While the FA Cup 3rd Round threw up very few surprises or major upsets, there were a number of good quality, exciting cup-ties played out (Manchester Utd’s bore-fest with Sheffield United aside!)
Many of the TV games in particular provided evidence that the ‘magic of the cup’ is still alive. Lower league sides Wycombe and Exeter both got draws against their more illustrious opponents, whilst Spurs & Leicester played out a cracking all Premier League affair on the Sunday afternoon… and then there was Oxford United!
Ten of the games are still to be decided by replay, while the postponed Newport/Blackburn clash will also be played in that same week. But with the draw for the Fourth Round already having taken place, we can still take a look at the pick of the games coming up at the end of the month, which ones might provide the best chance of upsets and subsequently where the TV camera’s are likely to turn up.
The holders came through their third round tie relatively unscathed, despite falling behind early on to Sunderland. They will host second-tier outfit Burnley who had an excellent result in beating Championship table-toppers Middlesborough.
Whilst you’d fully expect Arsenal to triumph in this one, particularly as they are at home, the Clarets will provide a stern test for the side gunning for a third straight FA Cup. The promotion hopefuls currently sit fifth in the Championship, so they have the quality to test Arsenal, but unfortunately their home record is far superior to their away one, meaning that despite the promise this one’s unlikely to see an upset.
Currently the only guaranteed all-Premier League tie of the round, this clash promises to be a hard-fought affair between two of this season’s more surprising Premier League sides.
Having already met once already in the league this term – Palace grabbing a late 2-1 away victory at The Britannia just before Christmas – these two sides will both feel they have a good chance of progressing far in the competition.
Indeed, even before their victory over Southampton in the last round, Alan Pardew had already stated that his side had a “good chance to go far” and again will fancy his side’s chances against the Potters in the next round.
Mark Hughes will also be keen to progress in the competition, looking to emulate the club’s 2011 Final appearance against Man City. Having already reached the semi-finals of the League Cup and with his side comfortably in mid-table, the Welshman is likely to pick a strong side for this one.
With a fine amount of attacking talent on both sides, two fiercely competitive managers and the opportunity to progress in a winnable competition, this could be one of the games of the round.
Having scraped through the last round thanks to Wayne Rooney’s injury-time penalty against Sheffield United, Louis van Gaal will now take his side away from the comforts of Old Trafford to face a much tougher task when they take on Derby County at the iPro.
Paul Clement’s side currently sit second in the Championship, losing only once at home all season. Having worked alongside Carlo Ancelotti at Chelsea, Real Madrid and PSG, the young English coach has this Rams side playing a good brand of football and they are sure to provide a very stern test for a Utd side struggling to find the back of the net.
Indeed, things could have changed a great deal at Old Trafford by the time the game comes around, so it’s a little hard to predict this one at this current stage. But this one certainly sets up as a potential FA Cup ‘shock’, and one I fully expect the TV camera’s to be at.
The lowest-ranked side left in the competition still face a replay to determine their progress in the competition, but they certainly have an incentive to do so. Having come within minutes of knocking out struggling Bolton, the non-leaguers from Hampshire will first have to negotiate a return fixture at The Reebok before entertaining the idea of a potential home tie with Leeds United.
Of course, given their own financial woes, you could argue a replay actually suits Bolton more than a victory would have! And a potential home-clash against Leeds could be another welcome cash boost, the Lancashire/Yorkshire rivalry adding extra spice.
Whichever side progresses through the replay, this tie has enough intrigue and jeopardy involved to provide a fourth round fixture with plenty of fizz.
The first fixture of the third round very nearly provided the first shock, Exeter City giving (an albeit very young and inexperienced) Liverpool side a run for their money. It seems unlikely, however, even with Liverpool’s injury problems and inconsistency, that they will be able to beat the Merseysiders on their own patch.
This would set up another all-Premier League tie between the Reds and West Ham. Having already done the double over Liverpool in the league this season, Slaven Bilic and his West Ham side will be confident they can come away from the game with yet another victory. Equally as good home or away, The Hammers will again field a strong side as they did for their 1-0 victory over Wolves in the last round.
Liverpool’s injury-woes are well documented, but having just brought in Steven Caulker on loan from QPR, Klopp will be hoping they can stop West Ham adding to the five goals they’ve already scored against his side this season.
All-Premier League ties perhaps don’t carry the ‘romance’ of other clashes, but given how the games have gone in the Premier League between the two this season, it will be very interesting indeed. Of course, I could be doing Exeter a disservice and it might be them welcoming Bilic and his side to St James’ Park instead!