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Football: Cotterill's mixed blessings

IT SAYS a lot for the progress of Cheltenham Town under their highly-rated manager, Steve Cotterill, that many regarded them as the favourites to overcome Lincoln City in the first round of the FA Cup last weekend.

The Gloucestershire club's unfortunate 1-0 defeat by the Third Division team does, however, allows them to concentrate on other priorities. They are on top of the Football Conference, in which they are eager to improve upon last season's runners-up position, and tomorrow begin their defence of the FA Umbro Trophy with a home second-round tie against Bashley.

When it was put to Cotterill yesterday that their early exit from the FA Cup might prove to be a blessing in disguise, he said: "A lot of people have suggested that to me this week. But the last thing we wanted during the 90 minutes against Lincoln was to be knocked out of the Cup. However, by May we'll know whether or not it was for the best."

Cotterill also declined to admit that winning the Conference was a higher priority than retaining the Trophy. "We mustn't put all our eggs in one basket," he stressed.

Tomorrow Cotterill will come up against an old team-mate from Bournemouth: the Bashley manager, Jimmy Case, who made his name as a midfield battler with Liverpool. As long as Cheltenham's finishing is not as off-target as it was against Lincoln, Case's Dr Martens League Southern Division side are unlikely to cause an upset.

Southport, who were beaten by Cheltenham in the Trophy final at Wembley last May, have a tougher second-round task away to Atherstone United, who are fourth in the Dr Martens Premier Division.

Kettering Town, who would have replaced Cheltenham at the top of the Conference had they not lost at Yeovil on Tuesday, have a straightforward- looking tie at home to Andover.

If Kidderminster Harriers are distracted by next Tuesday's FA Cup replay against Plymouth Argyle they may come unstuck tomorrow, when they entertain the runaway leaders of the UniBond League First Division, Lincoln United, in one Trophy tie which may produce a shock result.

Another is at Hucknall Town, where Barrow are the visitors. On Tuesday the Cumbrians became only the third team this season to lose a Conference game to Doncaster Rovers, who make their Trophy debut with a home South Yorkshire derby against Frickley Athletic.