Scales tips Liverpool to gain their revenge at last

Guy Hodgson previews tomorrow's tie between two teams who last met in the Cup seven years ago - in the final
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The FA Cup final of 1988 is not a subject to drop into the conversation at Anfield. It rankles that Liverpool failed to win the Double that season, and Wimbledon, their conquerors at Wembley, are still regarded as irksome pests. In all areas of the red half of Merseyside, that is, except one.

John Scales has warm memories of that May afternoon, as would be expected of anyone who finished with a Cup-winners' medal. He came on as a substitute that day to share in one of the great Wembley shocks: Wimbledon 1 Liverpool (John Barnes, Peter Beardsley, John Aldridge and all) 0.

Tomorrow, however, Scales will be turning out for the Goliaths against the Davids in the fifth round - the first Cup meeting between the clubs since the final of seven years ago. Scales is now a fully fledged behemoth in the centre of Liverpool's defence, meeting the team he was transferred from for £3m in September. Wimbledon, it can be assured, will have their catapults ready.

Scales' transition from Selhurst Park to Liverpool has gone as smoothly as any bank-breaking purchase could. His fellow centre-back, Phil Babb, who was signed from Coventry the following day, has occasionally struggled in his new environment, but Scales settled like he had been polished in the Boot Room from his formative years. "He looks like he's been here all his life," Roy Evans, the Liverpool manager, says admiringly.

"You always worry when you make a move," Scales says. "You're linked with other clubs, which is great, but you're never sure what to expect when you get there. But I settled down very quickly - there's a good atmosphere. I've been very happy with the way I'm playing. I love it here."

Scales has supplied defensive orthodoxy alongside the more quixotic Babb and Neil Ruddock, in a triple centre-back formation that has made Liverpool miserly in defence. However, he has not always adapted as well.

He was born in Harrogate, and his Yorkshire roots made sure he was fully acquainted with Leeds United's history and standing when he joined the club in 1984. He was weighed down by the reverence he believed to be due the manager, Eddie Gray, and colleagues like Peter Lorimer and David Harvey, and duly handicapped, he was given a free transfer to Bristol Rovers 15 months later.

He was not alone in finding Leeds an alien environment. Among his released colleagues were Terry Phelan, Denis Irwin, Scott Sellars, Andy Linighan and John Sheridan, all of whom are playing in the Premiership.

"We had a great youth side," Scales says, "but things like that happen everywhere. It was probably a good thing I left there. I was more in awe of going to Leeds than I was coming to Liverpool, but it was a good learning experience."

After two years with Bristol Rovers, he was transferred to Wimbledon for £70,000, becoming a member of the self-styled "Crazy Gang" for seven years. Crazy in name, maybe, but resolutely straight-laced when it came to the job. "I have kept my life uncomplicated, both on and off the field," he says. "Kept everything simple.

"I knew what was expected of me at Anfield, and I was very keen to live up to those standards. The club has paid a lot of money for me. I'm acutely aware of that, and I want to repay the faith they have shown."

As for the difference between Anfield and Selhurst Park, it is a question of emphasis. "Everything is higher profile," he says. "The expectation of the crowd and the media is bound to be that much higher because of the club's history and tradition. If things don't go well, and even if they do, everything is magnified. It's great - the spotlight, the pressure. It's everything I've always wanted."

The pressure is unlikely to become any greater than tomorrow, when he will be faced by erstwhile team-mates ever anxious to usurp the rich - particularly those who used to be one of their own. There is also the 7-1 thrashing by Aston Villa last Saturday, which will have been used by the Wimbledon manager, Joe Kinnear, as an extra spur.

"I would expect Joe to have his normal fly-off in all directions," Scales says, smiling at recollections of tirades past. "Then they'll have got down to some hard work on how they're going to stop us playing. They prepare very well, both on their set-pieces and on the pattern of their play.

"I still have a flat in Wimbledon, and keep in touch with a lot of them, particularly Warren [Barton], Robbie [Earle] and Dean [Holdsworth]. They're on a high. They've been enjoying their football since before Christmas, and it doesn't take much to restore confidence.

"They'll have been out somewhere doing something different. They won't let Saturday affect them too much. We just have to make sure we don't suffer a backlash," he says.

But as Barnes, one of the Liverpool players still at Anfield who played in that Cup final seven years ago, will tell him, it is not always that easy.

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