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Football: Argyle aware of Allner's giant-killing stock

ONLY ONCE since they joined the new Third Division of the Football League have Plymouth Argyle been knocked out of the FA Cup by a non-League club. Twenty years ago the Devon side, under the flamboyant managership of Malcolm Allison, went down 2-0 after a woeful display at Worcester City.

Today, in one of many first-round ties which could produce an upset, Argyle entertain another Worcestershire side, Kidderminster Harriers - whose manager, Graham Allner, wore the No 11 shirt in that Worcester team which humbled Allison's men.

Before embarking on his meritorious managerial career, Allner was a crafty forward with Stafford Rangers, Alvechurch and Worcester. "I remember the pre-match publicity prior to that Plymouth tie," he said this week. "Big Mal was causing a bit of a stir and our manager, Nobby Clark, who was a real character in his own right, responded by making all sorts of boasts about what we would do to his side.

"It wound them up, and we won it well. We had a good side, but I think I got taken off that day, so I can't have had that good a game!"

Allner's counterpart at Plymouth, Kevin Hodges, had made the first of a club-record 530 league appearances for Argyle a couple of months before that Worcester tie. Although he did not play at St George's Lane, he remembers the aftermath of the defeat. "Everybody was so deflated," he said, "but that's what makes the Cup so special. Anyone can turn their dreams into reality."

Allner has enjoyed many more cup celebrations since that day. In charge at Kidderminster since 1983, his team won the FA Trophy at Wembley four years later and they had a famous FA Cup run five seasons ago. A 2-1 win at Birmingham City in the third round was followed by a 1-0 home victory over Preston and a brave 1-0 defeat to West Ham in the fifth round.

Harriers won the Conference that season, but were denied a place in the Football League because they had too few seats. That has been rectified but, apart from second place in the league in 1997, the last few years have been relatively barren.

"That '94 side was at its peak," Allner said. "The current team has the potential to compare but they blow hot and cold. We have a lot of new players. We're an inconsistent side - but so are Plymouth and, if they have an off-day, we have a chance."

Allner's old club, Worcester City, are at home to another Devon outfit, Torquay United. City are hoping that their opponents are superstitious about the "20-year factor". In 1978 Plymouth lost at St George's Lane - and in 1958-59 Liverpool, then in the Second Division, suffered the same fate in a third-round Cup tie.

Many Nationwide League clubs were surprised to discover that the draw is no longer regionalised. Colchester United, who make the long trek to Northumberland to tackle the champions of the Northern League, Bedlington Terriers, are one of several teams on unfamiliar territory.

Basingstoke Town of the Ryman League, who knocked out John Gregory's Wycombe Wanderers last season, are at home to another Second Division side, Bournemouth. The tie inflicts a conflict of loyalties upon Basingstoke's chaplain, Reverend Ken Batt, a Bournemouth fan. "If he can conjure up a little help from above, it will be greatly appreciated," David Knight, the Hampshire club's chairman, said.

Garry Birtles tasted the big time with Nottingham Forest and Manchester United. Now he is manager of Gresley Rovers, who travel to Walsall. Slough Town's player-manager, Graham Roberts, plays what he insists is his last FA Cup tie at Macclesfield Town.

Tomorrow, the Boreham Wood striker Kerry Dixon, once of Chelsea, will have what may be a brief return to the limelight in a televised tie against Luton Town, another of his many former clubs, at Meadow Park.

Also tomorrow, the former Barnsley striker Ronnie Glavin will be back at Oakwell as manager of Emley, who lost to West Ham in the third round last season and have borrowed the First Division club's stadium for their tie against Rotherham United.