Football / FA Cup: Spurs facing testing trip into the unknown: Phil Shaw on the challenges in store for the Premier clubs in the third round of the FA Cup

Click to follow
The Independent Online
LIKE the great variety show that it is, last night's draw for the third round of the FA Cup saved the best until last. Thirty-one mainly humdrum ties were pulled before the final game out of the bag handed Tottenham Hotspur a trip into the unknown - away to VS Rugby or Marlow.

Mills & Boon would have been pushed to come up with a more romantic pairing. Unfortunately, because of crowd-safety considerations, the Warwickshire police are unlikely to let Rugby stage the game at their Butlin Road home (capacity 6,000; seats 240); likewise their Buckinghamshire counterparts with Marlow's Alfred Davis Memorial Ground (5,000; 260).

Whoever faces Spurs - and it looks too close to call, with Rugby sixth bottom in the Beazer Homes League and Marlow fifth from the foot of the Diadora League - will switch, either to White Hart Lane, or to the nearest available major ground.

The only non-League club definitely through, Marine of the HFS Loans League, were harshly treated. Hoping for a big pay-day at nearby Liverpool or Everton, they were consigned to Crewe, where the capacity is barely a sixth of Anfield or Goodison.

However, the other surviving part-timers have great incentive for their replays. Woking will receive Portsmouth if they finish off Brighton; Wycombe can earn a home tie with West Ham by winning at West Brom; and a Yeovil victory at Hereford would ensure a repeat of their 1971 match on the old Huish slope with Arsenal, who won 3-0 en route to the Double.

The pick of the matches between Football League and Premier League clubs - curiously, the penultimate tie to be drawn - is the meeting at Burnden Park of Bolton, in mid-Second Division, and Liverpool.

There are four all-Premier ties. Nottingham Forest take on Southampton, who won 2-1 at the City Ground nine days ago. Middlesbrough and Chelsea meet at Ayresome Park, and stage a dress- rehearsal there this Friday. Wimbledon and Everton also renew acquaintance, Howard Kendall's team having won a Coca-Cola Cup replay against the Dons last month. And the leaders, Norwich, entertain Coventry, with whom they recently drew.

The two Premier sides most vulnerable to an upset may be Crystal Palace and Sheffield Wednesday. Palace go to Hartlepool, where the Eagles of 1978 lost 2-1 at the same stage during Terry Venables's managerial reign. Wednesday return to Cambridge, seeking to avenge a 4-0 defeat in the fifth- round of 1991.

Manchester City, meanwhile, play host to Reading, 25 years to the weekend after the Royals held them 0-0 at Maine Road. City shaded the replay 7-0.

Malcolm Allison, then in his pomp with City, returns to the grand stage at 65 with Bristol Rovers at Aston Villa. He is reputedly down to one cigar a week because of financial hardship, but with Ron Atkinson in wait, he could surely be prevailed upon to dig out the old fur coat and fedora for a tie sure to be billed as Big Ron versus Big Mal.

Derby, perhaps the best bet to emulate Sunderland's feat in reaching the final from outside the top division, must contend with the Stockport striker Kevin Francis, who began his full-time career at the Baseball Ground. Francis stands 6ft 7in, so it will be more like the Basketball Ground for the afternoon, and that strapping six-footer Craig Short will for once live up to his name.