At Bramall Lane tomorrow, reviving Sheffield United return from their health-farm retreat to tackle the FA Cup favourites and Premier League leaders, Manchester United. The match will certainly massage the Blades' bank account, which is set to benefit by pounds 250,000 from gate receipts, perimeter advertising and TV fees.
For the fans, however, such considerations are secondary. A home win, coupled with a Wednesday success against Southend, would put the steel city on its mettle for a Wembley derby. Alternatively, a Manchester United victory would bring the Double tantalisingly into focus.
The dress rehearsal a week ago was in its closing minutes before Eric Cantona avenged August's defeat at Sheffield, but this time he will be absent on World Cup duty.
France have released Jean- Pierre Papin to play for Milan and Alex Ferguson confronted Gerard Houllier, France's coach, about the discrepancy. 'He explained that Milan have a number of injuries, so the circumstances are quite different,' United's manager said.
The talk at Hillsborough, after Wednesday's Coca-Cola Cup semi- final spree at Blackburn, is of the Treble. Fanciful perhaps, although Southend, 23rd in the First Division, ought not to trouble unduly a Wednesday team for whom defender Paul Warhurst is proving a formidable stand-in striker.
The biggest threat to Trevor Francis's men will come from the new partnership of Stan Collymore, 10 goals in 15 games, and Brett Angell, last season's leading scorer, who is back after a long injury lay-off.
North London also hosts two ties in 24 hours. Tottenham's collision with Wimbledon tomorrow has added spice, as if any were needed, after the outburst by the visitors' manager, Joe Kinnear, against Gary Lineker after Match of the Day's oracle said he preferred to watch the Dons on Ceefax.
Something must give: Spurs have won four of their last five games while Wimbledon followed up a shoot-out defeat of Aston Villa with 1-0 wins over Leeds and Arsenal. Their useful record at White Hart Lane includes beating Luton in the 1988 semi-final.
Arsenal's match against Nottingham Forest - a repeat of last month's Coca-Cola Cup tie which the Gunners won 2-0 - is also finely balanced, especially with George Graham faced by a plague of injuries, including with Alan Smith doubtful. Brian Clough's side are struggling for goals so the onus will be heavily on Ian Wright in what could be a dour contest.
The greatest potential for an upset is probably offered by Barnsley, at Manchester City, and Grimsby, at Ipswich. City tend to toil at home, and face a side sprinkled with ex-Maine Road players, while the East Anglians are better at stifling opponents than attacking them.
Along with Southend, Grimsby are the only club in the last 16 who have never won the Cup. Seventh in the First Division, and one of its purer footballing sides, their prospects will be enhanced if Ipswich's top scorer Chris Kiwomya fails a fitness test.
Bolton, conquerors of Liverpool and the only Second Division survivors, go to Derby without both regular centre-backs and midfielder Tony Kelly. Derby, meanwhile, responded positively to reports that Arthur Cox's job was in jeopardy, thumping Barnsley in midweek. The fact that Cox's opposite number today, Bruce Rioch, would be favourite to replace him should ensure Derby do not lack motivation.
Blackburn's match with Newcastle is inevitably being billed as Kenny Dalglish v Kevin Keegan. The tie has assumed fresh importance for Rovers after recent slips on two other fronts, while for the first time this season Newcastle are not expected to win.
Promotion is no longer the formality Tyneside once thought. With that priority in the back of Newcastle minds, the home team may prove hungrier. I expect them to join Wednesday, the Manchester clubs, Spurs, Arsenal, Derby and Grimsby in the quarter-finals, which will be drawn tomorrow evening.Reuse content