The Mega FA Cup Third Round Preview

Here are The Football Lab’s previews for all 32 of the weekend’s FA Cup ties. Holders Arsenal kick-start their defence of the trophy when they host Sunderland, who are battling relegation in the Premier League. Steve Evans and Neil Redfearn meet their old club when Leeds play Rotherham, as does Dean Smith when his Brentford side welcome Walsall. Northampton face MK Dons in a local derby while Dagenham & Redbridge try to match Everton, 78 places above them, at Goodison Park. Firstly, League Two Exeter host Premier League giants Liverpool on Friday night…

Exeter v Liverpool

Exeter have tended to pull their weight against the better teams in League Two this term and have already beaten higher league opposition in Swindon and Port Vale. Having scored an impressive 18 first half league goals, in comparison with Liverpool’s 9, the Grecians may start energetically. Given Liverpool’s concerning shortage of defensive options, there is potential for the Devon hosts to score. However, the away side’s superior fitness will allow them to go up a notch in the latter stages.

Wycombe v Aston Villa

Aston Villa’s Bob Chatt scored the earliest ever winning goal in an FA Cup final, netting against rivals West Brom after just 25 seconds in 1895. On current form, the Villains look unlikely to produce such a confident start to a game, with just 16 goals all season. The last time Wycombe caused a major cup shock, they left it comparatively late as an injury time Roy Essandoh strike saw them overcome Leicester in 2001. That win earned the Chairboys an unlikely place the semi-finals, which were played at Villa Park – they may soon return to that stadium.

Arsenal v Sunderland

Sunderland manager Sam Allardyce has often been criticized for making sweeping changes to his team for games in the early rounds of the FA Cup. With Sunderland’s Premier League status under threat, he may do the same in North London. Arsenal could rotate too, but they boast laudable depth, evidenced by the recent rise of Joel Campbell. With a win, the Gunners will be a step closer to becoming the first team to win three FA Cups in a row since the turn of the 20th century.

Birmingham v Bournemouth

Birmingham City forgot to send in their FA Cup entry form in 1921. The club would have wished they had done so again this year, when they knew they were playing Bournemouth, a team that had scored 16 goals against them in the last three meetings. The Cherries are slowly adapting to the more defensive demands of top flight football, with just four goals conceded in their last six games. Equally, Birmingham will hope to be more compact than they have been in previous encounters – they have kept three clean sheets in the last month.

Brentford v Walsall

Dean Smith took charge of Brentford in late November. As fate would have it, his 4th match in the Griffin Park home dugout is against the club he has just left. Some Walsall fans are unhappy at Smith’s departure, but he has built a strong team that could well join him in the Championship. Although, the home side’s superior depth and quality may be the difference here.

Bury v Bradford

Both of these clubs have their names etched in the FA Cup history books. Bradford beat two Premier League clubs on their way to the quarter-final last year and at Stamford Bridge they caused, in this blog’s view, the greatest cup upset of all time. The Bantams won 4-2 that day, but their current goalscoring troubles mean that was the last time they netted four in a game, baring a second round win over Chesham. Bury’s 6-0 win over Derby in 1903 was the biggest margin of an FA Cup final victory ever, but right now, they have only scored half that number of goals since November. Given the form of both teams, another six goal fairytale looks unlikely.

Colchester v Charlton

The last time Charlton Athletic won the FA Cup in 1947, the ball burst, due to the poor quality of leather available after the Second World War. Indeed, current form suggests a burst ball is the Addicks’ best hope of winning a match, Karel Fraeye’s side without a win since mid-November. Colchester have only taken one point from their first three games under Kevin Keen, but their performances in that time have been encouraging. The U’s have begun to look more organized at the back and they do boast pace in forward areas. A change of fortune may be in store for the Essex hosts.

Doncaster v Stoke

williams

Andy Williams – www.thestar.co.uk

Both of these teams clicked into gear in October. Doncaster have won eight of their last 12 games in all forms and are enjoying life under Darren Ferguson, with loanee Conor Grant making a huge impact and striker Andy Williams in form. Stoke are on a decent run themselves, the return of Ryan Shawcross and the introduction of a double pivot system being key. However, Stoke already harbour hopes of reaching the League Cup final so this competition will be of secondary importance – Donny could cause a shock.

Eastleigh v Bolton

93 years after their famous White Horse Final victory, Bolton Wanderers go into this cup tie as a club in turmoil. The debt-plunged Trotters have no firepower and just two wins to their name this term. Eastleigh have lost just once in their last 16 games, and they have already knocked out higher league opposition in the form of Crewe Alexandra. The Spitfires have made impressive long-term progress as a club and are the only remaining non-league outfit in this competition – don’t bet against that still being the case come five o’clock.

Everton v Dag & Red

In 1966, Everton became one of two teams to win an FA Cup final in 90 minutes after being 2 goals down, beating Sheffield Wednesday 3-2. 50 years on, the entertainment value is still there. 43 goals have been scored in 11 games at Goodison Park, and even though The Toffees had a fairly low-scoring 1-1 draw with Spurs last week, it was still a thrilling affair. Dagenham reached the Fourth Round of the cup as a non-league club in 2003, but otherwise they have rarely thrived in the competition. Manager John Still, who has just returned for his third spell in charge, hopes to change that on Merseyside.

Hartlepool v Derby

Hartlepool exited the FA Cup on national TV last season, losing 2-1 to seventh tier side Blyth Spartans. The Monkey Hangers were on the receiving end of a cup shock that year, but this time around they aspire to deliver one. Derby County have their eyes firmly on the main prize, Premier League football, meaning visiting manager Paul Clement is likely to rotate at Victoria Park. Although, the recent signing of Nick Blackman underlines the depth and quality the former Madrid assistant has at his disposal and the Rams should win with an under-strength eleven.

Huddersfield v Reading

This same fixture was played in the Third Round of the FA Cup last season. Reading won thanks to a solitary Nick Blackman goal, and subsequently avoided top flight opposition en route to the semi-final, where they were narrowly defeated by Arsenal. The Royals are not in the best of form at present and face a Terriers side that have gained 13 points from their last 7 games, thanks to the work of new head coach David Wagner. They say revenge is a dish best served cold – let’s back Joe Lolley to score for Huddersfield.

Hull v Brighton

Brighton reached a 1983 final with Manchester United. That day, we heard the legendary line from commentator Peter Jones “and Smith must score…” before the striker missed his sitter, and naturally Albion lost the subsequent replay 4-0. Gordon Smith was not the only Seagulls forward to endure problems in front of goal, with the current team having failed to net in their last four games. Hull City tend to do well against teams with a similar skill level, the Championship side acquiring 2.1 points per game against top half opposition. Victory for the 2014 finalists.

Ipswich v Portsmouth

When Ipswich Town won the FA Cup in 1978, winning goalscorer Roger Osborne fainted at the emotion of the goal and, bizzarely, people got him to smell salts to restore consciousness. Mick McCarthy’s approach to cup competitions bears contradictory apathy, the Yorkshireman making four changes for last season’s replay with Premier League Southampton. Portsmouth have only lost once since October and might fancy their chances at Portman Road.

Leeds v Rotherham

evans

Steve Evans in fancy dress – www.mirror.co.uk

This fixture was played on the final day of last season, when Steve Evans and Neil Redfearn were in opposite dugouts. Evans, who went in fancy dress due to Rotherham’s survival, left the Millers this term and went on to take the Leeds job in October. That same month, Redfearn took on the task of retaining Rotherham’s second tier status. Both managers are meeting their objectives thus far – Leeds are unbeaten in 8 while the South Yorkshire visitors are out of the drop zone.

Middlesbrough v Burnley

Middlesbrough caused a major shock in the Fourth Round last year when they won 2-0 at Manchester City, the extremity of their achievement often forgotten due to the shock result at Stamford Bridge that day. The 1997 finalists won this league fixture 1-0 last month, in an ongoing run of eight straight league clean sheets. Automatic promotion for Boro is looking increasingly probable, just as Burnley’s chances of joining them in the top two now seems improbable. The Clarets have not won away since October and have failed to score in five of their last seven games.

Newport v Blackburn

In 1890, William Townley of Blackburn Rovers became the first player to score a hat-trick in an FA Cup Final. If Jordan Rhodes is going to match Townley’s achievement, he’d better up his game, the Scot without a goal in seven appearances. The last player to score a hat-trick for Newport was Oliver McBurnie. The Swansea loanee netted three in a 32 minute appearance against Luton, and was recalled shortly afterwards, meaning the Exiles now rely perhaps too heavily on Scott Boden. Narrow away win.

Norwich v Man City

In 1969, Manchester City became one of just four teams to win the FA Cup with a team made up of English born players. By contrast, their current squad possesses more Frenchmen who have started a game this season (4) than Englishmen (3). Norwich were the last top flight club to lose to non-league opposition in this competition, the Canaries defeated by Luton in 2013. Another early exit seems likely for them here, albeit in less dramatic circumstances.

Northampton v MK Dons

MK Dons forced one of the shocks of the FA Cup Fourth Round in 2013, winning 4-2 at Premier League QPR as a third tier club. The squad Karl Robinson has in the Championship seems no better than the one MK Dons had when they were midtable in League One, having lost all of their key players from last season. Northampton have already knocked out Coventry City and the League Two promotion contenders have further bolstered their attack by bringing in James Collins on loan. The Cobblers will fancy their chances of beating their local rivals.

Nottm Forest v QPR

Nottingham Forest have lost 125 FA Cup ties in their history, more than any other club. Their chances of another defeat today seem less likely, however, given the indifferent form of opponents QPR. The West London visitors have not won since the appointment of Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink, which suggests any progress the Dutchman makes with the Rs will be not be made on a short-term basis. Forest have not lost a match since mid-November and having won at Loftus Road in September, they will be confident of a victory.

Peterborough v Preston

Preston won the FA Cup in 1889, without conceding a single goal in the competition. Their current defensive record might not quite match those lofty standards, but Simson Grayson’s side do look very well drilled this term, letting in less than a goal per game. By contrast, Peterborough pride themselves on cavalier attacking play, scoring 2 or more goals in 16 of their 20 games under Graham Westley. Posh have thrived in League One lately, yet their methods might not work so well against a much stronger defensive unit than they have been used to facing. Away win for the Lilywhites.

Sheff Wed v Fulham

Fulham played out the joint-highest scoring FA Cup match in a 1954 tie with Grimsby, which they drew 5-5. Based on Fulham’s recent form, another exciting affair seems possible, with the Cottagers scoring the most Championship goals and conceding the third most. Sheffield Wednesday are a similarly high-scoring side with an attacking approach. The previous meeting between these teams – played just a week ago – saw only one goal, which went in favour of the South Yorkshire side. That low-scoring affair, one senses, was the anomaly, rather than the trend.

Southampton v Crystal Palace

long

Shane Long – www.dailystar.co.uk

Crystal Palace have failed to score in their last three games and injuries are starting to take their toll. The Eagles have struggled significantly without the likes of Yannick Bolasie and Yohan Cabaye. The latter gives Alan Pardew’s side composure and quality on the ball, which they have missed in the Frenchman’s absence. Southampton netted four against Arsenal on Boxing Day, in a superb counter-attacking display with Shane Long the star of the show. Otherwise, however, the Saints have looked goal-shy themselves of late, drawing a blank in three of their last five. Both teams will be disciplined at St Mary’s – a narrow home victory for the 2003 finalists.

Watford v Newcastle

Newcastle’s Billy Hampson became the oldest FA Cup Finalist in 1924, when he helped the Magpies to victory at 41 years of age. By contrast, the current Newcastle squad is the second youngest in the Premier League, with an average age of 25. The shortage of steel and experience is costing the Magpies in the battle to beat the drop, and Steve Claren’s side could do with a player like Watford’s Ben Watson. The former Wigan midfielder scored the winner in the 2013 FA Cup final and is enjoying a positive campaign, as the high-flying Hornets target a top half berth.

West Brom v Bristol City

In 1931, West Brom became the first team to win the FA Cup and get promoted in the same season. At the helm that year was the 46-year serving Fred Everiss, who was given the title of ‘secretary manager’, with directors picking the side. Indeed, there are many Baggies fans who would want somebody other than Tony Pulis doing team selection, the 57-year-old criticized for negative tactics. It was a similar story for him in his brief year at Bristol City, where few fans warmed to the Welshman. Pulis might not be the most popular manager in football, but his pragmatism will trump Steve Cotterill’s pretty passing approach on Saturday.

West Ham v Wolves

West Ham were the last team outside the top division of English football to win the FA Cup, when in 1980 a goal from club legend Trevor Brooking saw them beat Arsenal. In his early years, Brooking had a reputation for being too light and was nicknamed ‘Cyril’, after a carpet salesman, for always being on the floor. Wolves have certainly picked themselves up in recent weeks, winning their last three games to nil after disappointing pre-Christmas form. Kenny Jackett’s side looked well-organized at Brighton on New Years’ Day, but the 1960 winners will need to put in a similarly sturdy display to continue their form in East London.

Man Utd v Sheff Utd

The last FA Cup final before the First World War saw Sheffield United win 3-0 at Old Trafford… against Chelsea. Their 1915 victory was known as The Khaki Cup Final, with uniformed soldiers in attendance, and the Blades will need to show battling qualities against Manchester United to cause an upset. The hosts have not won this competition at the New Wembley and Louis Van Gaal will see FA Cup glory as the chance to restore salvation in his side’s stuttering campaign.

Oxford v Swansea

In 1964, Oxford United beat Blackburn in the Fifth Round 3-1 thanks to a Tony Jones brace, before rising to the second tier with a team some fans regard as the best in their history. The good times may now be returning, as Michael Appleton has attracted some technically gifted players at League Two level and got the team playing entertaining football. Swansea caretaker boss Alan Curtis may be tempted to rotate, as a key relegation clash with Sunderland follows three days later. Oxford will be licking their lips.

Carlisle v Yeovil

Carlisle United’s Brunton Park looks close to being repaired, and we hope that the club will have it’s home back in the next few weeks. In the meantime, they now travel to Bloomfield Road for their clash with Yeovil Town. The visiting Glovers have conceded just two goals in their last four games, despite facing two of the top three in that time. They are improving at the back, thanks partly to the November arrival of centre-back Darren Ward, who has made a huge impact despite his advancing age. However, Carlisle often deliver against the lesser teams and they should have enough forward quality to break Yeovil down.

Chelsea v Scunthorpe

van veen

Kevin Van Veen – www.scunthorpetelegraph.co.uk

The main story here is that of a resurging Dutchman… Kevin Van Veen’s impact since coming back into the Scunthorpe side has been positive. In other news, Gus Hiddink’s Chelsea impressed in Sunday’s 3-0 win at Crystal Palace, with Cesc Fabregas and Diego Costa looking back to their best. Hiddink won this competition in his previous spell at Chelsea and will see Wembley glory as a realistic aim. League One Iron’s greatest FA Cup moment came in a shock 2-1 win at Sheffield Wednesday in 1970, but that would change with a victory at Stamford Bridge on Sunday.

Tottenham v Leicester

This will be the first of two meetings between Tottenham and Leicester in the space of three days, as the Foxes return to White Hart Lane on Wednesday night. The visiting East Midlanders won this FA Cup fixture last season, en route to the great escape. Tottenham already have a congested schedule, and if manager Mauricio Pochettino rotated when his side played North London rivals Arsenal in the League Cup, he is likely to do the same here. Claudio Ranieri’s troops will prove that they can cope without Jamie Vardy and record an away win.

Cardiff v Shrewsbury

Cardiff City became the only non-English team to win the FA Cup in 1927, when they beat Arsenal at Wembley. They begin their task of reclaiming that glory on Sunday evening, when League One opponents Shrewsbury cross the Welsh border. Salop lost their last match 7-1 at Chesterfield, in a horrific defensive display. Micky Mellon will be without two key men in Abu Ogogo and Anthony Gerrard, so if Cardiff prioritize this game, we could see a whitewash.