Changes necessary

Last updated : 02 January 2002 By Dave Moore
Athletic boss Mick Wadsworth has a series of selection headaches for the FA Cup third-round tie at Cheltenham on Sunday. After achieving a hat-trick of wins over Christmas, Wadsworth must break up the side which would have faced Tranmere if the big freeze hadn’t struck.

There will be at least four changes when Athletic take on a Cheltenham team who are also in fine form and have moved into division three’s play-offzone. Around 10 more players were already ruled out for weekend, so the strength of Athletic’s squad is being tested to the full.

Goalkeeper Gary Kelly, who hasn’t played since the tie at Hull on December 8, will be pressed into service after recovering from minor knee surgery. On-loan Paul Rachubka has done well in place of the veteran, but Manchester United often use cup games to blood their youngsters and want the 20-year-old kept available. Striker David Reeves, however, is already cup-tied from his appearances with Chesterfield. Reeves has hit three goals in his first three games – all of them victories – and his absence will be keenly felt byAthletic.

Right-back Dean Holden is another man forced on to the sidelines as he has been booked five timessince joining on loan from Bolton. An automatic ban is now triggered and Scott McNiven, who was recentlydropped for the first time since 1998/99, could be recalled. Finally, and causing more disruption to an in-formdefence, Athletic’s other regular full-back is ruled out. Chris Armstrong arrived from Bury with two yellowcards and, after reaching the cut-off point, misses his first match.

Wadsworth may be able to make up for thelosses by bringing Tony Carss back into his squad. Carss is yet to play under the new coach due to ankleproblems, but he has returned to full training. Athletic are set to take over 1,000 fans to Cheltenham.