That was the weekend that was
Lee Chapman might well feel he was judged harshly when referee Paul Danson's red card ruined his return to Leeds on Saturday - but if the veteran striker was hoping for the benefit of the doubt, he could probably have done with a different man in charge.
Saturday's four dismissals raised the Premiership's red card count to 43 for the season and no one has been busier than Danson. By dispatching Chapman to an early bath, the Leicester official increased his own score to six.
That puts him one in front of Tring's Graham Poll, who sent off Middlesbrough's Alan Moore against Arsenal, and Paul Alcock of Redhill, both on five. Jeff Winter (Stockton-on-Tees) and Alan Wilkie (Chester-le-Street) come next on four each.
Joe Kinnear will need no reminding that Wimbledon are the most penalised club. Robbie Earle's red card at Bolton - a third awarded by Birmingham referee Mike Reed - gave the Dons a tally of six for the season, twice as many as any other side... even with one of Vinnie Jones's three downgraded to a yellow.
Liverpool and Tottenham remain the only Premiership teams with a lillywhite record in the red column while the team most sinned against, if you like, are QPR, who have wound up facing 10 men five times - for all the good it's done them.
Tea for two with nice Mr Smith
Confirmation of one-time cup-thrower Jim Smith's new softly-softly approach to half-time team talks came straight from the horse's mouth at the Baseball Ground on Saturday...or rather, from Dean Sturridge's mouth.
Derby's hot-shot striker confessed to deep foreboding as he left the field, having missed several chances to knock Reading down to size. "In Arthur Cox or Roy McFarland's day, I would have been slaughtered for missing those," Sturridge said. "But Mr Smith just told me not to worry about it."
To which the 22-year-old striker responded by scoring his 12th and 13th goals of the season - in only 16 starts - as Derby's First Division lead remained a daunting eight points. Now he is hoping Smith will be equally reasonable when the two get down to contract talks this morning - over a cuppa no doubt.
The Mr Nice Guy school of management, however, is not everyone's cup of tea. At Preston, manager Gary Peters not only made his players train on Christmas Day - he also forbade them to drink alcohol over the holiday period and had them spend New Year's Eve in an hotel, even though their scheduled 1 January game was at home. Since then, Preston have maintained their promotion challenge with two home wins and eight goals - but a slip- up at Barnet in between means the get-tough approach can be judged only as a qualified success.
'I have known Lee for 10 years and I can say, with hand on heart, that he would not intentionally use an elbow to damage someone' - Howard Wilkinson, Leeds manager, volunteering as a character witness for Lee Chapman, following his dismissal against West Ham.
'Marc would not lay down unless he was injured. He is the most honest fellow around' - West Ham manager Harry Redknapp, similarly representing Chapman's "victim", Marc Rieper.
'Mark categorically said he turned round and David Unsworth's body was there but that he did not stamp on the lad' - Glenn Hoddle, Chelsea chief, echoing the theme after Mark Hughes received his marching orders at Goodison.
'I think he was trying to get over me to get to the ball. He was unlucky to say the least' - David Unsworth.
'In my opinion, he is just a poor referee' - Joe Kinnear on referee Mike Reed, who issued Robbie Earle with Wimbledon's sixth red card of the season.
'William Shakespeare would have been proud of him today - talk about hog the limelight' - Premiership manager who wished to remain anonymous, on the performance of referee Gary Willard at Old Trafford.
'I'm not 100 per cent fit yet after my cartilage operation, so all I need is games now. I'm not going to get those if I'm sub all the time' - Ian Rush, Liverpool's face-saver, showing signs of disenchantment.
Fact and fiction from the Sunday papers
While the majority of Sunday paper pundits continued to tip Bryan Robson to succeed Terry Venables in the England hot seat, the Mail on Sunday ventured in a different direction, declaring that the Football Association is intending to offer Howard Wilkinson a dual role as technical director and England coach, grooming Robson to take over after the 1998 World Cup.
Whoever is right, the committee charged with making the appointment will not include the controversial Oldham chairman, Ian Stott, according to the Sunday Express, which reports that Stott, rumoured to have opposed Venables from his position on the FA's International Committee, has been excluded from the selection process.
Meanwhile, Kevin Keegan, an England non-runner, is planning major club business, says the Mail, lining up pounds 8m of Newcastle's transfer funds in an attempt to sign the Croatian international Alen Boksic from Lazio.
Newcastle are also ready to spend pounds 1.75m on Sheffield Wednesday winger Andy Sinton, according to the News of the World, which also reports that a Manchester United bid to sign Molineux defender, Dean Richards, has been rebuffed while they are in turn, according to the People, have turned down a Spurs approach for Lee Sharpe.
Take a bow
There is nothing like the departure of an England manager to start a national guessing game and this weekend has had much in common with seven others in the last 33 years, from Walter Winterbottom through to Graham Taylor.
On this occasion, perhaps more than ever, it has been a case of rounding up the usual suspects. When Taylor stepped down, in November, 1993, the names of Kevin Keegan, Glenn Hoddle and Howard Wilkinson were prominent. And Eamon Dunphy, writing in the Independent on Sunday, put forward "Gerry Francis, a man from the Wilkins/Keegan/Hoddle generation, who has proved to be principled, resourceful and sensibly indifferent to the media."
News that Bobby Robson would be standing aside after the 1990 World Cup finals prompted The Times to declare that "the favourite is Graham Taylor, of Aston Villa, but the FA's shortlist will inevitably include Howard Kendall, Terry Venables and Howard Wilkinson."
Some pronouncements, however, are better left to die quietly, such as that offered by The Times in Taylor's wake: "Loose tongues suggest a litany of names, some of whom, for example Terry Venables, will not pass the stage of consideration."
Terry Venables should not retire as England manager
1 He needs a job if he is going to pay a small fortune in legal costs
2 Bryan Robson, England coach, would smile even less frequently (especially if he got the job)
3 Alan Sugar would smile more frequently
4 Gazza will cry...again
5 Gary Lineker, with the decline of his mentor, may turn to more heinous crimes than the theft of packets of crisps from small boys
6 We wouldn't have anyone to blame for not playing Matthew Le Tissier
7 We wouldn't have anyone to blame for playing Dennis Wise
8 We will feel thoroughly unfestive next December without a Christmas tree formation to brighten up the national team
9 There will be no more jokes about Venables wanting sugar in his coffee (shame)
10 Venables will have more time to do television work, leading to more painful chin-wagging with Jimmy Hill
Leeds double up
English-based players have accounted for three of the first five goals in the African Nations' Cup in Johannesburg. Phil Masinga, of Leeds, and Wolves' Mark Williams scored in South Africa's 3-0 defeat of Cameroon and then Elland Road team-mate Tony Yeboah got Ghana's first in a 2-0 win against Ivory Coast.
JOEY BEAUCHAMP (Oxford United)
The 24-year-old midfielder (right) achieved notoriety in 1994, when a pounds 1m move from Oxford to West Ham turned sour because he was homesick. The Hammers off-loaded him to Swindon, losing pounds 200,000, after just two months. Beauchamp has since returned to the Manor Ground - for pounds 300,000 last October - but the saga still awaits a happy ending. Out of favour, his appearance on Saturday was his first since 21 October.
Watch out for...
NIGEL QUASHIE (Queen's Park Rangers)
The impact made by the Loftus Road rookie in just four senior games comes as no surprise to manager Ray Wilkins, who was predicting a bright future for the 17-year-old midfielder long before his debut at Old Trafford on 30 December. "He was only 16 when I took him to our pre-season training camp in Italy but he was the best midfielder on the trip," Wilkins said. "I told my assistant that he'd be in the first team by Christmas. I wasn't far wrong."
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