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Football: Rankine relishing Arsenal re-union

MARK RANKINE is hoping his Arsenal nightmare will not come back to haunt him or proud Preston North End - and shatter their hopes of a giant-killing act in tonight's FA Cup third-round tie at Deepdale.

The midfield dynamo has never faced the might of the Gunners at competitive level, but his experience of taking them on in the FA Youth Cup final was enough. A decade ago Rankine was one of the stars of the Doncaster Rovers team which battled all the way through to the final of the prestige event to play Arsenal.

But their dreams of glory were dashed inside just 45 minutes - and Rankine still shudders at the memory of that nightmare thrashing. He said: "It was a really big night, but we were just overawed by the occasion. I think Kevin Campbell scored four inside half an hour. We just couldn't handle it.

"If we hadn't blown up, we would have done ourselves justice. We lost the home leg 5-0 but drew down there 1-1, so we were no mugs. I just hope our lads at Preston don't freeze like that. We are not afraid - but you can never tell how people will react on the night."

Two Preston hopefuls wanting to make a name for themselves already have something going for them - Michael Jackson and Paul McKenna.

The centre-half Jackson has come up the hard way, not just for living with the gags about his namesake. He had to overcome two major back operations as a child. The midfielder McKenna is the local lad of the side - his parents do the catering at the club's training ground.

Jackson, who started at Crewe before joining Preston, said: "I have not watched Arsenal on TV if I can help it, they would scare me. But every time one of them gets injured I have been cheering."

McKenna is steeped in the history of the club, after signing up as a teenager when bigger clubs were keen on him. He said: "This tie is all everyone wants to talk about."