Football: Harriers hope to make life bitter for West Ham: Phil Shaw looks at this weekend's fifth-round FA Cup programme

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The Independent Online
A NEW brew, Harriers' Cup Bitter, is on sale in Kidderminster. With FA Cup shocks currently coming by the barrel-full, no acquaintance with the lore of beverages is necessary to picture the part-timers beating West Ham - even if the law of averages suggests that the Premiership rot must stop somewhere.

In the Worcestershire town, where 8,000 will today squeeze into Aggborough to watch the first ever fifth-round tie on non-League turf, they are confident of a sting in both the ale and the tale. If this truly is the Year of the Underdog, what could be more apposite than a pack of Harriers hounding their prestigious prey into humiliating retreat?

Therein may lie the difficulty for the Vauxhall Conference leaders. Graham Allner's team are at their most potent when they get the ball down and play. Snapping and snarling does not come naturally, yet 'Kiddy' must do exactly that to prevent West Ham - 81 places above them - finding space to exploit their superior skills.

Mercifully, or ominously for West Ham, the relationship between theory and practice is more tenuous than ever in the Cup. After the flurry of First Division victories over supposed superiors - divine retribution, some might argue, for the Premier League, squad numbers, names on shirts, etc - it would almost be appropriate to change the old cliche to 'away advantage'.

Allner, however, believes West Ham will not relish the unfamiliar terrain. Back in the wide open spaces of Upton Park they will be watching on giant screens and, recalling the hard work West Ham made of Farnborough two years ago, bracing themselves for Aggborough-phobia . . . the ultimate Hammer Horror.

Whether or not the Harriers end up toasting a triumph to equal Colchester and Wrexham's historic conquests of Leeds and Arsenal respectively, the weekend's seven other ties are replete with potential upsets.

Aston Villa, having departed from Tranmere more battered than bitter, have arguably the most hazardous task, at Bolton tomorrow. Bruce Rioch's Wanderers have lived up to their name, saving the successes against Liverpool, Everton and Arsenal for away replays. A Villa backlash after the Coca-Cola Cup embarrassment may prove Ron Atkinson's best hope of maintaining the first half of the trend.

The Villa manager anticipates 'a hard slog', though nowhere is it likely to be harder than at Selhurst Park tomorrow. Much as they did in the 1988 final against Liverpool, Wimbledon fancy their chances of beating the overwhelming favourites, Manchester United. To do so they must play to the peak of their abilities while United are below par. That could be one 'if' too many.

Of the remaining top-flight teams, Oldham Athletic may carry too much attacking threat for Barnsley; draw specialists Ipswich will be content to take a replay from Wolves; and Chelsea, for whom Mark Stein returns to his old Manor at Oxford, should overcome a side whose key player, Jim Magilton, has been sold since his match-winner at Leeds.

Glenn Hoddle, mindful of cup football's twists of fate, may be wary of the winger Chris Allen, once a Chelsea junior. One of his Stamford Bridge contemporaries, Nathan Blake, exercised his free-agent status to join Sheffield United for pounds 500,000 yesterday, leaving Cardiff to face Luton without the man who put out Manchester City.

The Welsh club are chasing their first quarter-final place since winning the Cup in 1927. By coincidence Charlton Athletic, who visit Bristol City today, have not reached the last eight since lifting the trophy 20 years later. Their ties guarantee a rogue presence in tomorrow's draw - whatever the Premiership survivors come up with this weekend.

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