Hughes proves his importance to United

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The Independent Online
For a man who was regarded as surplus to requirements - at least European ones - not so long ago Mark Hughes has suddenly become indispensable to the fortunes of Manchester United, all the more so tomorrow when the champions and FA Cup holders must fend off the fifth-round challenge of their old adversaries, Leeds United, without the suspended Eric Cantona and the ineligible Andy Cole.

Furthermore they will be looking to their combative Welshman to shoot down the Yorkshire team even though he is only 80 per cent fit. How quickly situations can change. When he was carried off with what looked at the time like a serious knee injury while scoring against Newcastle a month ago, his days at Old Trafford seemed numbered. Cole had just been signed for £7m and was set to displace Hughes in attack alongside Cantona.

Now with Cantona banished following his dust-up at the Palace and kicking his heels - among other objects - on a Caribbean beach, Hughes is back to the fore. A goal for the reserves in midweek was all the encouragement Alex Ferguson, the United manager, needed to select him alongside Paul Scholes in attack as United seek to restore their superiority over Leeds with Roy Keane also to the fore again after suspension; the win by Howard Wilkinson's team over United at Elland Road last September was their first in 13 games between the two clubs.

The game may also see the long-awaited first start of Leeds' £3.4m club record signing, Tony Yeboah, after 45 minutes' appearance spread over four games. With Brian Deane - as well as Carlton Palmer - suspended the decision to put the Ghanaian into the starting line-up may be forced upon the Leeds manager.

Wilkinson is thinking postively. "We must go for it because if you go looking for a draw in cup competitions then make a mistake and concede a goal, you can find yourself going out," he said. "United have a formidable defence but we've been in good form lately."

Liverpool have more than a few scores to settle with Wimbledon but the one in 1988 at Wembley will, as ever, be uppermost in their minds on this FA Cup day. Liverpool will need to be on their guard should they get their noses in front with Vinnie "Hannibal Lecter" Jones about. That legendary sniffer of half-chances, Ian Rush, in particular needs to watch out. If any team can put the embarassment of conceding seven goals quickly behind them Wimbledon can.

Phil Babb's suspension means that Liverpool will revert to a flat back four, thereby making them possibly more of an effective attacking force than they were against Crystal Palace in their Coca-Cola Cup semi-final first leg in midweek. Indeed the admirable fortitude of Alan Smith's team may be even more seriously tested by a Watford side who have stealthily crept into a challenging position in the First Division under the stewardship of Glenn Roeder.

Watford could quite easily find themselves in the draw for the last eight tomorrow along with Graham Taylor, their former mentor. It is difficult to look beyond a home victory in any of the weekend's ties and Leicester of the Premiership are patently at risk at Molineux; Foxes are no match for Wolves.

Odd as it may seem Millwall of the First Division represent perhaps the best chance of an away success, at QPR. In each of the previous two rounds the Lions saved their best for replays at the grounds of neighbours Arsenal and Chelsea. A third London scalp is not beyond Mick McCarthy's talented young side.

Tottenham, declared a non-runner in this competition before the Football Association rescinded that decision, are set to advance a stage further against Southampton despite the south coast club's penchant for draws - eight in their last 10 games.

While Ferguson can still dream of the Double he might spare a thought for his Manchester counterpart, Brian Horton, should City's comprehensive derby defeat last week be followed swiftly by exit from the Cup. It might finally be time then for the chairman, Francis Lee, to put the poor man out of his misery.