THAT WAS THE WEEKEND THAT WAS

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Two sides of

the same card

Gerald Ashby's brave decision to enter the lair of Six-0-Six host David Mellor on Saturday produced an interesting insight or two, not least within the Worcester official's explanation as to why some referees hand out cards as if it were Christmas while others seldom reach for their pocket more than once or twice a game.

"There are some referees who can control a game by strength of personality," Ashby said, citing Neil Midgley, Roger Milford and Keith Hackett - all now retired - as examples. "Others feel they need the cards to impose themselves."

Mike Reed, the man at the centre of last week's FA Cup controversy at Chelsea, appears beyond argument to fall into the latter category. Curiously, Reed booked no one in Saturday's FA Trophy tie between Dorchester and Woking, but in 10 matches in the Premiership and F A Cup this year he has issued a total of 50 yellow cards.

Of those, 10 came in the same Stamford Bridge match as the contentious penalty by which Chelsea reached the last eight. In three other matches - Wrexham's Cup tie against West Ham, the epic Newcastle-Leicester Premiership match and the Arsenal-Middlesbrough encounter in which John Hartson was sent off - Reed booked six.

Contrast his record with that of, say, Alan Wilkie, who has taken charge of eight top-class matches in 1997 yet issued only 18 yellow cards. This demolishes the argument, often put forward by referees under fire, that consistency and leniency cannot go together. Reed and Wilkie are clearly as consistent as one another - they just play to different rules. Rumours... fact and fiction from the Sunday papers Desperate Joe Royle has pounds 20m at his disposal, according to the News of the World, who reckon he will try to tempt Alex Ferguson with a pounds 9m offer for Andy Cole if Manchester United fail to reach the semi-finals of the European Cup, havinghad pounds 7.5m turned down last month. The People say he has had a bid of pounds 6m plus David Unsworth rejected. The same paper suggests Davor Suker, a Manchester United target, will stay in Spain now that the Real Madrid coach Fabio Capello says he is goi ng back to Italy in the summer. Dave Bassett, said by the People to be on a pounds 100,000 bonus if Nottingham Forest avoid relegation, is to make the out-of-favour Leeds utility player Carlton Palmer his first signing at pounds 1.5m, according to the Ne ws of the World. Two-way movement between France and Newcastle could see the pounds 6m Robert Pires leave Metz for Tyneside if Kenny Dalglish can see off Juventus and Internazionale (Sunday Mirror) and David Ginola go to Marseilles for pounds 3.5m (News of the World). Sheffield Wednesday could move for Sasa Curcic of Aston Villa (News of the World), who could raise pounds 2m by selling Tommy Johnson to Sunderland (Mirror).

McGhee searches for

a home from home

Footballers are used to being credited with negligible brain power but there must be a point at which even the dimmest among them may suspect that someone is taking the rise.

This must surely be the case at Wolverhampton Wanderers, where Mark McGhee's answer to his team's poor home record - seven defeats in 18 games, compared with only two in 16 on their travels - was to book the players into a Telford hotel before Saturday's match against Ipswich in the hope that they would think they were playing away.

This is an idea from the same school of managerial thought that once persuaded Dave Bassett to hold Sheffield United's Christmas party in August as an answer to his team's habitual slow start.

Unfortunately, it seems that the Wolves players twigged. Despite McGhee's cunning, they only managed a 0-0 draw, allowing Bolton to extend their lead at the top of the First Division to 12 points.

Don't expect it to end there. "We could be changing in the visitors' dressing-room next," Steve Bull, the Molineux idol, observed. Or maybe turning up in the team bus blindfold...

Better still, with Sir Jack Hayward's money and the latest technology, maybe they could find a field out of town and create a lifesize hologram of their favourite away ground. The fans needn't miss out - the pictures could be beamed back to Molineux and shown on the video wall.

It's worth a try Mark, don't you think?

MISTAKEN

IDENTITY

So genius is inspired by forces beyond normal comprehension. Even so, you still wonder how Edvard Munch could possibly know how Julian Dicks would react when England told him he should grow his hair. Spooky or what?

Good boys

THE PREMIERSHIP'S

LEADING SCORERS

Ian Wright 25

(Arsenal)

Premiership 18;

Coca-Cola Cup 5; Europe 2.

Alan Shearer 23

(Newcastle)

Premiership 20; FA Cup 1;

Coca-Cola Cup 1; Europe 1.

Robbie Fowler 22

(Liverpool)

Premiership 13; FA Cup 1;

Coca-Cola Cup 5; Europe 3.

Fabrizio Ravanelli 21

(Middlesbrough)

Premiership 10; FA Cup 3

Coca-Cola Cup 8.

Penalty-takers rueing Fifa's decision to allow the goalkeeper to move on his line before a kick is taken ought to be reminded of the rules that applied in the early days of the spot kick.

When this form of free kick was introduced to football in the latter part of the last century, not only could a keeper dive to his left or right as the kicker addressed the ball, he could also charge off his line - advancing as much as six yards forward if he wished.

This was outlawed in 1905, giving a definite advantage to the kicker. Later, after goalkeepers took to Grobbelaar-style knee-knocking and other antics designed to leave their opposite number convulsed by mirth, the rules were tightened up again so that the poor old netminder could barely move a muscle without being penalised.

The latest change, of course, comes too late to be of use to Leicester City, knocked out of the FA Cup by Chelsea's contentious kick last week. Nor will it be of any consolation to the Filbert Street camp to recall the words of Pele, who once declared that a penalty was a "cowardly way to score".

Pele was in spirit a Corinthian, echoing the sentiments shared by many amateur players in the last century who refused at first to take penalties, regarding them as unsporting.

One suspects, though, that this thought occurred neither to Erland Johnsen nor Franck Leboeuf last Wednesday.

Missing person

Pat McGibbon (Man Utd)

Signed from Portadown as a potential successor to Steve Bruce, the 23- year-old Northern Ireland international suffered a nightmare debut when he was sent off after conceding a penalty as Manchester United crashed out to York in the Coca-Cola Cup last season. Not seen since, he is now a target for Third Division Wigan.

Watch out for...

Dele Adebola (Crewe)

The 21-year-old front man may lack the sophistication usually associated with Dario Gradi's Gresty Road academy but the explosive finishing that has brought Adebola 14 goals this season has still attracted Premiership scouts.

THE SEASON'S RED AND YELLOW CARDS

1 Leeds

Three more cautions on Saturday. 67 1

2 Arsenal

Two yellow cards in as many games for Dixon. 64 4

3 Middlesbrough

Three bookings in the last four matches for Festa. 58 3

4 Chelsea

Leboeuf the first man in blue to see red this season. 56 1

Take a bow

RAY WILKINS

Who made his debut for Leyton Orient aged 40 years and 168 days on Saturday. Shame about the result... and don't tell Tommy Taylor, but the last three managers to sign the former England player (at Hibernian, Wycombe and Millwall) all parted company with their clubs soon afterwards.

Red card

FIFA

Which is to introduce new coaching licences in Britain which will supersede the existing FA preliminary and full coaching badges. The cost of upgrading a preliminary badge will be a reasonable pounds 30, but to upgrade a full badge will need a week-long course and cost pounds 300. No wonder Fifa is not short of cash.

NOISES OFF...

I think it's between Liverpool and ourselves now. It is going to be hard for any team chasing because they can't afford to make any mistakes now, not any of them."

Alex Ferguson, declaring the Premiership a two-horse race.

"Nothing was won today except three important points for Southampton."

Kenny Dalglish, preferring to differ.

"Our defenders did their job very well today, but they're going to have to keep doing that if we are to stay up."

Southampton manager Graeme Souness.

"Unless we turn this round we could be slipping into difficult areas."

Gerry Francis, waking up to the danger of relegation after Tottenham's seventh defeat in nine games.

"We are looking over our shoulders now. We have got to get to 40 points as quickly as possible."

Joe Royle, hearing similar alarm bells at Everton.

"We're really in trouble now."

Bryan Robson, in no doubt at Middlesbrough.

"Being as he and Mr Hodgson will no doubt be seeing one another, maybe Mr Eriksson would like to pass on all the videos I've sent him."

Tony Parkes, wondering whether Blackburn's erstwhile manager-in-waiting might do him a small favour.

"It's maybe a bit early for Stuart. He knows he can always be Forest's manager in a few years' time - when I'll probably be dead."

Nottingham Forest's new general manager, Dave Bassett, speculating on the future, both for himself and Stuart Pearce.

PREMIERSHIP TEAM OF THE WEEK

TOMMY WRIGHT

Nottingham Forest

STEVE WATSON

Newcastle

MATT ELLIOTT

Leicester

RICHARD ORD

Sunderland

JULIAN DICKS

West Ham

DAVID BECKHAM

Manchester United

ALJOSA ASANOVIC

Derby County

MARK PEMBRIDGE

Sheffield Wed

MUZZY IZZET

Leicester

DARREN HUCKERBY

Coventry

DENNIS BERGKAMP

Arsenal

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