Football: Blackburn aiming to repeat very old feat

A long-awaited FA Cup could be on the cards for someone says Guy Hodgson while Nick Harris (below) analyses the fifth round match by match
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The Independent Online
Arsenal and Manchester United are left to spoil some dreams, of course, but the way the FA Cup is shaping 1998 is going to be the year when a long wait ends for one club.

The fifth-round draw contained four teams who had never won the trophy, six who have not had their colours tied to the Cup in the last 40 years and, apart from the above mentioned, none who have succeeded in the Nineties.

Blackburn count the years as much as anyone. They were dominant in the Eighties and Nineties, collecting the Cup five times in eight seasons, only we are talking over a hundred years ago. Even their most recent triumph requires a long memory, 1928.

They travel to West Ham today, seemingly containing the ingredients to mount a successful run. Hard to beat - they have lost just four times in the Premiership - and with prolific scorers in Kevin Gallacher and Chris Sutton they are, at 7-1 yesterday, as good a bet as anyone.

"The draw has not been kind to us," Roy Hodgson, their manager, said, "but, to resort to the old cliche, we are capable of beating anyone on our day."

Unfortunately for them, so are today's opponents. West Ham have won nine of their 11 League matches at Upton Park this season and if John Hartson could start scoring again, they would look the Wembley article.

The Wales striker has got two goals in 12 games after beginning spectacularly although, as he says, he will happy to go through another blank Saturday if the Hammers can get into the quarter-finals. "I'm adding hard work to my game now," he said, "and I've scored 19 goals in 30 games."

In today's other all-Premiership tie, Coventry, the winners in '87, have a far more depressing statistic to confront. They have never won at Villa Park although the way Aston Villa are playing the time could hardly be better.

Newcastle United's manager Kenny Dalglish proved to be graceless in victory and near defeat against Stevenage but at least we should be spared too much vitriol at home to First Division Tranmere today, if only for the identity of the opposing manager.

Dalglish signed John Aldridge when he was at Liverpool and was rewarded with 50 League goals in 83 games and the atmosphere in the dug- outs ought to be wholesome. The sense of old colleagues meeting again will by a Tranmere team containing two former Newcastle players, Liam O'Brien and David Kelly.

Aldridge was as relaxed as as could be yesterday. "I have not looked forward to a game more all season," he said.

Leeds may be more wary of Birmingham at Elland Road as they lost to Portsmouth at this stage of the competition last season and were beaten by Reading in the Coca-Cola Cup which suggests a weakness against First Division opposition. They are strengthened by Robert Molenaar's return from a knee injury.

By any other criteria but League position the Goliath in the Wimbledon versus Wolves would be the visitors. In terms of money, crowds and ground the West Midlands side are bigger, it is just what happens on the pitch that is unfortunate.

At least Wolves have grounds for optimism in the venue. Much has been made of Crystal Palace's weakness at home but Wimbledon have won only four matches in the League at Selhurst Park and one of those, technically, was an away fixture.

The man with arguably the least enviable job this weekend is Dave Watson who had to pick the ball out of his net seven times when Barnsley played Manchester United in October and has to endure a repeat visit tomorrow. "I played OK," he said, "but it doesn't really matter when the goals are flying in from everywhere."

If United do make extravagant amends for some ropey League form then the goals could come from unfamiliar places as their line-up is a secret known only to Alex Ferguson. In the last round, against Walsall, their side included the names of Clegg, Nevland, Mulryne and Thornley and a similar conglomerate of fringe and first-team players is likely.

That would suggest Barnsley will repeat their performances against Bolton and Tottenham in getting better results in the Cup than they did in the League. Which would be fine except that their manager Danny Wilson's priority is Premiership survival this season. "There's no prizes for guessing I'd prefer it the other way round," he said.

Crystal Palace know the feeling. Hopeless at Selhurst Park in the League they defeated the only other team in the Premiership not to have won the Cup, Leicester, there in fourth round but probably are relieved to be meeting Arsenal at Highbury.

If they win there then anticipation will begin to beat strongly. After all, they would then be only one match away from the semi-finals and neutral grounds.

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