THAT WAS THE WEEKEND THAT WAS

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Forest drawn to Continent

Despite a string of unhappy experiences with overseas imports, Nottingham Forest are pledged to adopting an emphatically pro-European outlook next season, even in the dog-eat-dog world of the Nationwide League.

Mention of Andrea Silenzi and Nicola Jerkan has Forest supporters scratching their heads to recall any meaningful contribution from two players bought for a combined pounds 2.8m.

As for Lars Bohinen, with his sneaky cut-price get-out clause, and Bryan Roy, pounds 2m worth of (very) occasional Dutch dazzlement, both tend to prompt scowls.

Yet Forest's new owners are planning to spend a sizeable chunk of their pounds 16m cash input on scouring Europe for more, although hopefully not of the same.

The club's general manager, Dave Bassett, has been jetting out to various corners of the Continent since he accepted that Forest would be relegated but wants to have spies on the ground rather than be constantly clocking up air miles.

"We need people living out there who can inform us not just of players' ability but also of their character," Bassett said.

Thus he hopes to avoid the mistakes made by former manager Frank Clark, whose disastrous decisions over Jerkan and Silenzi seemed suspiciously to be based on overblown reputations peddled by eager agents rather than close examination of fact.

Bassett, meanwhile, will want to see an instant pay-back next August from his own high-profile signing, the pounds 4.5m Dutchman, Pierre van Hooijdonk.

Hereford's consolation

Provided they can keep their heads above water while faced with the daunting prospect of clearing a pounds 1m debt, Hereford can take some consolation in their dark hour. Claiming back their membership of the Nationwide League may not prove as difficult as they fear.

Three of the five teams to lose their place since automatic relegation began in 1987 are now back holding their own in the Third Division. Lincoln, who gave way to Scarborough as the first side relegated, powered back as Conference champions the following season, guided there by the astute hand of Colin Murphy.

Darlington, whom ill-starred Maidstone replaced in 1989, also returned at the first attempt as Brian Little gave notice of his managerial skills. And Colchester, who slipped out as Darlington moved back in, took only two seasons to be crowned Conference champions.

Not all have fared so well. Halifax, relegated in 1993, have this season only just clung on in the Conference, finishing one point above Bath, relegated in 20th place. And poor Newport County, who tumbled out in 1988, folded before they could complete their first non-League season. A new club, Newport AFC, was formed in County's place but a return to the full- time game is a long way off. Indeed, their Dr Martens League season ended on Saturday with relegation from the Premier Division.

None of which may now seem to have any relevance to Hereford, cherishing their memories of Ricky George and Ronnie Radford and the FA Cup run of more than a quarter of a century ago that won them election to the elite. But it proves there is hope.

MISTAKEN

IDENTITY

Denis Irwin

John Parrott

After all the recent whining over fixture congestion, you would have thought Denis Irwin would not have risked his annual appearance in the snooker World Championships, especially with Fergie likely to spot him on television. Maybe he thought calling himself John Parrott would put the boss off the scent.

Good boys

THE PREMIERSHIP'S

LEADING SCORERS

Robbie Fowler

(Liverpool)

Premiership 18; FA Cup 1;

Coca-Cola Cup 5; Europe 7.

Fabrizio Ravanelli

(Middlesbrough)

Premiership 16; FA Cup 6

Coca-Cola Cup 9.

Ian Wright

(Arsenal)

Premiership 21;

Coca-Cola Cup 5; Europe 2.

Alan Shearer

(Newcastle)

Premiership 24; FA Cup 1

Coca-Cola Cup 1; Europe 1.

Take a bow

STEVE GRITT

Who took on football's impossible job at Brighton and succeeded, thanks to Saturday's Third Division life-preserving point. Some say in all seriousness that he should be manager of the season, if not the decade. Recognition of some kind is definitely due.

Red card

CHELSEA AND LEEDS

Who ought jointly to stump up a refund of Stamford Bridge's ludicrous ticket prices to the 28,277 spectators foolish enough to turn up on Saturday to witness a match between one side who seem intent on drawing every game 0-0 and opponents only too willing to go along with them.

Rumours...

fact and fiction from the Sunday papers

While the News of the World was revealing Milan's interest in David Beckham and their proposal to use Roberto Baggio as bait, the Sunday Mirror claimed Manchester United are discussing a pounds 13m bid for Argentinian striker Gabriel Batistuta but face competition from Aston Villa. Batistuta could link up with Fiorentina team-mate Lorenzo Amoruso at Old Trafford, according to the People. Rangers may swoop for Chelsea's Gianluca Vialli, says the Mirror, especially if Brian Laudrup departs for Liverpool after turning down a new deal. The NOTW reports that the ex-Luton star Raddy Antic, manager of Atletico Madrid, is poised with a pounds 20m bid for Emerson and Juninho if Middlesbrough are relegated. The Mirror, meanwhile, says Tottenham are ready to announce the return of Jurgen Klinsmann as player- coach. Mark Hughes may quit Chelsea for Bolton if the Blues lose in the FA Cup final, according to Mirror informants, who reckon Ruud Gullit's summer plans include a bid for Tottenham's Teddy Sheringham.

Missing person

Frank Rolling

(Leicester City)

Mark McGhee's last signing before he jumped ship, the 28-year-old former Strasbourg and Auxerre defender has singularly failed to impress Martin O'Neill, who has not given the Frenchman one chance in the Premiership, even when almost all his other centre-backs were suspended or injured.

Watch out for...

Stephen McPhail (Leeds United)

As Leeds look around for a player to make things happen in midfield, coach Eddie Gray reckons he may have found one in the club's back yard in the shape of the Irish-born teenager, a member of Leeds' FA Youth Cup final side and, Gray hopes, a playmaker in the tradition of his old team- mate Johnny Giles.

Remember Peter Davenport, one of those strikers swallowed and spat out by Manchester United during those bleak days of the Eighties when the championships they win so routinely now seemed never likely to happen?

Protest though he still does that he was given a raw deal at Old Trafford by supporters and managers, the reputation that precedes Davenport will always be that one. But even at the age of 36, the former Nottingham Forest hero might yet add another chapter to the story of his professional career.

Davenport is one of the players who have helped Macclesfield achieve the dream of the former United player Sammy McIlroy: promotion to the Football League.

His agreement with the Cheshire club he joined in January lasts only until the end of the season, but he has every reason to convince McIlroy that he can still make an impact above non-League level.

When he left the professional ranks with a move from Stockport to Southport two years ago, he was stranded on 99 League goals, with no apparent prospect of completing his century.

Now he sees that elusive milestone dancing before his eyes again and does not want to miss the opportunity. "If I could get back into the League and score that elusive 100th goal I would regard it as big as anything I had ever done," he said before scoring the first goal in Saturday's 4-1 win at Kettering, which clinched the title. "I can't remember enjoying my football as much. The way we play has reignited my passion for the game."

Davenport's last League goal, for Stockport, came on 22 April 1995, when he went on as substitute in a 2-0 win over Brighton.

THE SEASON'S RED AND YELLOW CARDS

1 Arsenal

Patrick Vieira collected his 11th yellow card of the season against Newcastle.

2 Leeds Utd

Three bookings in three matches for Lee Bowyer.

3 Chelsea

Another three cautions against Leeds.

4 Middlesbrough

Curtis Fleming and Juninho were both booked on Saturday.

NOISES OFF...

"I used to campaign for summer football. Bugger that.

Alex Ferguson, feeling the heat at Filbert Street.

It's not over 'til it's over.

Liverpool defender Neil Ruddock (from an idea by Tony Blair)

I wouldn't want to go through all that again.

Brighton saviour Steve Gritt, somewhat understating matters on the final whistle at Hereford.

Everybody knew what hinged on this result and it says a lot for Ravanelli that he was willing to stand up and take a penalty when it mattered.

Bryan Robson. At pounds 42,000-a-week, isn't that his job?

We've put ourselves in this position and we've only ourselves to blame.

Gordon Strachan, seeing relegation loom for Coventry.

I've played in World Cup finals and FA Cup finals but this has to be my greatest achievement and proudest moment in football.

Sammy McIlroy, manager of Conference champions Macclesfield.

I threw my shirt to the crowd last year and didn't go anywhere.

Stan Collymore, asked if his action was a farewell gesture to the Anfield crowd. This time, however, he threw his boots, too.

We regard ourselves as a Premier League club and we will act as a Premier League club. We have to come straight back up.

Phil Soar, head of the Nottingham Forest consortium, insisting that failure to secure promotion from the First Dvision next season is not an option for Stuart Pearce and Dave Bassett

The Coca-Cola Cup took it out of us. We're not a great side but today was a brilliant result for us against a team of United's quality.

Martin O'Neill, giving his usual brutally honest assessment of his team's limitations and achievements

PREMIERSHIP TEAM OF THE WEEK

Peter Schmeichel

MAN UTD

Steve Watson

NEWCASTLE

Neil Ruddock

LIVERPOOL

Ugo Ehiogu

ASTON VILLA

David Beckham

MAN UTD

Neil Lennon

LEICESTER CITY

Patrick Vieira

ARSENAL

Chris Waddle

SUNDERLAND

Danny Granville

CHELSEA

Andy Cole

MAN UTD

John Hartson

WEST HAM

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