Paul Parker

Hughes feeling the heat

Paul Parker

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It is a real shame that Blackpool's match against Manchester United has been called off. It promised to be a very entertaining Lancashire derby, with Ian Holloway always setting his side up to attack, whoever the opposition.

The Tangerines fans would have ensured Bloomfield Road was a hostile place for the current league leaders to visit, and the freezing winds blowing in from the sea would have added to making United uncomfortable.

This was surely the fixture that every player had in their minds when they won promotion, and Ollie would have given the easiest team talk of his career to his squad.

As it is, we'll have to wait a while to be treated to such an exciting match. Hopefully Blackpool will still be in a position to give the best possible account of themselves whenever the game is finally played.

UPSET OF THE WEEKEND: Birmingham v Tottenham Hotspur

This fixture has the feel of being the one in which Tottenham's excellent recent run comes to an end.

Last weekend's win over Liverpool was the umpteenth time that Spurs have come from behind to salvage a result this season. They have claimed 16 points from losing positions this term, more than any other side.

However, just as Arsenal let them back into the game in the north London derby, Liverpool were always going to give Spurs a chance because of their continued willingness to attack at White Hart Lane after going ahead last Sunday.

How long Harry Redknapp can keep on rousing his players at the break is open to question, and Birmingham are not the sort of side to give anyone such opportunities.

For their part, the Blues are enjoying a purple patch of their own having beaten Chelsea and local rivals Aston Villa in the past seven days.

Alex McLeish knows how to make it hard for supposedly superior visitors St Andrews - the fact that they have only lost once in the league at home since September 2009 is all the proof you need of that.

With Spurs missing Rafael van der Vaart and yet another defender in Younes Kaboul, McLeish will be looking at the few potential match-winners he has in his side and fancy his chances.

If Spurs are going to come away from Birmingham with all three points, they will have to do it the hard way.

UNDER PRESSURE: Mark Hughes (Arsenal v Fulham)

I really expected Hughes to build upon what Roy Hodgson achieved at Fulham last season when he took over at Craven Cottage in the summer, but it just hasn't happened.

They are just a point above the relegation zone after recording too many draws, something which ultimately did for him at Manchester City. Getting thoroughly turned over at home by his former employers recently certainly didn't help matters either.

Fulham's regression is even starker when you consider that the league is so much more open now than it was last season.

People can point to departures and injuries as a factor, but I find it hard to believe that losing Paul Konchesky was that much of a blow, and the jury is very much still out as to whether Bobby Zamora can make himself into more than a one-season wonder when he eventually returns from injury.

December will be a tough time for Hughes and his side. After travelling to the Emirates this weekend Fulham host high-flying Sunderland, travel up to Anfield, play a relegation six-pointer with West Ham and then visit the Britannia Stadium. If they do not show a marked improvement soon, the Whites could start 2011 in the bottom three.

PLAYER TO WATCH: John Terry (Chelsea v Everton)

The Chelsea captain has certainly not been at his best this season. Perhaps the nerve problem in his leg which has ruled him out in recent weeks is the cause, but Chelsea will be grateful to see him return this weekend.

Alex may have been culpable for the calamitous early goal at Newcastle, but with the Brazilian now out for the next few weeks Terry's return saves Carlo Ancelotti from having to field another patched-up back four of the ilk that Sunderland cut their way through last month.

In pure footballing terms, Michael Essien's return from suspension may be more critical, but Terry's presence at the back will be a real boost for the stuttering champions.

His experience and leadership skills are just what is needed at a time when things are not going well. This month, Chelsea face every other side in the current top six apart from Man City, the flipside of the coin after a generous run of fixtures in the early stages of the season.

Terry is just the man Ancelotti needs to help him through such a testing period.

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