Port Vale hopes hang on talent of wings

Peter Lansley on the wide men who could worry Leeds in the FA Cup tonight
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The Independent Online
That Steve Guppy's career, previously peaking with three Wembley triumphs and a Boy's Own transfer to Newcastle United, reached a new high point last week as Port Vale beat Everton to set up tonight's FA Cup fifth- round visit to Leeds, says much for the player's ability to bounce back from bitter disappointment.

As the modest First Division club stood firm last Wednesday to defeat the Cup holders 2-1, their two dashing flank players provided a thrilling spectacle that ensures Leeds will not be complacent at Elland Road tonight.

Jon McCarthy's winning goal from his partner's centre thrust the wingers into the limelight from which Guppy has hidden since his pounds 150,000 move to Newcastle from Wycombe Wanderers 18 months ago turned up a cul de sac.

Guppy, who began his career in the Hampshire leagues where he once received a five-year ban for playing under his brother's name, progressed from a pounds 50 a week bricklayer in 1989 to winning two FA Trophy finals, the Conference title and a place in the 1994 Third Division play-offs. He acknowledges a debt to the then Wycombe manager, Martin O'Neill. "He came in, transformed the place overnight and gave me enough encouragement and sight of the ball to give it my best. I owe him a great deal," the 26-year old said.

Newcastle appeared the ideal test for Guppy's blossoming talents. "It was a great move, leaving me with a feeling of total disbelief. I arrived two weeks before the season started and went straight into the Makita tournament at Ibrox. I played in a 1-1 draw with Manchester United and against Sampdoria and Kevin Keegan acknowledged I did well. It was a superb experience for me. The forward line was Ruel Fox, Andy Cole, Peter Beardsley and me. For someone 12 months out of non-League football, that felt like quite something.''

However, Keegan's team raced to the top of the Premiership without Guppy, limited to substitute appearances in cup games. His spell at St James' Park ended when he followed Keegan's advice to accept John Rudge's invitation and join Port Vale in a pounds 225,000 deal. Chinese whispers contorted a harmless magazine interview into a screaming back-page tirade on the Newcastle manager.

"It was so upsetting - the worst aspect of the whole episode. You go to Newcastle with a dream to make it work, but if it's not to be then you've got to make the most of your situation." Which is what the former England semi-professional international is now doing. Vale have lost once in 17 games, and have enjoyed their 15 minutes of fame against the Premiership giants.

Guppy was relieved just to play against Everton. Embroiled in a Potteries gridlock one hour before kick-off, he ditched his car and made a two-mile dash to reach Vale Park at 7.20pm. If Leeds are apprehensive about his trickery, they will also be watching out for McCarthy's pace.

Guppy's team-mate has enjoyed a more gradual ascent to this week's heights. He delayed entering the full-time game to earn a sports science degree at Nottingham Polytechnic, making his first 17 League appearances for York City during his finals year of 1990-91 before signing professional. That summer he helped Britain win a bronze medal in the World Student Games in Sheffield alongside David Wetherall, who is battling to be fit for Leeds.

McCarthy went on to help York win the 1993 Third Division play-off final against Crewe, scoring in a penalty shoot-out decider, and only missed four League games in four seasons before becoming Rudge's record pounds 450,000 signing last summer.

"We do try and play football all over the pitch and when we kept losing the manager came close to changing the system, but he stuck with the two wingers and thankfully it's now coming good." Talk about a potential quarter-final tie with Liverpool is strictly off-limits, but McCarthy and Guppy, determined not to fly too high lest their wings should melt, are entitled to enjoy their hour in the sun.

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