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Football: Rovers look poised for Wembley return

SEVENTEEN YEARS after their previous visit, Forest Green Rovers are on the brink of a return to Wembley.

The little club from the Gloucestershire village of Nailsworth have come a long way since they beat Rainworth Miners' Welfare to win the FA Vase in 1982. They are now in the Nationwide Conference, and they are also trying to become the first team to win the FA Umbro Trophy as well as the Vase.

In tomorrow's Trophy semi-final first legs Forest Green visit the Ryman League club St Albans City, while Kingstonian entertain Cheltenham Town. "It's the draw we would have chosen," Frank Gregan, the Rovers manager, said, "but that goes for St Albans as well - they would have wanted to avoid Cheltenham and Kingstonian, who are both top Conference sides."

Rovers' recent form in the Conference has not been good - they lost 4- 0 at Hereford United on Monday and 2-0 at home to Woking two days later - but their performances in the Trophy have been impressive. They have scored 16 goals in five ties and thrashed Southport, last season's beaten finalists, 4-1 in the quarter-finals.

St Albans, who had not been beyond the last 32 of the Trophy prior to this season, have signed Mick Bodley and Derek Payne from Peterborough in time for tomorrow's tie. "St Albans are 180 minutes from Wembley and they obviously need to boost their squad," Barry Fry, the Posh manager, said.

If Cheltenham, the Trophy holders, are to return to Wembley they will have to outwit Kingstonian's Geoff Chapple, a manager who won the Trophy three times in four years with his previous club, Woking. His counterpart at the Conference leaders, Steve Cotterill, said: "The manager I have most respect for at this level is Geoff, and we know that he will make it a very difficult tie for us."

Like Forest Green, Kingstonian have had little time to prepare for their Trophy ties because of a backlog of Conference fixtures - they were playing at Hereford last night. They also visit Cheltenham for a league game next Tuesday prior to the semi- final second leg at Whaddon Road tomorrow week. The other second leg at The Lawn will be staged the following day, Sunday 18 April at 1.30pm, in order to boost the crowd at Forest Green.

At the bottom of the Conference, Farnborough Town will be relegated tomorrow if they lose at Woking and Barrow win at Hednesford. Nuneaton Borough confirmed their place in the Conference next term when a 2-0 victory at Atherstone United last Saturday secured the Dr Martens League title.

In the other Conference feeder leagues, the Ryman League leaders Sutton United will be the favourites for the title if they avoid defeat at second- placed Aylesbury United tomorrow. Sutton are a point ahead with a game in hand. In the UniBond League, second-placed Altrincham will go up even if they finish as runners-up to the current leaders, Worksop Town, whose ground does not meet Conference requirements.