Red Devils without entire back-four for Manchester derby

  • Other Sport
  • Saturday, 13 Mar 2004

LONDON: Leicester boss Micky Adams has told his players they must forget about the sex scandal engulfing the club and concentrate fully on the team’s fight for English Premier League survival. 

With Paul Dickov, Keith Gillespie and Frank Sinclair released on bail from a Spanish jail, where they were locked up facing accusations of sexual assault, the rest of the squad must concentrate on picking up points from matches like today’s trip to Birmingham. 

Of the three players, only club captain Dickov has been a first team regular this season but Adams, who considered quitting in the wake of the arrests, admits the fallout from the squad’s ill-fated mid-season break at the La Manga resort in southern Spain has had a huge knock-on effect in terms of morale. 

“I’ve had to cut short training sessions because I could see the players were not right,” the Leicester boss admitted. 

“It was always going to be difficult to return to football matters but we have a very important game on Saturday and there can be no excuses when we get out on the pitch at St Andrew’s. People are not interested in excuses.” 

Even in ideal circumstances, Leicester, who have won just four matches all season, would have had their work cut out against a Birmingham side currently riding on the crest of a run that has lifted them into fifth and in the running for a place in next season’s Champions League. 

Leicester’s cause is also not being helped by signs of a revival from the only side below them, Leeds United. 

The cash-strapped Yorkshire giants will travel to Fulham confident they can extend a three-match unbeaten run that has included draws with Liverpool and Manchester United and yielded five points, generating fresh optimism at Elland Road that they can beat the drop. 

Regardless of the outcome, the biggest cheer of the day will come when Chris Coleman takes his place in the Loftus Road dugout. 

The Fulham boss returned to work earlier this week after a two-week absence caused by a viral infection which laid him so low he had to be hospitalised and put on a drip. 

Striker Barry Hayles said Coleman’s return had set the squad buzzing. “It is important to have a head figure and Chris coming back has given us all a huge lift.” 

At the top of the table, Manchester United and Chelsea will be keeping their fingers crossed that Blackburn can bring Arsenal down to earth with a bump at Ewood Park. 

The Gunners, nine points clear of their two main rivals, are oozing both confidence and a sense of steely resolve as they edge closer to a possible league, Cup and Champions League treble. 

But United boss Sir Alex Ferguson has vowed that his under-fire side, who must pick themselves up from their midweek Champions League heartbreak in time for tomorrow's local derby with Manchester City, will never throw in the towel. 

“You never give up in football. It is an uphill battle and Arsenal will have to drop points but you never give up.” 

Realistically however United’s aim now is to ensure they pip Chelsea in the race for second place and avoid the ignominy of having to qualify for the group phase of next season’s Champions League. 

It is a task that has not been eased by an ever-lengthening injury list. 

Against City, United will be without their entire first-choice back four. Gary Neville and Rio Ferdinand are suspended and Mikael Silvestre and Quinton Fortune are both injured – a scenario that could force Ferguson to field Ryan Giggs at left-back. 

Eric Djemba-Djemba and Cristiano Ronaldo are both set to miss the match as a result of injuries incurred during the draw with FC Porto that sealed United's European fate. 

The most entertaining read of the weekend should come at Bolton’s match with Chelsea, where the match programme will contain a column penned by outspoken former Blues chairman Ken Bates, just days after his acrimonious departure from Stamford Bridge. –AFP 

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