That was the weekend that was: Football news

Houchen well on target to

break Hartlepool's record

Veteran strikers John Aldridge and Kerry Dixon continue to leave First Division audiences open-mouthed with their defiance of the ageing process - but there are others elsewhere displaying admirable longevity.

Take Keith Houchen, for example. At 35, the Middlesbrough-born forward is in his 19th professional season. Yet, clearly, he still has what it takes: on Saturday, he opened his account for 1995-96 with his 159th League goal - and he has a record in his sights.

In a seven-club career, Houchen has made an indelible mark on the game, most notably in the FA Cup. In January 1985, it was with his penalty that York City beat Arsenal 1-0 at Bootham Crescent. Two years later, Houchen headed a spectacular second equaliser at Wembley as Coventry City beat Spurs 3-2 in the final.

Now he is back where it all began, with Hartlepool, who gave him his first taste of League football in 1977-78 after he had been freed as a junior by Chesterfield. Top scorer last season with 13 goals, he was appointed player-manager in April.

In between times, he has served Leyton Orient, York, Scunthorpe, Coventry, Hibernian and Port Vale. The record that would wrap up his career nicely seems well within his compass - Saturday's goal against Darlington was his 87th in the League for Hartlepool, leaving him just 11 short of the club record set by Ken Johnson, who hit 98 between 1949 and 1964.

Turn back

the clock

Bolton were bottom of the First Division, where they had been since mid- November and where they were to stay, but won a point from their mid-table visitors in a 2-2 draw with goals from their Polish midfielder, Tadeusz Nowak, and leading scorer Neil Whatmore. Middlesbrough's goals came from Micky Burns and David Hodgson, who has, since May, been employed as the grandly titled director of coaching at Darlington, a position he holds jointly with another team-mate from that match, goalkeeper Jim Platt.

On the same Tuesday evening, Liverpool were beating Derby County 3-0 at home on the way to their 12th League title, while their conquerors on Saturday, Wimbledon, were locked in a run of 14 matches without a win, which left them to contemplate relegation to the Fourth Division.

Poll king of the card sharps

Saturday's Premiership programme contributed only two dismissals to a total of 14 in the English leagues, which made it a relatively quiet day. Another 28 yellow cards, however, brought the Premiership's total bookings to 166 in only five rounds of matches, raising yet more protests that referees are becoming just too card-happy. But some, it seems, are somewhat card-happier than others.

Contrast the Darlington official, Robbie Hart, for example, with Graham Poll, from Tring, in charge at Goodison Park on Saturday. By our reckoning, Hart has shown his yellow card thrice in two matches, compared with Poll's 19 from three (plus two reds). Or how about Keith Cooper, from Pontypridd (six yellows, three games) alongside Steve Lodge (Barnsley), 17 yellows in three games? Others whose cards must be looking dog-eared include Keith Burge (16 yellow, one red), Paul Danson (14, 2) and Mike Reed (15).

Red card

GRAHAM TAYLOR

Denials, denials

We have shown absolutely no interest in Rene Higuita. We've got a keeper with a better trick - he stops the ball with his hands

Blobby ready, willing and...

The treatment room at Port Vale could be mistaken for the set of Casualty. After losing the captain, Neil Aspin, and a newcomer from Ajax, Jermaine Holwyn, for the entire season, as well as their top scorer, Martin Foyle, for 10 weeks, the latest victim is the manager, John Rudge.

After snapping his Achilles tendon, Rudge turned up for Saturday's 2- 0 home defeat by Portsmouth on crutches and with his right leg in plaster.

The Vale board, pleading lack of funds, have told him he can hire only a temporary coach to assist him.

On Saturday, the figure dressed as Mr Blobby who throws sweets to the Vale Park crowd wore a sign pinned to his costume. "Rudge's new assistant," it said pointedly.

Take a bow

MATT LE TISSIER

Torn off a strip, No 1: our first weekly award for the most ghastly kit of the week is shared by Wales (right) and Moldova, who met in Cardiff last Wednesday in a European Championship game. Not even Tom Jones, in his pomp and prime, wore anything on stage quite as tacky as that Wales strip...

Rumours

Fact and fiction from the Sunday papers

Premiership leaders Newcastle could face a fight to keep Kevin Keegan as manager, according to the People, which claims that the Tyneside hero's former German club, Hamburg, want him to return as coach.

According to the paper's report, Hamburg are fearful of dropping out of the Bundesliga for the first time after a poor start to the season, and will bid to buy out what remains of Keegan's 10-year contract for pounds 3m when the former German World Cup star, Uwe Seeler, takes over as club president in November.

The same paper says that Southampton's Matthew Le Tissier has turned down a pounds 6m move to Tottenham and that the former Liverpool full-back, Steve Staunton, may go from Aston Villa to Everton for pounds 3m.

Celtic are about to embark on a flurry of transfer activity, according to the News Of The World. They have their sights on a pounds 1m move for Newcastle's Swiss right-back, Marc Hottiger, and will compete with Sunderland for Chris Waddle, who has been told he can leave Sheffield Wednesday.

The News Of The World also suggests that Spurs are to bid pounds 2m for the Birmingham midfielder Jonathan Hunt, providing Barry Fry with cash for a pounds 750,000 offer for Coventry's Paul Cook.

TAGGART

BOLTON

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