongside the pounds 3.5m that Bradford chairman Geoffrey Richmond has allowed manager Paul Jewell to spend in an attempt to take the Yorkshire team into the Premiership.

And Taylor's new Barnes? It could be the Zaire international striker Michael Ngonge, who capped his debut after arriving from Turkish club Samsunspor by heading Saturday's decisive goal.

KEY NUMBERS

7

minutes had elapsed before Manchester United conceded the first goal of the Premiership season.

10

seconds on the field were required by Everton substitute Don Hutchison to collect his first booking of the campaign.

15

Premiership minutes were survived by pounds 10.75m Manchester United defender Jaap Stam before he sustained the injury that led to his substitution at half-time against Leicester.

30

seconds were needed for Alex Smith to score Saturday's fastest goal for Chester at Brighton.

I TOLD YOU SO

We have to be more solid, more defensively tuned in and concentrated than last season

Chelsea manager Gianluca Vialli, before

Saturday's defeat at Coventry. Sadly, he forgot to tell his players...

Missing... making it... and mistaken

Niclas Alexandersson

Sheffield Wednesday

A BARGAIN pounds 750,000 signing from IFK Gothenburg last December, the Swedish midfielder looked like the ingredient Ron Atkinson's Sheffield Wednesday side had been lacking but made only eight appearances before suffering a cruciate ligament injury in January, after which Wednesday's fortunes began to decline. The 24-year-old hopes to make a comeback towards the end of next month.

Gareth Barry

Aston Villa

With Ugo Ehiogu suspended and no replacement yet secured for Steve Staunton, Villa were forced to summon 17-year-old Barry to fill the breach in their central defence against Everton on Saturday. It was only a second senior appearance for the youngster yet he produced a calm, composed display. However, it could hardly have been more daunting than his debut last season -- against Premiership champions Arsenal.

"And then this dark Italian with sideburns and swept back hair comes into my office and says I need to buy three players," Danny Wilson tells the Sheffield Wednesday chairman, "and I thought I was supposed to be the Godfather round here!"

RUMOURS

Fact and fiction from the Sunday papers

Manchester United's search for a striker is reported to have switched back to Alen Boksic following the failure of last week's pounds 10m attempt to prise Dwight Yorke from Aston Villa. The People says United, who tried to buy Boksic for pounds 8m a year ago, are prepared to go to pounds 10m now. Boksic's future with the Italian side Lazio is uncertain following the arrival of Chilean Marcelo Salas, ironically a previous United target, but United would have to meet pre-tax wage demands of pounds 2m a year to land the Croatian.

Meanwhile, according to the People, Middlesbrough and Nottingham Forest are competing to tempt away Teddy Sheringham, who is no longer able to command a regular place at Old Trafford. Both are said to be willing to pay pounds 22,000-a-week to the England striker, although cash-strapped Forest will struggle to find the pounds 3m transfer fee unless they can sell Pierre van Hooijdonk.

The Mail says Van Hooijdonk, who has refused to report back to the City Ground for the new season after alleging that Forest lack ambition, pocketed a pounds 150,000 signing-on fee before going on strike.

The News of the World claims that Tottenham are set to sign Internazionale's pounds 4m-rated Nigerian international Nwankwo Kanu, whose chances of first- team football in Milan have been further reduced by the arrival of Roberto Baggio from Bologna.

Middlesbrough, says the same paper, are ready to spend pounds 3m on West Bromwich's Republic of Ireland winger Kevin Kilbane.

Liverpool's bid to strengthen their defence is focusing on Sweden, according to the People, with AIK Stockholm's Johan Mjallby reportedly a pounds 2m target for Roy Evans and Gerard Houllier.

THE WEEK AHEAD

Today: After watching the Premiership season start without them, Arsenal begin the defence of their title at home to Nottingham Forest in what could be a traumatic experience for Dave Bassett's side, with a largely unstrengthened line-up led by the untried strike partnership of Dougie Freedman and Jean-Claude Darcheville.

Tomorrow: Second-leg matches in the Worthington Cup's opening round provide a busy night. Barnsley, having to adjust to rather different circumstances after their dream year in the Premiership, face Scarborough at Oakwell with a 1-0 platform from the first leg. In Scotland, Rangers take on Alloa in round three of the Scottish League Cup.

Wednesday: Crystal Palace attempt to avoid an early embarassment for manager Terry Venables after being held to a 1-1 draw by Torquay in their away first-leg Worthington Cup tie.

Friday: Satellite television viewers can judge just how Barnsley are acclimatising when they entertain Stockport County in the First Division. Saturday: Liverpool's home match against champions Arsenal represents by far the pick of eight Premiership matches.

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