Football: Sharpe joins the party

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LEE SHARPE of Manchester United and Sheffield United's Brian Deane have been promoted from standby duty to the full England squad following the withdrawal of the Arsenal strikers Ian Wright and Alan Smith. However, before the newcomers can join England's quest for a wheelbarrowful of World Cup goals against San Marino at Wembley on Wednesday they must survive this afternoon's FA Cup tie between their clubs at Bramall Lane.

A nasty outbreak of 'Rangers groin' could force the Scotland coach, Andy Roxburgh, to lose three of the Premier Division leaders from his World Cup selections for Wednesday's match against Malta. Dave McPherson, Stuart McCall and Richard Gough are the crocks.

SPEAKING of Rangers, their leisurely procession to a fifth consecutive league title was rudely interrupted by bottom-of-the-table Airdrieonians at Ibrox yesterday. Owen Coyle had the gall to put the visitors ahead after 13 minutes but Ally McCoist's 40th and 41st goals of the season gave Rangers the lead on the half-hour and the faithful sat back to applaud further successes. Coyle, nothing daunted, equalised 11 minutes from time. Rangers' closest pursuers, Aberdeen and Celtic, drew at Pittodrie.

IN THE First Division, West Ham moved to within four points of the leaders, Newcastle United, after their 2-1 win at Watford. Both goals came from crosses. First, Julian Dicks delivered from the left for Mark Robson to head in and, after Ken Charlery had equalised, Peter Butler centred and Kevin Keen lashed in the winner at the far post. Next Sunday West Ham entertain Newcastle.

DESPITE the return of the striker John Aldridge after suspension, Tranmere slumped to their first home league defeat of the season - against lowly Luton. The Hatters' scorers were Phil Gray and Marvin Johnson. Rovers' surprising defeat gave Portsmouth the chance to go fourth and they did not spurn it, beating struggling Birmingham 3-2 at St Andrews in a win that owed everything to swift ripostes. Brum equalised twice but Guy Whittingham restored Pompey's lead both times.

ARNOLD BENNETT would be a happy man today with the Potteries' Second Division clubs atop the table. The leaders, Stoke, had a day off but Port Vale's 2-0 defeat of Swansea kept them in the other automatic promotion place. Nicky Cross and Keith Houchen scored and two of their previous clubs, West Brom and Leyton Orient respectively, both won to maintain pursuit.

WEEKS of propping up the Premier and Football leagues has improved Gillingham's muscle-tone to such an extent that yesterday's 3-1 home win over Scarborough was enough to lift them above Torquay, who lost 4-0 at Cardiff. The Welsh side, who scored three in the last 10 minutes, are now second, seven points behind Barnet, who won 1-0 at Carlisle.

HARTLEPOOL UNITED have not scored for 818 playing minutes. Their last goal was Andy Saville's somewhat controversial penalty eight minutes from the end of their third-round elimination of Crystal Palace.

RECENT history suggests that today's all-ticket fifth-round tie at Bramall Lane between the Uniteds of Sheffield and Manchester will be close if Dave Bassett's Blades take the lead. 'We simply must stop them taking an early lead,' Manchester's Danish international goalkeeper, Peter Schmeichel, said. 'They keep doing it and we end up chasing the game which makes life difficult because they defend so well.' Sheffield have already beaten Alex Ferguson's championship leaders at Bramall Lane this season and last week held on to their customary early lead past the hour at Old Trafford.

The Blades give fitness tests to defenders David Barnes and Brian Gayle and forwards Glyn Hodges and Adrian Littlejohn, but full-back Kevin Gage is definitely out. Manchester United's Eric Cantona is on World Cup duty with France.