Football / FA Cup: Crewe eager to shunt Dalglish into the sidings

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The Independent Online
ONE HUNDRED and twenty-two years after its inception, and with the vulgar trappings of a multi- million-pound sponsorship reportedly looming, the FA Cup is still conjuring ties rich in romance and contrasts such as today's match in a Cheshire railway town.

Crewe Alexandra are 80 League places and as many light years financially behind Blackburn Rovers. The beauty of the Cup is that over 90 minutes at Gresty Road, before what may be the smallest crowd of the fourth round, the team built for pounds 67,000 have a realistic chance of frightening, perhaps even beating, one assembled at a cost of pounds 16m.

Dario Gradi, Crewe's manager, is without six first-choices through injury or suspension and maintains that 'a win for us would be the cash windfall of a replay'. Kenny Dalglish is too wily to fall for that. Dalglish, on the wrong end of one of the great Wembley upsets when Wimbledon beat Liverpool, saw a similarly depleted Crewe knock out Marine and was impressed by the fluid touch of players like the 18- year-old Gareth Whalley.

Whether Whalley or Jack Walker's wallet prevails - and Blackburn are without their injured talisman Alan Shearer - five Premier League clubs must go out, while at least six of the last 16 will come from the Football League. Curiously, the weekend will be almost as notable for absentees, holders Liverpool most conspicuous among them, as for those actually involved.

John Aldridge, for instance, is missing from Tranmere's attack at home to Ipswich because of suspension. His understudy, the club's all-time top scorer, Ian Muir, faces a fitness test. Nevertheless, Ipswich look the most vulnerable of the five Premier teams facing lower-division opponents.

The draw has uncannily linked the North-east with South Yorkshire, Newcastle and Hartlepool heading for Rotherham and Sheffield United today and Sunderland to Sheffield Wednesday tomorrow. With Middlesbrough bound for Nottingham, it may be a case of last one out turns off the lights.

Newcastle will find one of the Second Division's purer footballing sides straining to emulate neighbouring Barnsley's recent victory over them. Hartlepool visit Bramall Lane with mixed emotions, having lost their captain, Dean Emerson, to injury and having been in court again yesterday to win a reprieve from an Inland Revenue winding-up order issued soon after a euphoric win against Crystal Palace.

Sunderland, back at the scene of last year's semi-final triumph, will be encouraged by David Hirst's indisposition, though they may find Wednesday's Mark Bright fired by a fresh incentive. A run of goals could persuade Graham Taylor to revive his old Palace partnership with Ian Wright for England next month.

Meanwhile, what may be one of Brian Clough's last opportunities to land the elusive trophy could founder against Boro, his home- town team, although form points to Forest.

For Aston Villa and Manchester United, at home to Wimbledon and Brighton respectively, visions of the Double are coming into focus. While Mark Hughes is out and Eric Cantona is unlikely to be fit after all, United should still carry too much firepower for the human headband, Steve Foster, and his co-defenders.

Villa, however, have been knocked out twice in four seasons by the Dons after having ground advantage. Ron Atkinson would never agree, but being free to concentrate on the major prize might prove a blessing in disguise.

There are three other all-Premier ties. Queen's Park Rangers and Manchester City both need to keep their season alive, which is likely to produce a contest as fierce as Rangers' struggle against United last Monday.

Norwich's game with Tottenham may be today's best spectacle. Robert Chase, Norwich's chairman, has embargoed outgoing transfers after rejecting Blackburn's pounds 500,000 offer for the midfielder Daryl Sutch. If the Canaries win, with three ex- Spurs in the line-up, the visitors will wish they had done likewise.

Then on Monday, Leeds emerge from their health-farm retreat to try and justify Howard Wilkinson's pounds 100 bet on them - at 25-1 - to lift the Cup by winning at Arsenal.

Tomorrow's meeting of Wolves and Bolton, who met exactly 100 years ago when the Molineux men won in a replay, has more of the competition's unique flavour. For this sell-out re-match, also being screened at Burnden Park, Wolves have warmed up by the pool in Lanzarote and Bolton at Darlington (an extra-time win in the Autoglass Trophy). Now that's what you call contrasts.

Graeme Souness profile, page 14

Joe Lovejoy, Team news, page 50