Football Round-up: Bait for Wolves

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The Independent Online
BY STRADDLING three days at the behest of television, the FA Cup quarter-finals have been robbed of their immediacy and excitement. But do not bother to argue the point with the players and fans of Chelsea and Wolverhampton Wanderers, who gather at Stamford Bridge this afternoon, or those of West Ham United and Luton Town, who meet in the fourth sixth-round tie at Upton Park tomorrow night.

If any motivation other than an FA Cup semi-final place were needed, Wolves have found it. The players are promised a free holiday in the Bahamas, home and business address of their chairman Sir Jack Hayward, if they win the final on 14 May. 'We were superior by far in the two games against Ipswich,' their striker David Kelly said. 'We respect Chelsea as a talented side but we think they are beatable.'

True enough. Quite a few Premiership sides have found Chelsea beatable this season, Manchester United excepted, but they have won three on the trot although their manager, Glenn Hoddle, is not getting carried away. 'We have a record of coming down to earth against the more unfashionable clubs,' he said. But this tie 'is just as big a match as going to Old Trafford last week and that's the way we are approaching it'.

In addition to yesterday's reassertion of Premiership superiority, other omens favour Hoddle. The last time four top- tier sides faced four from the second level in the quarter- finals, 1970, was the year Chelsea won the Cup for the only time. One hopes their chairman, farmer Ken Bates, has not promised the side a holiday at his home and business address. Mucking out pigs is not much of an incentive.

Hoddle's selection problem is the striker Mark Stein (ankle ligaments), stretchered off at Old Trafford. 'He has made a very good recovery but there is still some swelling. It would be silly to take a risk.'

Having dispatched Newcastle, Luton Town go to Upton Park tomorrow with no fear in their hearts. On the other hand, 'West Ham have plenty to fear,' the Hatters' former Chelsea striker Kerry Dixon said. 'Billy Bonds (the Hammers' manager) has been to see us three times so we know just how concerned they are about us.'

While Charlton were engaged on FA Cup duty, their closest First Division promotion rivals - Crystal Palace, Nottingham Forest and Leicester City - all won. At the bottom, victories for Peterborough and Barnsley deepened the gloom at Birmingham and Oxford.

The leaders of the Second and Third Divisions lost for the second consecutive week. Reading went down 3-1 at Plymouth who are now just two points adrift. Crewe's lead at the top of the Third is down to one point after their 1-0 defeat at struggling Darlington. Their goalkeeper, Mark Smith, was sent off after 19 seconds, the fastest-ever red card, when he brought down Robbie Painter who converted the penalty.

Finally, the boxing promoter Frank Maloney is to have talks this week with Rick Wright, the Cardiff City chairman, who has been trying to sell the club. The present knockdown price is pounds 500,000. 'I have a consortium ready to take it over,' Maloney said. They will not have been impressed by yesterday's 2-0 home defeat against Blackpool. 'The supporters are tremendous,' he continued, 'and both the club and the fans remind me very much of my home-town club Millwall.' Indeed so.

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