AN IMMEDIATE and urgent inquiry has been launched by the football authorities into the crowd violence that marred yesterday's Bristol derby.

Evidence from the match officials and local police has been called for by the Football Association after reports that Rovers players were assaulted by City fans after the final whistle at Ashton Gate. The match had earlier been held up for five minutes when Rovers fans spilled onto the pitch to celebrate Peter Beadle's injury-time equaliser against the home side, who had earlier had Rob Edwards sent off.

Bristol City chairman Scott Davidson has also launched an internal investigation, but his club could now face serious sanctions. ``Obviously it's a serious matter and we will be looking at it as a matter of urgency,'' said FA spokesman Steve Double.

``We need to see the referee's report and what the police have to say. But we're particularly concerned about reports that players were attacked.''

Mounted police restored order after the initial pitch invasion, but, once the last few seconds of play remaining had been completed, a mob of City followers came onto the pitch and pursued Rovers players as they raced to the dressing room. At least one supporter was stretchered away from the match screened live on satellite television, while chief inspector David Harper of Avon and Somerset police admitted many arrests had been made inside and outside the ground.

``There was certainly adequate stewarding and policing under normal circumstances,'' he said. ``The sad thing is, if there are a few people who are out to cause trouble, they will cause trouble. It's a minority who cannot accept a fair result.

``The vast majority of genuine football fans always suffer. We have a pleasant ground here, an open ground, but it's quite easy for people to cause trouble if they want to. Luckily, they were quite quickly brought under control.''

The chief inspector admitted that he would not be making any recommendations at this early stage, but added: ``Certainly we don't want a return to fencing around grounds. It's supposed to be a pleasant environment for families to watch Britain's national game. It's just unfortunate that a small minority will always cause trouble.''

Meanwhile, Davidson has vowed to ban any supporters for life caught on the club's video system. ``We shall do everything possible to identify the culprits,'' he said.

``We had problems with the fixture last season. That was all down to ticketing arrangements and fans being left out. There were no such problems this time and everything went smoothly for 89 minutes.''

Australian striker Paul Agostino had given City the lead after 16 minutes with a superb solo effort and the home side were clearly in control until the sending off of defender Edwards for his second bookable offence after 62 minutes, after which Rovers took control and were rewarded with Beadle's last-gasp equaliser.

Ruud Gullit was, meanwhile, suffering his own nightmare as his brave new world at Chelsea took another knock with an unexpected 3-0 defeat at Sunderland. Former Ibrox forward John Spencer could be forgiven allowing himself a wry smile as Gullit's side fired blanks after the player-manager fielding himself as a lone striker.

Spencer has been scoring regularly for the other Rangers, the Queen's Park variety, since Gullit made it clear the Scot was no longer in his long-term plans. Yesterday, the Dutchman left Mark Hughes, who played for Wales the previous day, on the bench, while Gianluca Vialli was injured.

``I had to play in this position,'' explained Gullit, who was at something of a loss to explain the slump that has seen his side without a win in five games, their last victory being over Manchester United at Old Trafford last month. The bookmakers were less confused, lengthening Chelsea's odds for the championship to 33-1 from 16-1.

Sunderland, with midfielder Alex Rae playing a leading role, cruised to an emphatic win after the Scot's pass found Craig Russell, whose shot took a wicked deflection over the head of goalkeeper Frode Grodas. Kevin Ball and Russell added the other goals.

While Gullit's position is not yet under threat, further managerial change seems likely in the Premiership this week, with Frank Clark believed to be ready to hand over the task of preventing Nottingham Forest slipping back into the first division. It was Clark, a veteran full-back in the club's glory days in the European Cup, who won the City Ground club promotion in his first season after succeeding Brian Clough.

More remarkable was the achievement of the following season, 1994-5, when Forest finished third in the top division, going on to reach the quarter-final of the UEFA Cup and FA Cup a year later.

Blackburn, meanwhile, are prepared to leave their caretaker Tony Parkes in place for as long as it takes to secure the services of the highly-regarded Swede, Sven-Goran Eriksson, from Sampdoria. After Saturday's late defeat at Wimbledon, Parkes said it would be no surprise if Eriksson arrived at the end of the season, when his contract in Italy expires.

Parkes has improved the team's fortunes since replacing Ray Harford and they were only five minutes away from denying Wimbledon victory when substitute Dean Holdsworth scored the only goal. That made 19 games without defeat for Joe Kinnear's team.

Even so, they were nudged out of second place by Liverpool's 5-1 trouncing of Middlesbrough. Robbie Fowler's four goals took him to 102 in 165 matches, an even faster rate than his mentor, Ian Rush, achieved. Victory over Forest tomorrow would take Liverpool above Arsenal to the top of the table and shorten their odds as title favourites.