20 Years Ago HOW much longer can Alex Ferguson remain manager of Manchester United?

Looking back on the unparalleled success United have enjoyed under their celebrated and be-knighted manager, it seems incredible such a question could ever have been asked.

But asked they were after United’s £13million team lost 2-1 at home to Crystal Palace — the latest in a series of setbacks — and Fergie’s team selection was scrutinised and criticised.

The Old Trafford boss dropped Mark Hughes and drafted in Danny Wallace to play alongside Brian McClair, but a succession of missed chances offered the critics a stick with which to beat him.

Russell Beardsmore gave United the lead but Palace — managed by United old boy Steve Coppell — hit back when Ian Wright set up an equaliser for his strike partner Mark Bright and it was Bright again, just after the interval, who beat United’s hapless keeper Jim Leighton to leave red faces all around.

New Manchester City boss Howard Kendall got a measure of the task he faced when the rock-bottom Blues slumped to their sixth defeat in seven games, beaten 2-1 at Southampton.

Kendall was tasked with the job of reviving City’s flagging fortunes after Maine Road chairman Peter Swales — never one to let the grass grow under his feet — sacked Mel Machin.

Wanderers manager Phil Neal took advantage of a free weekend by whisking his players off for a winter break after a hectic spell of league and cup football.

Their reward for coming through a gruelling 16 games in seven weeks? Two nights in Blackpool.

It was hardly the most exotic of seaside destinations, certainly not in mid-December and not exactly the best choice since three weeks earlier they’d crashed out of the FA Cup — at Bloomfield Road.

Boxing legend Sugar Ray Leonard won his long-awaited rematch with Roberto Duran to retain his WBC super middleweight title on a unanimous points verdict, but the big fight was an unmitigated flop as far as fans and critics were concerned.

As Leonard danced, Duran chased but the Panamanian failed miserably to put the American under any serious pressure and the two fighters were roundly booed by the 16,000 crowd.

Television coverage of cricket was set to change drastically after British Satellite Broadcasting and Sky TV struck deals with the Test and County Cricket Board that ended the BBC’s exclusivity.

30 Years Ago IAN Greaves counted eight scoring chances missed by his unhappy Wanderers as they went down 3-1 at Wolves to plunge even deeper into trouble at the bottom of the First Division.

But the Bolton boss knew he needed to resolve more fundamental problems than wayward shooting if they were to avoid relegation.

Greaves fielded three centre-backs at Molineux — Paul Jones, Sam Allardyce and Mike Walsh — yet the defending was woeful and when the manager admitted his team’s passing was giving him “nightmares”, it was looking increasingly like they needed a miracle to save them from the drop.

Bury manager Dave Connor had even more problems over at Gigg Lane after the Shakers — struggling near the foot of Division Three — were trounced 8-0 at Swindon.

“I take a defeat of that proportion very personally,” said the under-fire Connor. “But, as the manager, I must take the blame.”

What made matters worse for Connor and his players was that Swindon — managed by ex-Bury manager Bob Smith and including four former Shakers in their line-up — appeared to take special delight in inflicting such a demoralising defeat.

“We were up against a team and a manager who didn’t just want to beat us, they wanted to shame us,” Connor said.

Highly-rated Crystal Palace boss Terry Venables was on the horns of a dilemma.

Venables, widely regarded as England’s manager-in-waiting, was offered a staggering £1million four-year deal to manage New York Cosmos of the North American Soccer League.

The local cricket scene was bracing itself after the Government imposed new restrictions on clubs employing overseas professionals.

Some clubs feared being hit for six by the announcement that work permits would be denied to overseas players who were not of Test or first class standard and that any who are employed must be paid a salary of at least £1,500 for a 22-week season.

45 Years Ago WANDERERS were waiting anxiously for news of Wyn Davies after the star centre-forward’s appearance for Wales in a brutal World Cup qualifier in Greece.

The Welsh lost the first leg of the play-off 1-0 but it was the behaviour of the players rather than the result that dominated the headlines.

The Bolton Evening News correspondent described it as “a whole chain of punch-ups between players of both teams”.

Burnden boss Bill Ridding already had a few selection problems ahead of the Second Division game at Huddersfield and was keeping his fingers crossed that Davies would return from Athens unscathed.

The FA Cup third round draw appeared to have handed Wanderers a comfortable tie against Workington — but no one at Burnden Park was under-estimating the threat of the Third Division side. They had reached the quarter-finals of the League Cup — a competition still to be taken seriously by some clubs. The semi-final draw offered the far from glamorous line-up: Aston Villa v Workington or Chelsea; Leicester v Plymouth.

England manager Alf Ramsey was at odds with his captain, Ron Flowers, after a late Jimmy Greaves goal rescued a 1-1 draw against Holland in Amsterdam.

Ramsey’s verdict: “A rather poor performance.” Flowers’ reflection: “I’m satisfied with the result. A draw abroad is not bad.”

The Football Association stepped up its attack on bad behaviour when it hit Manchester United inside forward Denis Law with 28-day ban and a £50 fine for being sent off in a First Division game against Blackpool.

Law, who was accused of using foul language to the referee, made a personal appearance in front of the disciplinary commission, but received no mercy when his previous disciplinary record was taken into account. The ban meant he would miss five league games and an FA Cup tie.

United refused to comment on the severity of the ban but Cliff Lloyd — secretary of the Professional Footballers Association — claimed Law had been “made a scapegoat”.

Spinner Fred Titmus was the hero of England’s trouncing of South Africa in the first Test at Durban.

Titmus took 5-66 to help bowl out the Springboks for 226 in their second innings as England claimed victory by an innings and 104 runs.

The hosts had no answer to England’s 485-5dec first-innings total. Ken Barrington and Jim Parks hit unbeaten centuries with Bob Barber and Geoff Boycott both getting into the seventies.

Olympic distance runner Ron Hill demanded a special inquiry after winning a race in record time only to find he had been disqualified.

The race was Bolton United Harriers members-only senior 10-mile club championship at Leverhulme Park; the record time of 49mins 43secs — 16 seconds faster that his own club record — and the reason he was disqualified was because he wore an all-red strip instead of the club vest and white shorts decreed by the Harriers’ committee.