We had to look a little bit further afield for our 3rd Round shocks, but one way or another our 20 top flight teams have been reduced to 13 as we reach the last 32 stage. But can we expect the Fourth Round to provide the counter argument to those that say the FA Cup has lost its magic?
On the face of it, it’s not the most inspiring draw. We have two non-league teams left in Lincoln and Sutton, and both welcome high flying Championship opposition in Brighton and Leeds respectively. It would be an incredible effort for a non-league side to be in the hat for the 5th Round and I’m pleased that Lincoln’s third round replay was televised, whilst Sutton will enjoy that particular windfall on Sunday as BT have picked their game. It’d be nice for one or both to get through for the potential clash with a Premier League side, and it’s fair to say the TV companies will be hoping for something similar given some of the choices they have had to make here!
Anyway, your FA Cup Fourth Round weekend starts with an East Midlands derby on Friday night, with Derby hosting Leicester. Derby have been resurgent since Steve McClaren came back, which is slight credit to McClaren but mostly because Nigel Pearson isn’t there anymore. Pearson’s former side Leicester are of course the Premier League Champions, albeit in name only now, but with their league form in the gutter after their latest away day nightmare at Southampton, and the Champions League a month away, maybe they can continue to take some solace in the FA Cup? That or they will suffer a humiliating loss to lower division near neighbours on national television on a Friday night.
On to Saturday and nothing says the “Magic of the Cup” like a struggling Championship side visiting Anfield in the early kick off. It’s a horrible choice for TV based purely around ratings and I hate it, but more on that later. Liverpool failed to break down a stubborn Southampton side to suffer EFL Cup disappointment on Wednesday and continue a pretty bad start to 2017. Defeat here might see Klopp self-combust, but he is up against Paul Lambert, who won more European Cups with Dortmund than Klopp managed. Zing.
Chelsea continue to enjoy the luck of the draw, this time Brentford have drawn the short straw and make the short trip to Stamford Bridge to continue John Terry’s retirement tour. Hopefully he can find an even more hilarious way to be sent off this time. Meanwhile in another part of London, Tottenham host Wycombe in what will no doubt be Moussa Sissoko’s time to shine. The question is, will Vincent Janssen score from open play or is he destined to be the latest flop from the Eredivise?
There is at least a little bit of intrigue as Crystal Palace play host to Man City on Saturday, in a match that I thought was a lock to be on TV but apparently Manchester United vs Wigan is a better bet. It’s fair to say Sam Allardyce has bigger things to worry about having actually made Palace even worse since taking over and dropping into the bottom 3, so it might turn out to be another run out for Frazier Campbell and friends. Pep took the 3rd Round trip to West Ham very seriously and scored 5 goals, and I’d expect more of the same here. Manchester City aren’t going to win the league so I think it’s in Pep’s best interests to try and win something.
There are two stinkers on Saturday afternoon. Burnley face Bristol City at Turf Moor, poor old Sean Dyche is being forced to have a cup run by facing teams that somehow want to be in the cup even less than he does. Bristol City are on their worst run of league defeats in their history and have slipped to 20th in the Championship, so I don’t expect Lee Johnson will throw the kitchen sink at this one. Burnley though should really grasp this opportunity. They’re well clear of the bottom 3 and these opportunities don’t present themselves that often. Win this and you’re two ties from Wembley. With Burnley’s home form, there are not many who’d relish the trip to Lancashire.
Speaking of which, Accrington Stanley travel across to Middlesbrough, which should be a straight forward win for the Teesiders. It’s hard luck though for a League Two side to reach the 4th Round and get an away tie at a Premier League club with minimal fanfare. Aitor Karanka turned on his own fans this week, a sure fire way to ensure you’re out of a job if the going doesn’t get any better at the Riverside.
Saturday is rounded off with our second all Premier League clash as Southampton host Arsenal. This might not be a bad game, and Southampton will be flying after reaching the EFL Cup final on Wednesday night. With Fonte sold and Van Dijk injured, you do wonder how much Southampton will want another cup run with a Wembley date already booked, whilst Wenger will no doubt be hugging the fourth official to try and show how remorseful he is for his actions last Sunday.
There’s a couple of shock chances on Sunday, but don’t get your hopes up. League One Millwall knocked out Bournemouth in the last round and will be looking to do the same to Watford in the early televised game. Watford have been on a bad run recently and Millwall will fancy their chances. The same can be said for Fulham, with Hull their visitors on Sunday afternoon. Fulham have had some high scoring games this season whilst Hull need to get over their disappointment of going out of the EFL Cup on Thursday whilst selling their best player in Robert Snodgrass. They are improved under Marco Silva though and if they can stop conceding stupid penalties, that might help.
The final game of the weekend is Manchester United vs Wigan. Why is this on TV? I don’t care that they have to play on Sunday because of the EFL Cup game being on Thursday, this should be nowhere near TV. If BT had picked it for the advertising ratings, I could make sense of it. BBC should know better. But hey, they were going to show Bolton vs Manchester City if Bolton had beaten Crystal Palace, so what choice did they have? Anything else. I don’t want to see this. It is United’s 56th consecutive FA Cup game on TV, for those keeping score. All we can hope is that Michael Carrick and Jose Mourinho have another “who can be the most excited competition” in the post-match interviews.
With that rant behind us, I do hope the results conquer the fixtures, which you could argue the 3rd Round did to a degree. We’re guaranteed to lose two Premier League teams at least, and you just know a couple more will join them. But will it be your team?