Crewe Alex: Old rivals have scores to settle
TONIGHT has all the makings of a revenge thriller – it just remains to be seen who is determined to get even.
Crewe surely have nothing to fear about a home Johnstone's Paint Trophy match-up (7.30pm) against Doncaster, the 8-1 third favourites to scoop the silverware in April.
After all, they saw off Dean Saunders' side 2-0 on their own turf just last month in League One.
But Doncaster, who have since won four of their last six, are desperate to put right the events of that night and get their hands on the trophy they won in 2007... with Crewe one of their victims along the way.
Back then, it was the Railwaymen who had seemed set to reach their first-ever major cup final, when they met Rovers in the last four of this same competition.
Crewe drew the first leg 3-3 before going 2-0 up in the second, at home, thanks to first-half goals from Luke Varney and Ryan Lowe.
But their dreams were scuppered in a controversy-filled last 45 minutes – and the referee was Trevor Kettle, who takes up the whistle again this evening.
Paul Heffernan fired in Doncaster's first on 62 minutes, stemming from a free-kick harshly awarded against David Vaughan.
Jason Price then allowed the ball to stray over the touchline before being brought down by Billy Jones for a penalty, which Heffernan converted at the second attempt.
Price scrambled in number three in an 89th-minute heartbreaker.
But there was still time for one more insult, coming when TV footage showed substitute Michael Higdon's stoppage-time equaliser, ruled out for offside, should have stood.
It is only a last 16 clash this time around, but Crewe manager Steve Davis admits it will take greater significance now both clubs are fresh out of the FA Cup.
"You do not get your rewards until the latter rounds, unlike the FA Cup," said Davis, who saw his side crash 1-0 to Burton Albion on Saturday while Rovers were losing 3-1 at Oldham.
"But this is still a good competition and a great opportunity to get to Wembley. We want to do well, even though the priority will remain the league.
"We had a tough game away at Doncaster, a really hard and physical game and they will want to put that result right. But we were up for the fight then and we will be again.
"We may not get a huge crowd because we've just come off a home match on Saturday, but we will have to make our own atmosphere.
"And it would be nice, if we can get through, to get Port Vale in the next round. That would add a bit of interest."
Davis will shake things up from the weekend, with Steve Phillips, Adam Dugdale, Brad Inman, Michael West and Max Clayton all pushing for starting places.
In keeper Phillips' case it would be a first start of the season, while Davis hinted he would rest one of his central defenders to give Dugdale another chance.
He said: "Adam was unfortunate to be ill for the West Ham game (in the League Cup in August) and since then the two centre-halves have been superb.
"Maybe one will need a rest now and we can give Adam an opportunity to remind us what he can do."
Rovers' fine form has largely been inspired by winger David Cotterill going forward and skipper Rob Jones at the back.
But Saunders will be tested as he deals with injuries and suspensions.
Cotterill and red-hot striker Iain Hume are back after being banned for the trip to Oldham but influential midfielder Paul Keegan is out after clocking up five bookings.
Other midfielders Martin Woods and James Harper are struggling with thigh injuries, while winger Kyle Bennett and ex-Potteries pair Billy Paynter, formerly of Vale, and Andy Griffin, of Stoke, are nursing hamstring strains.