Football FA Cup Semi Final /: Ferguson takes to the high road on French detour: Oldham plan positive approach while Peacock is poised to charge up Chelsea. Guy Hodgson reports

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The Independent Online
DION DUBLIN would not be human if he did not reflect on the last 18 months and think 'if only'. The striker might have been Manchester United's talisman; the T-shirts might read Dion instead of Dieu.

The broken leg he sustained against Crystal Palace a month into last season helped set a train of events that propelled Eric Cantona and, by dint of the Frenchman's vast contribution, the championship to Old Trafford. It was Alex Ferguson's stroke of luck although Dublin would hardly be expected to see it that way.

So the inclusion of the pounds 1m striker in United's team for the FA Cup semi-final against Oldham Athletic tomorrow will present a glimpse of how things might have been. With it will come another element for a team that has appeared to be leg weary with tension and lacking a flexibility to change their tactics when the flicks and dummies lead to a cul-de-sac.

A side containing Ryan Giggs and Lee Sharpe is never likely to follow the Route One path slavishly but Dublin's inclusion alongside Mark Hughes does present the option of the occasional long ball. With Cantona, United's patterns are unpredictable, without the Frenchman the lines of attack can become too straight and Ferguson seems likely to go for the high alternative.

'Dion Dublin is certainly in contention,' the United manager said yesterday. 'He steadied us on Monday and scored a very good goal.' That strike, with his first touch after coming on as substitute, helped United to a 3-2 League win over Oldham which and maintained their three-point lead over Blackburn Rovers at the top of the Premiership.

Dublin's inclusion is part of the overhaul Ferguson will need to do as the result of suspensions for Cantona, Roy Keane and Andrei Kanchelskis. Bryan Robson or Brian McClair will replace Keane in midfield while Sharpe will probably revert to the left wing. Paul Parker could return to right-back after missing Monday's game with a groin strain.

Oldham's armament, too, will be short of it's full array of weapons as Sean McCarthy (cup-tied) and Steve Redmond (suspended) have joined the long-term injured - Gunnar Halle, Tore Pederson, Ian Olney and Andy Barlow - as ineligible. Importantly for a team that lacks pace, however, Darren Beckford has recovered from a back strain. Nick Henry and Paul Bernard also look likely to return.

Oldham lost to United after a replay in the FA Cup semi-final four years ago and have conceded eight goals in two meetings with the champions this season. 'United will be favourites,' said their manager, Joe Royle, who signed a new three-year contract at Boundary Park yesterday. 'But we have even been underdogs to the First Division clubs we have met in previous rounds so it's nothing new to us.

'United's danger is pace. You can be attacking on the edge of their box one minute, and find yourselves defending your goal the next. We will be going for it. . . but we will do it sensibly.'

Pace was also at the back of David Pleat's mind when he expressed a preference earlier this week for Glenn Hoddle playing as well as managing Chelsea in today's Wembley semi-final. 'We all know what he can do with the ball,' Luton Town's manager said, 'but he lacks the energy to chase back and tackle.'

To Pleat's chagrin, Hoddle seems unlikely to recover from tendinitis but more serious for Chelsea is the confining of their captain, Dennis Wise, to bed with a chest infection. He joins Craig Burley as a doubt although Gavin Peacock, scorer of the goal that beat Wolverhampton Wanderers in the previous round, is likely to be fit.

Pleat says his team will not differ too greatly from the one that has played in recent matches although Mitchell Thomas could claim the left-back position 17 days after he left West Ham United to rejoin the First Division club.