That was the weekend that was

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Stolen: two pens and centre spot

Football grounds have been the scene of numerous kinds of theft down the years, from the simple pickpocketing of fans on the terraces and break-ins in the dressing-rooms to robbery of a less criminal but no less offensive nature out on the pitch.

But surely never has there been a more bizarre example of petty theft than that recently experienced by Vauxhall Conference title hopefuls Stevenage Borough. Groundsman Barry Mitchell arrived at the club the other morning to find that both penalty spots and the centre spot had been stolen!

Following a wave of break-ins in the area Stevenage have had to take special security measures prior to home games at their Broadhall Way ground.

"It is a mystery," secretary Janice Hutchings said. "Someone climbed over the fence with a shovel in the dead of night and removed them. Why, nobody knows.

"We have taken extra security steps although, for obvious reasons, I cannot say what they are."

The mind boggles. Booby traps in the penalty area? Judging by the scoreline, visitors Runcorn did not stray inside too often on Saturday. Borough won 4-1 - and, apparently, no one was robbed of a penalty.

Well,

obviously...

'He showed great touch, great composure, great vision - but unfortunately he wasn't playing for us' - Wimbledon manager Joe Kinnear bemoaning the fact that Eric Cantona is not a member of the Crazy Gang despite possessing certain qualifications.

'We could have been three goals up before they even knew we were out there, but we've come to the Marble Halls and got a point. What more do you want?' - Ron Atkinson defending his Coventry side's point against Arsenal.

'Grimsby played well. It was their cup final and they pulled out all the stops' - Derby chief Jim Smith sounding just a bit condescending about the leaders' draw with their fellow First Division rivals.

'I would have been lynched if I had let him sit it out on the bench and I wasn't going to take the risk' - West Ham boss Harry Redknapp explaining why he succumbed to spectator power and brought on the new Portuguese pin-up Dani.

'We got better and better. I told them at half-time to put on their guns and blast them off rather than keeping them in their holsters' - Southampton's Dave Merrington on how he told his players to "Draw!" against Everton

'I won't comment on the referee except to say that I thought there were far too many men booked' - besieged QPR boss Ray Wilkins' thinly veiled criticism of referee Graham Poll, who booked 10 and sent off one at Maine Road.

Rumours

Fact and fiction from the Sunday papers

So, it is still Bryan Robson for England, is it?

YES! says the Sunday Mirror..."Terry Venables has persuaded Bryan Robson to succeed him as England coach. A source close to Venables said: 'Bryan has had to say publicly that he doesn't want the job because he is under contract to Middlesbrough but Terry has told him that he is the only contender.'"

YES! says the News of the World..."Terry Venables has told the FA: Give my job to Bryan Robson. "A source close to the FA confirmed: 'Terry has made it clear he thinks Robbo should take over.'"

NO! says the Mail on Sunday..."Despite speculation that he is the No 1 choice...(Robson) will not even be offered the job. The FA have decided to look beyond Robson in deference to the advice of coach Don Howe and former manager Bobby Robson."

Opinions differ also over Alex Ferguson's so-called pay row with Manchester United. "Fergie feels his loyalty has been ignored by chairman Martin Edwards, who has still not discussed a new contract with him," according to the News of the World. However, the People says: "Ferguson will get a new contract this summer, with a nice juicy pounds 75,000 pay rise thrown in."

Missing person

ERIK THORSTVEDT (Tottenham Hotspur)

Last seen in Tottenham's goal on 29 October, 1994 - the day after his 32nd birthday - the 6ft 3in Norwegian international (right) has not even been on the bench since 4 November last year, when a knee injury forced him to give way to Chris Day. Signed from Borussia Monchengladbach for pounds 400,000 eight years ago, he made his reserve-team comeback on Saturday and with his contract up in the summer a move seems likely.

Programme notes No 9: Aston Villa

Price: pounds 1.50. Pages: 32. Hailing from the same editorial stable as the excellent Manchester City and Leeds programmes, this one is a touch disappointing, not least in the number of pages, compared with 40 at Maine Road and a massive 48 at Elland Road.

Verdict

6/10

PREMIER XI

TEAM OF THE WEEKEND

OGRIZOVIC

COVENTRY

IRWIN

MAN UTD

MABBUTT

TOTTENHAM

G NEVILLE

MAN UTD

WRIGHT

A VILLA

BOHINEN

BLACKBURN

WILLIAMSON

WEST HAM

PHILLIPS

MAN CITY

CANTONA

MAN UTD

SHEARER

BLACKBURN

YORKE

A VILLA

Red card

PAUL ALCOCK

Take a bow

CAMBRIDGE UTD

Turn back

the clock

A draw at Grimsby on Saturday left First Division leaders Derby County within reach of the chasing pack - but in stretching their unbeaten run to 13 matches Jim Smith's side may have hit a lucky number.

The last time they went as many League matches without defeat, in 1986- 87, they ended the season as champions of the old Second Division. One of those demoted that season were Manchester City - another omen? Charlton, emerging as Derby's biggest threat this year, had to enter the play-offs to preserve their First Division status and survived, with Ipswich, contenders again, among those who failed to knock them off their perch.

Such has been the upheaval at the Baseball Ground since that there are few reminders today of the turbulent era under the chairmanship of the late Robert Maxwell. The sale of full-back Michael Forsyth to Notts County in February followed by the summer sacking of Roy McFarland - No 2 to Arthur Cox in the championship season - severed the last significant links with the coaching and playing staffs, although Stuart Webb, a member of Maxwell's board, remains a director under Lionel Pickering.

Bolton suckers

for late show

What was it that Brian Clough used to say? A match lasts for 90 minutes and it only takes a second to score a goal? Likewise to let one in, as seemingly doomed Bolton Wanderers know to their cost.

Two late Alan Shearer goals at Ewood Park cost Bolton a precious point at Blackburn, but for Colin Todd's side, having the rug pulled from under them is by no means an unfamiliar experience.

Indeed, they are the most vulnerable side in the Premiership in the closing stages of a game. Of 49 goals they have conceded this season, a quarter have come between the 83rd minute and the last.

On some occasions it has not influenced the result but on others - an alarming seven matches, in fact - they have paid dearly for their lapses, throwing away home wins when Paul Rideout equalised for Everton with five minutes to go, and when Paul Cooper snatched a point for Nottingham Forest in the 90th minute.

And hard-fought away points have been squandered at Queen's Park Rangers (Dichio 90, 0-1), Coventry (Salako pen 90, 1-2) and Forest again (Cooper - again - 90, 2-3).

It all means nothing now yet had those goals not been conceded, the bottom of the table today, intriguingly, would show Bolton on 22 points, Coventry on 19 and QPR on 16.

10

reasons why...

Glenn Hoddle should be England manager

1 He might persuade Ruud Gullit to become a naturalised Englishman.

2 The skill gap compared with the Continentals might be closed.

3 His private life should be tabloid-proof.

4 No more Christmas tree formations; diamonds are Hoddle's best friend.

5 England have already had one manager called B Robson.

6 He bears no resemblance to any particular vegetable.

7 Is used to teams playing in orange.

8 No more embarrassing England theme tunes: a reunion with Chris Waddle could give "Diamond Nights" a new lease of life.

9 An in-form Le Tissier would be in the squad, at least.

10 God would definitely be on England's side.

Subsidence threat to the Cottagers

Fulham's defeat at Torquay in the Third Division six-pointer leaves the struggling Cottagers 91st of the 92 League clubs, the lowest position they have ever occupied. It raises the prospect of their swapping places with Macclesfield Town, favourites to win the Vauxhall Conference title. What a turn-around in fortunes that would represent. When the clubs met in the F A Cup 29 years ago, Macclesfield were in the Cheshire County League, Fulham in the First Division.

West Ham have THIRTEEN overseas

players on their books

Watch out for...

RICHARD WRIGHT (Ipswich Town)

Tipped at 13 for a golden future - when Phil Parkes described him as "the next Peter Shilton" - the 18-year-old goalkeeper was the hero of Ipswich's FA Cup triumph at Blackburn with a string of brilliant saves. And that despite having a "hole" in his spine the size of a wine cork, the consequence of an operation to remove an ingrowing hair. Given his chance last month with Craig Forrest on international duty, he has kept his place.

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