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Albion wary of wounded Rams.

Gary Megson has warned his West Bromwich Albion players to be on their guard against some frenzied retaliation from chastened Worthington Cup opponents Derby County at The Hawthorns this evening.

The resurgent First Division club lead one of the Premiership's endangered species 2-1 going into their biggest night of football since they booked a trip to Wembley in the Second Division play-off final in 1993.

Megson has left his players in no doubt that Derby will come hell-bent on exacting retribution for their second-half humiliation at Pride Park, where Albion launched a stunning first-leg counter-offensive with goals from Neil Clement and Richard Sneekes.

The Albion manager has likened the Rams to a wounded animal scenting revenge. And ominously for Megson's team, Derby will have their leader back for the return tie. Craig Burley, who has been sorely missed in midfield since he sustained a calf injury before the start of the season, came through his 90-minute test against Leeds United on Saturday and he plays tonight.

'Nobody in our dressing-room should be under any illusions about what we're up against in the second leg,' Megson warned last night. 'The last thing Derby want to do is to go out of a competition that could be their only ticket into Europe.

'They have a score to settle with us and if we play anything like we did in the first half at their place, when we stood back and let them play, we'll lose. If we perform like we did in the second half, we'll give ourselves a chance.

'We're still the underdogs because they're a Premiership side and they have better players than we do. Derby are still the favourites.'

Sneekes, who scored Albion's vital second away goal with a 30-yard swerver, also envisages a hazardous second leg. 'Derby have a lot of quality in their team, and there's no way we can expect them to play as badly as they did in the first leg,' he said.

'We've only done half a job, and if anything the second game will be more difficult for us than the first.'

Even so, Albion will be encouraged by the fact that they have kept a clean sheet in four of their last five league games and moved from bottom of the First Division table to sixth spot in the space of a month.

Coming into the return leg on the back of a 1-0 win at Portsmouth to make it eight matches unbeaten, Albion were besieged with ticket inquiries yesterday and a crowd of more than 20,000 is expected for a night of high anticipation.

West Brom fans have had nothing like it since Ossie Ardiles' Albion wiped out a 2-1 deficit to defeat Swansea City 3-2 on their way to the 1992-93 play-off final in which they beat Port Vale 3-0 at Wembley.

Megson is set to stick to the same side that won at Fratton Park on Saturday to occupy a play-off position no Albion fan could have envisaged before the season kicked off. And according to Megson, the best has yet to come.
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Title Annotation:Football
Author:Ward, Michael
Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Sep 26, 2000
Words:515
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