Nugent - the clear and present danger

Pearce issues warning to his City men as Preston's coveted striker threatens grand plan
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Stuart Pearce needs no reminding how big an obstacle David Nugent will be to Manchester City's hopes of reaching the FA Cup sixth round this afternoon

The Preston forward has already been identified as a potential England international of the future by the current national head coach Steve McClaren and even if the Lilywhites do not make it into the Premiership this term, it is not expected to be long before the former Bury striker finds his way into the top flight.

Pearce has already seen Nugent's abilities at close quarters once this month, when the pair were on England Under-21 duty at Pride Park. On that occasion, Nugent helped Pearce out by scoring England's first as they battled back from two goals down to earn a draw against Spain in the City manager's first match of his new role with the national set-up.

"You always look at anyone who is doing reasonably well outside the Premier League and David is heading in the right direction, that is for sure," said Pearce. "He is an improving talent, who did reasonably well for England Under-21s.

"In a transfer sense, what you are looking for is value for money. It has been mooted they have turned down £6million, which is an extremely large amount of money."

With 13 goals to his name for Preston this season, Nugent has scored more than City's entire four-man strikeforce combined. Little wonder that Pearce has tied up the signing of Belgian international Emile Mpenza until the end of the season.

Mpenza has been released from a lucrative contract in Qatar, making him eligible to join for City under Fifa's transfer rules. And, with 17 international goals and 47 caps to his credit, Mpenza could be just the man required to boost the Blues' flagging strikeforce, which will be halved in size today by the absences of Paul Dickov and Darius Vassell.

The twin injury blow means Pearce is likely to pair underperforming duo Georgios Samaras and Bernardo Corradi in the Blues attack. Neither man has particularly endeared themselves to the City faithful this term and while Pearce continues to defend them publicly, he also knows there will be no excuses. He added: "All the forwards have been rotated and all have around 20 appearances to their name. We change them from time to time to freshen things up but at the end of the season, none of them will be able to say they have not had enough time on the pitch to prove themselves."

Having reached the last eight of the FA Cup 12 months ago, only to let themselves down badly in a home quarter-final with West Ham, City are eager to win today to atone for that loss. They have already disposed of two Championship sides but, having seen off Sheffield Wednesday and Southampton, Pearce knows his team's next test is their biggest in the Cup. "Preston are better than the two sides we have faced so far, and they are also at home. If we are not up for it, we will be out. But we all saw the excitement generated by our run in the competition last season and it would be nice to feel that again."

If Preston manager Paul Simpson sticks with the formation employed in the last two matches, Nugent could be joined in a three-pronged attack by Michael Ricketts and Neil Mellor.

One-time England international Ricketts, who arrived on a free transfer in January after losing two stones with a personal trainer in the United States, looks to have got his career back on track after dropping down the League from Bolton and Middlesbrough to Southend. Mellor arrived from Liverpool in August but has yet to start for his new club due to knee problems similar to those that plagued his spell at Anfield.

Preston's 35-year-old captain Graham Alexander said: "We've got a lot of firepower up front and hopefully they'll do it for us. They've been at Premiership clubs but they're level-headed lads. I don't think there's any personal mission on their part to prove a point to anyone."