Football: Marlow spurred by search for respect: Phil Shaw considers the prospects for more FA Cup romance in this weekend's third round

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The Independent Online
THE ENDURING appeal of the FA Cup's third round as the most exciting and enticing date in the domestic football calendar is explained by a cast list and plot which invariably rival even the Michael Caine-Ossie Ardiles epic Escape to Victory for implausibility.

This year it contains characters as diverse as the game's most active OAP, Malcolm Allison, its newest OBE, Gordon Strachan, and foreign artistes rubbing shoulders with non-League journeymen. In the words of an old song, it is a great big melting pot, with victories such as Wrexham's over Arsenal 12 months ago the most stirring ingredient of all.

While theirs was a transient fame - today, with Wrexham out, who remembers that Steve Watkin scored the winner? - there is a queue of clubs hoping to emulate them. By uncomfortable coincidence, Arsenal's season again rests on the result of a hiding-to-nothing away tie, against Yeovil of the Vauxhall Conference, with another, at Scarborough in the Coca-Cola Cup, to follow next week.

Arsenal, who hope to have Tony Adams and Lee Dixon back, must trust that if history is to repeat itself then it will be 1971 rather than '92. That year they won 3-0 at Yeovil at the same stage, going on to do the Double.

With respect to Yeovil, the real romance is provided by Marlow's pairing with Tottenham, where victory for the underdogs today would be the greatest Cup upset of all time. All the more so because the Diadora Leaguers, their capabilities put in perspective by a 4-1 chasing from Chesham at Christmas, have conceded ground advantage.

Al-James Hannigan, the Marlow defender who captained Arsenal's FA Youth Cup-winning team of 1988, is predicting a 1-0 victory for his present team over the club he supported as a boy. Hannigan owes his unusual first name to the fact that his father was an Al Jolson fan, but realistically the Buckinghamshire side's chances of spreading a million smiles are as remote as 'Mammy' making it to No 1.

Last season Marlow went out 6-0 at West Bromwich, so their priority this time, apart from the revenue from a 25,000 gate, will be respectability. Despite Hannigan's bravado, they will not need reminding that Spurs' record win, 13-2 against Crewe, came in the Cup. Crewe, incidentally, are favourites today, against the third of the semi-professional survivors, Marine of the HFS Loans League.

There might be more realistic hopes of an upset in two matches which pit the upper Second Division against the middling Premier League - at Bolton, who take on holders Liverpool tomorrow, and Hartlepool, where the visitors are Crystal Palace.

Bolton are buzzing, having taken maximum points over the festive period, with ex-Celtic striker Andy Walker on a hot streak. Liverpool, mercurial to a fault, recall Michael Thomas, who scored in last season's Wembley success against Sunderland, for the suspended Jamie Redknapp.

Palace, 7-2 aggregate victors over Hartlepool in last season's League Cup, are seeking a seventh successive win. The hosts are also thriving, however, and the veteran Brian Honour points out that Palace then had Messrs Gray, Bright and Salako. 'They're not as good a team now while we're better,' he reasoned, 'and this time it's winner-takes-all.'

Sheffield Wednesday could be vulnerable at Cambridge, where they lost 4-0 two years ago. Sheffield United may be in greater danger against Burnley, who will be backed by one of the biggest followings of the round, some 8,000. Leeds, where they will probably be complaining that Strachan should have had a knighthood, can not be entirely confident against Charlton.

Bristol Rovers' manager has forecast a shock victory at Aston Villa, but then Allison has always been a bit of a flat earther. Ron Atkinson responded tersely yesterday: 'Last time he came here he was telling everybody none of my players knew how to kick a ball. That's an insult - and some of them are none too pleased.'

Another sub-plot will be the meeting of Dean Saunders and Rovers' Ian Alexander. The Villa striker was suspended last season after a video showed him elbowing Alexander in the face when Liverpool visited Twerton Park.

The weekend's biggest crowd, especially with Old Trafford not due to receive Wigan or Bury until midweek, is likely to be at Newcastle, where 3,500 Port Vale fans should swell the turn-out to 30,000. There is a reunion here, too, with Newcastle's John Beresford, who missed a penalty for Portsmouth in last season's semi-final shoot-out against Liverpool, facing his old Sheffield Boys' colleague, Peter Swan. The pair have wagered their bonuses on the result.