I remember sitting this year in anticipation of the 3rd round draw as per usual after watching Kettering battle to a draw against Leeds United I had a feeling that this could be a draw to remember. My mate who supports Brighton had seen his team qualify to the third round as a league 1/2 team for the first time in his life (Brighton were in the Championship for two seasons so qualified automatically) and he was as excited as I’ve ever seen him been. Another mate, an Aston Villa supporter, was preying to the Gods that the Villans wouldn’t defy chance and draw Man Utd yet again. And me personally as a Toon supporter – there’s a team that wears red and white who were my preferred opponents.
Yet a lot of times these draws can end up as an anti-climax, particularly the 3rd round draw this year. It’s just such a great concept and in any football fans head who doesn’t follow the top four he would love it if Man Utd, Liverpool, Arsenal and Chelsea all got away draws against a bunch of brick layers and plasterers. Because that is what this is all about and what I personally love to see – the underdog getting a chance. Last year a local side near where I am from, Blyth Spartans got a 3rd round draw against Blackburn Rovers and even though they lost, it’s one of those unique type of matches in football. I’m not saying its a terrible draw, I just love to see a lot of interesting ties.
My Seagull friend was immediately brought down to earth as Brighton got an away tie against Torquay, Villa got a tricky fixture against Blackburn and the Geordie faithful will be forced to make the longest trip in English league football twice this season now as Plymouth were drawn as their opponents. Not inspiring for any of us (particularly now Plymouth have got a new manager and are hitting a bit of form and the Toon are dropping!). A lot of the Championship teams have difficult draws and there are 7 all Championship ties.
On a positive note that means at least 7 Championship teams will be in the 4th round. And Cardiff and Millwall in this past decade have proved that a great cup run can be a memorable thing, which can ultimately end up with a big day out at the end. When 2nd of January comes I know I will be excited about the cup once again because after all – this is what most English fans dream of seeing their club win. And more importantly we have a few interesting ties involving Championship sides (all times are GMT):
Nottingham Forest V Birmingham City – 2nd Jan 3pm:
When the draw was made it may of seemed like a slightly interesting tie, but both teams are in amazing form and both are putting their current unbeaten record on the line. Forest have made the City Ground a fortress this season and will be keen to test Paul Hart’s England credentials after recent cries were made to make the City stopper England’s World Cup choice. The FA cup was the one trophy that famously eluded legendary manager Brian Clough in his successful spell at the club and the last time the club lifted the title will be 51 years ago by the time the final comes around. Forest have won their last four at home so be aware Brummies!
Middlesbrough V Manchester City – 2nd Jan 3pm:
Middlesbrough have had a few troubles this season. Largely tipped by many to be the team most likely to be promoted back to the Premiership at the first time of asking, they decided to change things around and bring Gordon Strachan in. One win in their last five home games doesn’t make great reading coming into this one, especially as Roberto Mancini has come in and lifted Spirits at the sky blue outfit. You would forgive a Middlesbrough fan if a good cup run was the last thing on their mind but I’m sure Strachan will be aware that a victory against the ‘richest team in the world’ will lift the spirits of even the tea lady at the Riverside. It depends what Boro turns up on the day as they can go from the brilliance of dominated QPR 5-1 to disappointment of crumbling 3-0 to Blackpool. I’m sure any neutral would love to see a Boro victory in this match.
Portsmouth V Coventry City – Jan 2nd 3pm:
Coventry, until they lost 2-0 to the in form Forest, were starting to gather a bit of form and confidence and there is no better time to play Portsmouth in an FA cup-tie. Pompey are likely to be missing a number of their African internationals for this game and their team will most likely be pieced together from what is left of their squad. Current financial issues loom large over the 2008 winners and Coventry will no doubt fancy their chances in this match. This is a huge opportunity to pile more misery on the south coast team and take home a Premiership scalp and Chris Coleman will be letting his players know about the low morale of the Pompey players.
Reading V Liverpool – Jan 2nd 5.15pm:
If Reading manage to pull off a win in this game then the all too often used term ‘magic of the FA cup’ would never be more necessary to coin. Although Reading managed to end their horrible home run in November against Blackpool, it still only totalled three home wins in all of 2009. There has been no win in their last five games and caretaker Brian McDermott is currently managing the club. Although Liverpool have had their own troubles this season, they recently snatched a late winner at Villa Park in their most recent fixture – the sort of goal that could kick start any season. It’s mission impossible for Reading really and it will be interesting to see what team Rafa Benitez decides to field considering their options of silverware have dwindled down recently. A brave man would bet on Reading but stranger things have happened and neutrals will no doubt be cheering on the Royals come Saturday.
Chelsea V Watford – Jan 3rd 3pm:
Debt free Chelsea welcome cash strapped Watford this weekend; two very contrasting situations for two London clubs. Malky Mackay has done everything he can this season and you wouldn’t argue if he told you that the club has other priorities rather than a good cup run. Chelsea may have lost a number of key players to the African Cup of nations, but this game will give a chance to some of the younger players attempting to break through such as Daniel Sturridge; something that won’t help the Hornet’s cause. There’s bound to be a large following from the Watford fans and hopefully this can inspire the players to raise their game, despite the probable uncertainty over a lot of players futures.
So we are all geared up for an exciting weekend of knock out football and although the Premiership teams have the odds to win this thing, you can never count out anyone in the FA cup. Lower league sides in the past have often shown up the big boys time and time again and hopefully we’ll be in for a weekend of drama and great football. Happy New Year from Championship Talk and all the best to you and your team for 2010!