Football: Tranmere in mood for third cup upset

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The Independent Online
TRANMERE ROVERS go for the final leg of what would be a tremendous Premiership treble trouncing tonight determined to leave Bryan Robson as embarrassed as Harry Redknapp was on Saturday.

Rovers cannot wait for their home tie with Robson's Middlesbrough in the Worthington Cup quarter-finals after the mauling they dished out to Redknapp's West Ham United in the FA Cup on Saturday. Add that to an early- season 5-1 rout of Coventry and you can see why Tranmere's manager, John Aldridge, reckons his shoestring First Division side can head on to Wembley.

However, the striker David Kelly, the former West Ham striker who played such a big part in his old club's downfall at the weekend, warned that Rovers must maintain that level of performance to stand any chance against Boro. "We have to play as well as we did against West Ham, it's as simple as that. Middlesbrough are a very good team and it will take another great performance to beat them," he said. "But people shouldn't be surprised by the way we played against West Ham. We have been playing like that for the past few months, particularly at home.

"We hammered them and deserved it. Now we must do just the same thing to Middlesbrough and we could be on the brink of Wembley. We're confident - we should be after beating West Ham like we did. We made West Ham look bad. We gave them no time on the ball and our plan worked very well. Now we have to go out and do it all over again."

Robson, Middlesbrough's manager, is relying on the battered pride of his players to fuel their bid for a place in the semi-finals. The Teessiders were unceremoniously dumped out of the FA Cup by Second Division Wrexham at the weekend in the third round's biggest shock.

While Robson will swallow the criticism that came in the wake of a game they never considered losing, he is confident that their humiliation at the Racecourse Ground will prove a positive factor tonight.

"After 26 years in football, you get used to criticism," Robson said. "Obviously, it's hard to take, but you have your good times and you have your bad times. That's a bad time and you've got to take it. You expect criticism when your team gets beaten by a team which is two divisions lower than you. Things can happen in cup games.

"There's a determination in the lads. It's a blow to anybody's ego when you're on the other end of a giant-killing. I suffered it once as a player when Manchester United played against Bournemouth and the lads have suffered it on Saturday. It hurts your pride and you want to bounce back, and they couldn't have a better opportunity."

The game is another, on paper at least, that Boro will feel they should win, but having had Aldridge's side watched on Saturday, Robson knows exactly what to expect.

"They played very well against West Ham and thoroughly deserved to win the game," he said. "They put a lot of hard work into the game. But going into a quarter-final, if my players want it badly enough, then they should work harder than Tranmere."

Bolton Wanderers welcome back three key players as they try to book a place in the Worthington Cup semi-finals at the expense of Wimbledon at the Reebok Stadium. Gudni Bergsson (groin), Mike Whitlow (concussion) and Robbie Elliott (hernia) are all back in contention to boost the home squad.

Bergsson has not figured since the fourth-round win over Sheffield Wednesday, while Whitlow and Elliott have both returned to training following Saturday's FA Cup postponement against Cardiff.

The Wimbledon defenders Ben Thatcher, Dean Blackwell and Chris Willmott are out injured, Hermann Hreidarsson is cup-tied and both Kenny Cunningham and Alan Kimble face fitness tests.

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