Griffiths ready to carry on the duel

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The Independent Online
A defender out of the bargain basement could finally prise Everton's tenuous grip from the FA Cup in tonight's fourth-round replay at Port Vale.

Gareth Griffiths, a pounds 1,000 signing from non-League Rhyl, had a memorable duel with Duncan Ferguson in the original 2-2 draw - the second time in this season's competition that the holders have been held at Goodison Park.

Joe Royle's side eventually stumbled through 3-2 at Stockport in the last round. "Duncan's the most powerful player I've met in the air but I felt I won my fair share against him," Griffiths said. "He's a class player and anyone with ambition should want to test themselves against him. Our front four caused their defence a lot of problems at Goodison and I expect them to do the same again. With luck and the crowd behind us, there's no reason why we can't win."

Vale will be at full strength, while the Premiership side give late tests to Ferguson (groin) and midfielder Joe Parkinson (ankle) but have John Ebbrell, Andrei Kanchelskis and Paul Rideout available after suspension, international duty and injury respectively.

"We are the holders but we're making hard work of it," Royle said. "I'm certainly expecting another hard game. I was impressed with Port Vale, but totally unimpressed with the way we played."

The winners are away to Bolton or Leeds, who should finally get their tie under way at Burnden Park tonight. Howard Wilkinson's sights are already on Wembley, with a place in the Coca-Cola Cup final beckoning, and his side should progress against Premiership strugglers who have lost eight of their last 12 games.

But Wilkinson warns: "The FA Cup is Bolton's last chance of glory this season so they will have their tails up. I would be happy with a repeat of the result and performance - and the kind of commitment - we achieved at Birmingham."

Battling midfielder Mark Ford has been passed fit after gashing his knee but John Pemberton and Richard Jobson will again be missing from defence, while Tomas Brolin is still having treatment on a thigh injury.

The Bolton manager, Colin Todd, may make wholesale changes after accusing his players of letting him down against Aston Villa, which may mean recalls for Mixu Paatelainen and John McGinlay. Nathan Blake, who has struggled to adjust to life at the top level and is still without a goal two months after arriving from Sheffield United, looks certain to be dropped.

"We can't afford to let our heads drop," Todd said. "This is a big, big game for us and unless we show the right attitude and passion and desire we face major problems. You always get a tough game against Leeds."

The Coventry branch of the Manchester United Old Boys' Club - Dion Dublin, Gordon Strachan and their manager, Ron Atkinson - would like to set up a meeting at Old Trafford on Sunday, but Manchester City have the prospect of a local derby to encourage them in tonight's replay.

Both Citys are struggling this season and Atkinson says: "It is nice to put the League to one side for a while and enjoy a bit of spice and possibly glory but our clear priority is to be in the Premiership next season."

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