Football: Hoult's Wembley dream

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RUSSELL HOULT is determined to help Derby win this season's FA Cup to end his Wembley woes. Hoult was Leicester's second-choice keeper when the Foxes qualified for successive play-off finals in 1992, 1993 and 1994.

He had to watch from the sidelines as the Filbert Street club lost to Blackburn and Swindon before they gained promotion to the Premiership, ironically, by beating Derby.

Since Hoult left Leicester in February 1995, they have reached Wembley on three more occasions - including in this season's Worthington Cup - but now the 26-year-old has the chance to make his bow at the national stadium.

First, they have to overcome last season's Double winners, Arsenal, at Highbury on Saturday but Hoult can be forgiven for allowing himself to think about Wembley already.

"I've never been able to play there because I was only young when Leicester got there," he said. "At the time, I'd not really played at all for the first team. But to be part of the squad was great and hopefully, I can get back this year and play. It's every kid's dream to go and play at Wembley. If you can get there in a cup final and win it, it's even better. Playing at schoolboy level or whatever is not quite as good as the FA Cup or anything like that.

"It's a great, relaxed atmosphere through the week. When we got there at Leicester, we went down in the week and training down there.

"It's just another game at the end of the day but there's such a big reward at the end of it; you don't really want to lose. It's a great day out but we've got to work hard to get there. There are only three more games but they're probably the three hardest games of the season. But there's no point getting there and losing. It's either one end of the scale or the other."

The broad smiles worn by those close to Derby at present are an indication of the club's healthy position, with a chance of clinching a place in Europe next season through the Premiership or the FA Cup.

Despite this, their profile is still remarkably low and they are seen by many critics as merely making up the numbers at Highbury on Saturday.

But Hoult insisted: "If we can attack like we have in the last two games against Tottenham and Huddersfield, hopefully we won't go too far wrong. We've got to tighten up a bit more but we're doing well going forward.

"We're not expected to win when we go there. Anything we get out of it is a bonus and if we can get them back to Pride Park, we've got as good a chance as anybody. We've had our ups and downs there - we lost to one goal last season and the year before, we drew after they got a late goal. If we can get everybody fit and playing the right way, we'll have a real chance."

Hoult added: "Europe is what the fans are pushing for and it's what the players are really pushing for. But people are expecting us to win nearly every game with us being so high in the table."