FOOTBALL : Writing may be on wall not Cup for Spurs

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The Independent Online


It required just 30 seconds of celebration this week before that old sage of the Anfield Boot Room, Ronnie Moran, brought his players crashing to the ground. "You've won sod all yet," he growled, bursting the bubble of self-congratulation caused by Liverpool reaching the Coca-Cola Cup final.

Tottenham Hotspur would do well to heed the advice. The euphoria surrounding the FA Cup quarter-finalists' progress in the competition has led many to anticipate Spurs winning the trophy for a record ninth time, on the least scientific of bases - that "their name is on it". To pursue that same train of thought, it will be even more indelibly so if they defeat Liverpool at Anfield this afternoon.

If the omens of Tottenham's expulsion and reinstatement after appeal in the competition, and the comeback from a 2-0 deficit at Southampton point to the cockerel crowing at Wembley on 20 May, there are more tangible reasons for favouring Liverpool. Five wins in five attempts (twice in quarter-finals) against Spurs in the Cup since the Second World War for a start, not to mention an impressive home record this season of one defeat in 22 matches.

"Of course it is going to be tough," said the Tottenham striker, Teddy Sheringham, who lines up against Neil Ruddock, his former team-mate at Millwall and Spurs. "Neil will see that it is personally tough for me. It's what I 'd expect, even though he is a mate."

No doubt he will be reminding his erstwhile colleague that it was Ruddock's own goal which gave Spurs a 1-1 draw when the teams met at Anfield in the Premiership last November.

Crystal Palace need no tuition when it comes to own goals, at least not the metaphorical ones brought about by drug abuse. They will be without Chris Armstrong - still undergoing a rehabilitation programme after traces of cannabis were found in a random test - for the visit of Wolverhampton Wanderers, but at least they can recall one of the two strikers missing against Liverpool.

Iain Dowie, cup-tied for the Coca-Cola Cup semi-final, returns, which allows Chris Coleman, an emergency striker on Wednesday, to return to centre-back. "I shan't be doing that again," the Palace manager, Alan Smith, said of the experiment. "Coleman battled away, but it didn't really come off. He is certainly more valuable to us in defence, and has had a very good season there."

Wolves also make a change to their defence, Brian Law coming in to replace John de Wolf, whose right knee ligaments damaged against Sunderland in midweek will keep him out for at least eight weeks.

Newcastle last reached the semi-finals of the FA Cup in 1974, when they ultimately lost to Liverpool in the final, conceding two goals to the man who is now their manager. Kevin Keegan took his team to Merseyside last week and was beaten 2-0 at Anfield, but will be more confident at Goodison Park tomorrow, where Everton have been using the Cup as a diversion from their relegation struggle.

Newcastle have yet to concede a goal to the Merseysiders since their return to the Premiership, and there is a possibility they will have the former Everton player, Peter Beardsley, fit to exacerbate the feelings of annoyance that he was allowed to leave Goodison. Beardsley will have a fitness test on the injured hamstring that forced him to miss Wednesday's win over West Ham.

Queen's Park Rangers will also travel hopefully for tomorrow's tie against Manchester United, armed with a seven-match unbeaten run and a striker the Cup holders coveted earlier in the season. United were reported to have offered £5m in instalments for Kevin Gallen, and may live to regret the bid was refused.

Gallen made his first-team debut at Old Trafford on the opening day of the season, and had what seemed a perfectly good goal disallowed for offside. "I treat every game the same," he said, "whether it is Ipswich or Manchester United in an FA Cup quarter-final."

He must hope United, who have Roy Keane and Andrei Kanchelskis back by way of compensation for the Cup-tied Andy Cole, do not also approach the game in the same way they treated Ipswich. While the champions are tied up in the Cup, Blackburn will increase their lead over United at the top of the Premiership to six points if they defeat Coventry City at Highfield Road today.

"With a little bit more belief and a little bit more confidence, who knows what we can achieve," Kenny Dalglish, the Rovers manager, said. After four victories and a draw in Blackburn's last five matches, Coventry and United would probably prefer not to think about it.

Glenn Moore on Ian Rush, Gordon Cowans' quality control, Football Diary,

Team news, page 46