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Chelsea’s FA Cup luck held again when the draw for the quarter-finals was made on Monday. The favourites gained their third successive home draw, but will face Premiership opposition for the first time in the form of London rivals Tottenham Hotspur.
Manchester United, the second favourites, were drawn away for the first time in this season’s competition, however. They will play at either Middlesbrough or Championship side West Bromwich Albion provided they beat Reading in their fifth-round replay next week.
Arsenal’s tortuous FA Cup progress will mean facing a Premiership club – Manchester City – again but with the advantage of another home draw. But they first have to beat Blackburn Rovers in another replay next week.
Plymouth Argyle, the only other non-Premiership side remaining, will play Watford in a repeat of their 1984 semi-final which the Hertfordshire side won 1-0. But the Premiership’s bottom club will not relish the trip to Home Park where a run of fine form has seen Argyle rise to 11th place in the Championship.
Chelsea versus Spurs, however, will be the pick of the round. The Stamford Bridge team will be favourites, particularly given Tottenham’s poor away record this season. But Jose Mourinho’s men lost to Spurs in the league for the first time in 16 years in their last meeting at White Hart Lane in November, and Spurs showed a much steelier outlook in their 4-0 fifth-round triumph at Fulham on Sunday.
Bookmaker Coral has Chelsea as 7/4 Cup favourites followed by Manchester United (10/3) and Arsenal (4/1). Spurs are listed at 12/1 with West Brom the 80/1 outsiders.
FA Cup quarter-finals: Middlesbrough or West Bromwich Albion v Manchester United or Reading, Arsenal or Blackburn v Manchester City, Chelsea v Tottenham, Plymouth v Watford.
The matches will be played on March 10 or 11.
Meanwhile, Coventry City confirmed that Iain Dowie will be their new manager. The former Charlton and Crystal Palace manager signed a three and a half year contract. Dowie, 42, will be assisted by Tim Flowers, who moves from Manchester City where he was goalkeeping coach.
Wigan Athletic have signed Preston goalkeeper Carlo Nash on a month’s emergency loan following injuries to Chris Kirkland and Mike Pollitt.
■ RUGBY UNION Wales have radically restructured the pack that failed so hopelessly in the defeat by Scotland at Murrayfield last weekend, writes Huw Richards. The changes leave lock forward Alun Wyn Jones as the only front-five starter to hold his place for the RBS 6 Nations match with France in Paris on Saturday.
It is, though, evidence of the limited forward options available to coach Gareth Jenkins that three of the four tight-five changes reinstate players dropped after failing to establish the ascendancy hoped for in the opening match against Ireland. The Ospreys propping duo of Duncan and Adam Jones are consigned back to the sideline – Adam does not even make the 22 – as Chris Horsman and Gethin Jenkins are reinstated. Ian Gough regains his second row place at the expense of Robert Sidoli, also omitted from the 22, as Brent Cockbain is recalled to the squad after a two-year absence. Hooker Matthew Rees, a replacement during the first two games, completes a new front row as he displaces Rhys Thomas. The back-row is unchanged with Jenkins resisting the temptation to recall in-form Colin Charvis.
Welsh fans seeking reasons to believe that their team can avoid a third consecutive defeat will look to history – the Stade de France is Wales’s most successful ground, with three wins in four visits – and a strengthened back division. They have badly missed the darting runs of wing Shane Williams and the creativity of centre Tom Shanklin, who return at the expense of Chris Czekaj and Jamie Robinson.
Lee Byrne’s recall at full-back reflects both his form for Ospreys and the misfortunes of others – Gareth Thomas is suspended and Gavin Henson both injured and out of form while previous incumbent Kevin Morgan underlined his reputation as the rugby player who makes Jonny Wilkinson look lucky by suffering a broken jaw at Murrayfield.
Scotland’s replacement winger Simon Webster has been ruled out of Saturday’s game against Italy at Murrayfield because of an ankle injury. Webster sustained the injury during Edinburgh’s 13-6 Magners League defeat to Leinster on Friday night.
Meanwhile in club rugby, Northampton have signed fly-half Barry Everitt from Guinness Premiership rivals London Irish. Everitt, 30, one of the most prolific goalkickers in Premiership history, has agreed a three-year deal and will join Saints next season.
■ TENNIS Roger Federer equalled Jimmy Connors’ record of 160 consecutive weeks as the top-ranked player in men’s tennis. Federer has held the ATP Tour number one ranking since February 2 2004, and he is assured of breaking the record next week.
British number one Andy Murray has retained 13th place in the rankings following his victory in the SAP Open in San Jose. The 19-year-old beat Ivo Karlovic of Croatia 6-7 6-4 7-6 to retain his title. The victory means Murray has an opportunity to move into the top 10 in the coming weeks. This week he plays in the Regions Morgan Keegan Championships in Memphis.
San Jose seems to suit the Murray family, for his elder brother Jamie, in tandem with American partner Eric Butorac, won the doubles title. They beat fourth seeds Chris Haggard of South Africa and Germany’s Rainer Schuettler 7-5 7-6. Jamie is now the highest-placed British doubles player in the ATP rankings at 53. This is a rise of 12 places and increases his chances of joining Andy in the Great Britain Davis Cup squad to play Holland in April.
■ BOXING Britain’s Ricky Hatton will face former world lightweight champion José Luís Castillo of Mexico in Las Vegas on June 23. The pair will fight for the IBO light welterweight crown but the belt is a virtual irrelevance with the prize of becoming undisputed king of the 147lbs division at stake.
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