The weekend calendar takes a scheduled break from league action with the oldest domestic cup tournament in the world taking centre stage, as the 128th tournament continues. With the field of competitors narrowed to 32 teams here is the weekend menu:
Jan 23 – Derby V Nottingham Forest
Jan 24 – Chelsea v Ipswich
Jan 24 – Doncaster v Aston Villa
Jan 24 – Hartlepool v West Ham
Jan 24 – Hull v Millwall
Jan 24 – Kettering v Fulham
Jan 24 – Man Utd v Tottenham
Jan 24 – Portsmouth v Swansea
Jan 24 – Sheff Utd v Charlton
Jan 24 – Sunderland v Blackburn
Jan 24 – Torquay v Coventry
Jan 24 – Watford v Crystal Palace
Jan 24 – West Brom v Burnley
Jan 24 – Wolves v Middlesbrough
Jan 25 – Cardiff v Arsenal
Jan 25 – Liverpool v Everton
There are a host of intriguing match-ups including a Carling Cup Final preview at Old Trafford and the second Merseyside derby in the space of a week. The Cup has traditionally thrown more than it’s share of upsets, particularly in the early rounds, but it seems that predicting these upsets is about as certain as coming up with the winning numbers in the lottery.
Here is a look at the matches between clubs separated by at least one division, and a take on the chances of the fancied club being overturned on the road to Wembley.
Number in paranthesis is potential for upset on a scale of 1-5.
Chelsea V Ipswich (1)
A quick look at my bio and you’ll find that this one is close to the heart as a long-suffering Tractorboy. As much as Town fans may hope for something from the trip to the Bridge on Saturday other than a few quid in the bank, chances for an upset seem dim. Chelsea look like they are starting to play with more of an attitude and are rallying behind Scolari. Town have had another indifferent season in the Championship, and as much as I hope that I’m wrong, I think the Tractorboys are in for a good hiding.
Doncaster V Aston Villa (2)
Villa won a close 2-1 encounter at Gillingham in the 3rd round thanks to a double from Milner. Doncaster just completed their 3rd round affair with Cheltenham a few days ago, easing through 3-0. The away fixture will present a tricky task for Villa and Doncaster could be up for a draw, but Villa should progress, possibly in a replay.
Hartlepool V West Ham (2)
League One Hartlepool are going for the hat-trick of top flight knock-outs after dispatching WBA in the Carling Cup and handily taking care of Stoke in the 3rd Round of this tournament. Zola should have his team prepared and the Hammers have been playing well of late. Though not insurmountable a third top flight scalp is not likely. West Ham could be one of those “Cup” teams this year.
Hull V Millwall (2)
Hull’s recent league form has been dismal but they battled through a couple of tough games against Newcastle to advance. They find themselves on the other end of being the fancied club in this tie and Millwall are flying high in their division. It’s hard to go against a Premier club at home so Hull to get by in a close one.
Kettering V Fulham (1)
The biggest ‘David versus Goliath’ tie of the round sees non-league Kettering take on Fulham who are enjoying a decent Premiership campaign under Roy Hodgson. It would be the shock of the round if Kettering could pull this off or even muster a draw, but the gap between the teams is too great. Fulham, while not delivering a thrashing, advance to the final 16.
Portsmouth V Swansea (3)
The defending holders have been handed another home tie against decent Championship opposition. The Swans have adapted well to life back in the second tier and are within reaching distance of a play-off spot. Many expected Portsmouth to fall at Bristol City in the third round replay and Swansea could well have enough talent to force Pompey into an extra game once again.
Torquay V Coventry (4)
Torquay are the other non-league squad remaining in the tournament and a win for the Blue Square team is certainly not out of the question. Coventry, like a few of their Championship counterparts in this list, are having a very average season and could be in for a shock. There is still a big gulf in class between the teams so an upset draw might not be a bad bet.
WBA V Burnley (3)
Similar to the Portsmouth-Swansea match-up. Burnley are having a decent year pushing for a promotion play-off place and could cause Brom a few problems. But WBA have shown some improvement in form recently, and again the Premier club at home is hard to bet against.
Wolves V Middlesbrough (5)
Wolves are having a fantastic season and are well on the the way to reclaiming their Premiership status as they have led the Championship most of the season. Middlesbrough have experienced a dreadful run of results which has seen them slip into the relegation zone. This one is ripe for a Championship upset but with Wolves at home, I’m not sure how big of an upset this would be considered, though it could mean the end for Southgate. Wolves to continue their fine season.
Cardiff V Arsenal (3)
The final inter-league match should also be a good one from Ninian Park. Last year’s runners-up Cardiff are undefeated in 10 games and haven’t conceded a goal at home in their last four. They have also built on the Cup run from last year as they push for promotion. Arsenal have improved their performances recently and appear to be playing with more grit and determination. This has the makings of a big upset but I’ll go for a partial in an entertaining draw with the Gunners progressing in the home replay.
Let us know if you have any upset picks or how confident you are of your team’s chances in this year’s edition of the Cup. In the meantime, I’m off to figure out that lottery ticket and prepare for a good beating at the Bridge tomorrow….Cheers!