THE HALF DECENT FOOTBALL MAGAZINE

Thursday 1 Sighs of relief at Spurs, Wimbledon and Everton: successful appeals give the first two a shot at Europe again and the latter the services of Duncan Ferguson. Joe Kinnear, aged 49, decides he's too young to be the new Ireland boss.

Saturday 3 Eric Cantona returns to Selhurst Park. Once again his feet do the talking, with two goals in Manchester United's 4-2 win over Wimbledon. Newcastle stay nine points ahead, though, with a 2-0 win at home to Sheffield Wednesday. The two most highly-fancied strike forces in the Premiership meet at Anfield - so neither Spurs nor Liverpool can manage a goal. Derby draw at Grimsby, to make sure that Division One keeps that seasonal congested look. Swindon have a clear lead now in Division Two. Nine-man Gillingham close the gap on themselves in Division Three, contriving a 0-0 draw with Cambridge.

Monday 5 Bryan Robson announces that he doesn't want the England job. Glenn Hoddle's criticism of Chelsea fans is taken as evidence that he might; Mick McCarthy, aged 35, definitely wants the Ireland job, and he's got it. "It's a daunting prospect following Jack," he says, "But I'm not going to attempt to copy his ways." Jack himself says:"I know he always felt we could have got the ball down and played a bit more. We argued about that." Could be bad news for Niall and Tony.

Tuesday 6 Celebratory bonfires are lit across the land as another FA Cup Fourth Round tie is played, with Huddersfield seeing off Peterborough 2-0. Leyton Orient sack full back Roger Stanislaus, who tested positive for cocaine before a game with Barnet last November. Barry Hearn thinks that drug testing should be extended to all players involved in a match: "I'd like to see the FA invest considerable sums as a deterrent and constant reminder to young players not to fall into this trap." Perhaps they should hang around snooker halls instead.

Wednesday 7 Haaa! The government is defeated in a House of Lords vote on the provision in its Broadcasting Bill that would allow BSkyB to bid for exclusive rights to eight major sporting events including the English and Scottish FA Cup Finals and World Cup matches. Haaa! again, the Office of Fair Trading is to refer the Premier League's TV agreement with BSkyB to the Restrictive Practices Court and will be investigating the Premier League's own contract which restricts its member clubs' rights to sell coverage of their games without prior permission. Jimmy Nicholl is to leave Raith Rovers to take over at Millwall, and Swansea's new manager will be Kevin Cullis, currently in charge of non-League Cradley Town's youth team. Very bold, as Phil Neal would say.

Thursday 8 The European Cup will be expanded from 24 to 32 teams, possibly from next season, with the eight countries with the best record over the previous decade getting an extra representative. Other decisions reached at a UEFA meeting attended by top European clubs and three from the Premier League include a similar reform for the Cup Winners' Cup, with the UEFA Cup being expanded to around 5,000 teams (OK, 119) with at least a couple of dozen (OK, two or three) additional places for England. Graham Kelly will make sure that sporting principles will be adhered to: "There was a strong feeling that extra clubs have to qualify on merit, not power, and that national leagues have to be protected under any changes." Go to it, Big G. In the FA Cup, Forest, Southampton and West Ham are held to home draws by Oxford, Crewe and Grimsby respectively, while Dion Dublin scores an injury time equalizer for Coventry against Man City.

Friday 9
Dave Bassett is the new manager of Crystal Palace. Ray Lewington will stay on as head coach, Steve Coppell remains technical director and Ron Noades is still a pillock (gratuitous but accurate). The transfers of Ilie Dumitrescu to West Ham and Marc Hottiger to Everton are held up by the dastardly Department of Employment which refuses to grant new work permits. The clubs involved say rude things about Gordon Taylor and will appeal. The transfer saga of the century concludes with Newcastle signing Faustino Asprilla from Parma for £6.7 million. Middlesbrough, meanwhile, snap up Brazilian World Cup full back Branco. He's 31 and "can also play at centre back or in midfield". No, of course Bryan knows what he's doing.

Saturday 10 Kev's Asprilliant! (Sunday Mirror). Newcastle are a goal down at Middlesbrough when sub Faustino Asprilla makes an equalizer for Steve Watson, with the winner coming from a cock-up by keeper Gary Walsh. "He's not a player you can tell to do this or do that," says Kevin Keegan, "You just have to let him get on with it." The same has been said of Julian Dicks. Man Utd stay second after beating Blackburn 1-0, Man City are back in the bottom three after losing at Everton but Coventry move out, defeating Chelsea with a goal from Noel Whelan who will soon be haunting Howard Wilkinson's dreams, if he isn't already. And there's hysteria at the Hawthorns as West Brom finally win a match - 3-1 against Southend. Look out play-offs, here they come.

Wednesday 14 FA Cup holders Everton lose 2-1 at Port Vale in a fourth round replay. Joe Royle is not in a philosophical frame of mind: "We were useless and made them look like Real Madrid." West Ham crash out, 3-0 at Grimsby. "We'll have to take it on the chin," says Harry Redknapp. Speaking of which, before the match Grimsby manager Brian Laws apologizes to Italian midfielder Ivano Bonetti whose cheekbone was fractured in a dressing room row after the defeat at Luton last Saturday. Dennis Bergkamp and Dwight Yorke both score twice as Villa come back from two down to draw 2-2 at Arsenal in the first leg of their Coca Cola Cup Semi-Final. Former Liverpool manager Bob Paisley has died aged 77. "He was the greatest manager of all time," says Kenny Dalglish.

Saturday 17 Aston Villa are the first team through to the FA Cup Quarter-Finals, winning 3-1 at Ipswich. The other two ties played are drawn, Southampton taking Swindon back to The Dell and Efan Ekoku getting an injury time equalizer for Wimbledon at Huddersfield. At the present rate the full quarter-final draw will be known around November. In the League, Middlesbrough's horrific run continues with their eighth successive defeat, 4-1 at home to Bolton, yes, Bolton. The latter stay five points adrift at the bottom, though, because QPR win 3-1 at Sheffield Wed, a result that almost gets Ray Wilkins excited: "If we show that level of commitment, we have half a chance of staying up." Down in the dungeon, Torquay's misery continues - they are held to a goalless draw by a Hartlepool side down to nine men for the last hour.

Sunday 18 Man Utd edge past City in the FA‚ÄàCup Fifth Round derby, Lee Sharpe getting the winner fifteen minutes from time. City had gone in front in the first half only to be pegged back by a dubious penalty, Michael Frontzeck adjudged to have held down Eric Cantona at a corner. Not for the first time this season, Alan Ball has reason to complain about a ref: "Would he have given that at the other end? I very much doubt it." In the other tie, played at 11 am, Liverpool win 4-0 at Shrewsbury. Bryan Robson takes his mind off Boro's troubles by offering to take over as England manager on a part-time basis until the incumbent sorts out his various court cases: "I'm behind any workable plan to keep Terry in the job. Don Howe and I could look after things." Well, it's an idea.

Monday 19
The Forest v Spurs Fifth Round Cup tie is abandoned after fourteen minutes due to a blizzard. "If I'd have stayed there until the end of the match I'd have turned into a snowman," says Gerry Francis. Yes, Gerry, you would. UEFA have bowed to EC pressure to drop restrictions on the number of foreign players permitted to play in their competitions, but clubs still involved in Europe will be asked to stick to the three-plus-two rule until the end of the season.

Tuesday 20 Glenn Roeder is sacked as manager of Watford, bottom of Division One. Guess who is favourite to succeed him? All transfers of foreign players between English clubs have been put on hold until the Department of Employment completes a review of the criteria for issuing work permits. Gordon Taylor: "We have been cast in the role of big bad wolf, but we are well aware of the quality of these two players. It is an anomaly that they are world class but not club class."

Wednesday 21 Aston Villa reach the Coca Cola Cup Final after a 0-0 home draw with Arsenal takes them through on away goals. "I'm an absolute wreck," says Brian Little. "We've got to try to get into Europe through the League now," says Bruce Rioch - though David Dein might yet have another plan up his sleeve. Man Utd narrow Newcastle's Premiership lead to six points after beating Everton 2-0, while their rivals lose by the same score at West Ham. "I thought we might have had a penalty in the first half. It looked more like Murrayfield to me out there," says Kev, all bewildered. FA Cup Fifth Round ties between Leeds and Port Vale and Grimsby and Chelsea finish goalless. Leicester get their first win since Mark McGhee left, 3-2 away to his new club, Wolves. "If it stops all the problems there have been over my leaving Leicester it is a cost I am prepared to pay," he says. England's Euro '96 preparations are to include useful friendlies away to China and a 'Hong Kong Select XI' in May. Looks like the Foreign Office have had a word.

Thursday 22 Sure enough, Graham Taylor returns to Watford, as "general manager with executive responsibilities" with Luther Blissett as second in command. At the press conference, honorary life president Elton hints at greater involvement in the future, saying: "I think it's time for the turnip to end;" which, who knows, might be a line from one of his songs. Newcastle are to spend £3.75 million on David Batty the man no championship side can do without. Jan Molby becomes Swansea's fifth manager this season, replacing Jimmy Rimmer, who had stood in as caretaker after the seven-day reign of Kevin Cullis. "I have not come here to manage a Third Division team," says Jan, which suggests that boss number six may be dropping in soon.

Saturday 24
Newcastle come back from behind three times to draw 3-3 with Man City, but the biggest headlines are reserved for Faustino Asprilla's tangles with Keith Curle, one an elbow to the face, the other a sort-of-headbutt. ("He's a Latin, that's the way they are" says Kev, unhelpfully.) Curle, seemingly at death's door both times, emerges without a scratch, but the FA are to investigate. Flukiest goal of the day comes at Ewood Park, where Liverpool's first in a 3-2 win is a Collymore grasscutter that hits a divot and bounces over Tim Flowers. Once again Wimbledon get an in injury time equalizer, this time to snatch a point at home to Villa. Middlesbrough stop their losing sequence with a 0-0 draw at Coventry. Graham Taylor's return to Watford produces a stirring second half comeback; unfortunately it's by Ipswich: two down at half time, they rally to win 3-2.

Sunday 25 Leeds are through to the Coca Cola Cup Final after beating Birmingham 3-0, to win 5-1 on aggregate. The papers are full of talk of 'Tony Yeboah's Wembley dream', so expect a particularly dire record to hit the shops soon. Man Utd close the gap at the top to four points after beating Bolton 6-0 at Burnden Park. It's their eighth League win in a row, with Newcastle to come next. "We are looking strong and feeling confident and the team spirit is just how you would want it." That's Alex Ferguson talking, not Colin Todd.

Tuesday 27 Leeds squeeze past Port Vale 2-1 in an FA Cup Fifth Round replay thanks to Gary McAllister's second goal of the night, a free kick two minutes from time. Leeds having cup runs - still sends a shiver down the spine, doesn't it?

Wednesday 28 The Forest v Spurs Cup tie finally takes place in normal weather condition and ends 2-2, Ian Woan and Chris Armstrong both scoring twice. Bo-ring - Liverpool, Chelsea, Wimbledon and Southampton all win home replays to reach the quarter-finals. Labour MP Geoffrey Robinson joins a consortium who are about to put £8 million into Coventry City, as part of a novel fund-raising scheme in which investors buy specific players then receive a share of the fee should they be sold on to another club. (So Gazza, for instance, might drop into Highfield Road on his way back to London.) Grumpy lads the world over may soon become Man City fans - Frannie Lee apparently hopes to persuade Oasis to become the club's next shirt sponsors. Damon will be on to Ken Bates before you know it.

From WSC 110 April 1996. What was happening this month

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