Football: Rooney faces hot reception as United go to Goodison

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The Independent Online
THE DRAW for the fifth round of the FA Cup yesterday guaranteed three weeks of "will he, won't he?" speculation when Wayne Rooney's Manchester United were handed a tie at his former club Everton.

If the 19-year-old England striker plays for the Cup holders, then his first return to Goodison Park since his pounds 27m summer move will ensure the fixture is the must-see match of the round, ahead of the only other guaranteed all-Premiership tie of Newcastle United versus Chelsea. Yet given the importance of Rooney in Sir Alex Ferguson's first-choice line-up, there are already doubts over whether Rooney will feature against the club where he shot to prominence.

United face Milan at Old Trafford in the first leg of their Champions' League tie just a few days after the FA Cup fifth-round games, which are on the 19th and 20th of this month. Given the importance of Europe to Ferguson, it is possible he might rest Rooney ahead of the Milan game rather than throwing him into the combustible atmosphere of a hostile "homecoming" at Everton.

Rooney has already returned to Merseyside as a player once, albeit against Liverpool at Anfield, when he controversially taunted the home fans and had a mobile phone thrown at him for his trouble.

Ferguson will not decide until nearer the time, with several factors influencing him, not least whether Ruud van Nistelrooy has recovered from injury to play against the Italians. A setback for the Dutchman [meaning he misses Milan] would increase the chances of Rooney being rested for the Everton game, just as injuries to other strikers may force Ferguson to play him.

If Rooney does feature at Goodison Park, and help United to win, Everton will at least have the consolation of a potential financial bonus. If United win the Cup, Everton stand to receive a pounds 150,000 bonus pay-out from United arising from a clause in Rooney's move to Old Trafford.

Chelsea will travel to Newcastle knowing they are still on course to complete a quadruple of trophy wins this season, unprecedented in the English game. They will also be looking for a season cup double over Graeme Souness's side, having eliminated them from the League Cup in November.

"We cannot ask for any more than a home tie," Souness said. "We were unlucky not to beat them in the League Cup earlier this season [Newcastle lost 2-0 at home] and we cannot wait for this one."

The only other potential all-Premiership fifth-round match will be Bolton against Fulham, but only if Fulham can overcome Derby County in next week's fourth-round replay.

Arsenal will face Championship opposition at Highbury in the form of either West Ham or Sheffield United. "There's no better incentive for both clubs ahead of the replay," Neil Warnock, the United manager, said.

Blackburn face a Lancashire derby against Burnley at Turf Moor. "It's as big as it gets in east Lancashire," Barry Kilby, Burnley's chairman, said. "There are only eight miles between us, it's a big occasion. We have got a good chance, I don't think Blackburn will be too happy about coming here."

The winners of West Brom's fourth-round replay with Tottenham will host Nottingham Forest, which might mean a return to The Hawthorns for Forest's Gary Megson. Charlton also face lower-league opponents in a home tie with Leicester City.

Southampton have been rewarded for their win over Portsmouth with a home game against the winners of the replay between League One sides Brentford and Hartlepool.



Bolton v Derby or Fulham

WBA or Tottenham v Nottm Forest

Everton v Manchester United

Charlton Athletic v Leicester City

Burnley v Blackburn Rovers

Soton v Brentford or Hartlepool

Newcastle v Chelsea

Arsenal v West Ham or Sheff Utd

(Ties to be played on 19 and 20 February'