The last game of the English FA Cup 3rd round weekend takes place this evening at the home of League 2 side, Cheltenham Town, as Premier League high-flyers Everton roll into the Whaddon Road stadium trying to avoid what would be the biggest shock of the round.
David Moyes, currently 2 months short of his eleventh anniversary in charge at Goodison Park, is desperate to add some silverware to augment his reputation as one of the best managers in English football, and the FA Cup provides his best opportunity to fill that gap in his CV.
Finalists in 2009 and semi-finalists last year, Everton will be hoping to get this season’s tilt at Wembley glory off to a good start by dispatching the difficult challenge of a visit to a lower league club intent on inflicting humiliation on one the country’s leading clubs.
Cheltenham, three divisions and 67 places lower than Monday night’s opponents, will be relishing the prospect of a full house and the T.V. cameras landing at their Gloucestershire home. For a town more sportingly acknowledged for its horse racing industry, Cheltenham will be out to prove their football team also has what it takes to put on a show when the Cup’s five time winners from Merseyside drop by.
Everton are no strangers to falling at the first hurdle to lower league teams over the period of Moyes’ reign. In 2008, the Toffees were surprisingly beaten at home by Oldham Athletic, and way back in 2003, were downed by Shrewsbury at the third round stage.
Cheltenham have no great FA Cup pedigree to speak of, so defeating the Premier League giants would be akin to winning the famous old trophy itself for The Robins.
Their manager, Mark Yates, will have an almost full quota of his players to select from, while Moyes has no new injury concerns to effect his choice of starting XI.
The biggest quandary for the Everton boss will be whether to rest some or all of his key players on the back of the heavy Christmas and New Year fixture schedule, while remaining focussed on having a team capable and motivated of completing a victory that should be beyond question.
However, this is the FA Cup, and the competition would not have achieved its status as a graveyard for the favourites without a few upsets along the way. Everton will be doing their utmost to avoid another entry in the annals of history filed under ‘cup shocks’.
Undoubtedly, Cheltenham will come out with all guns blazing as they try to send their lofty opposition back to the North West with their tails between their legs and the onus will be on David Moyes and his players to take a sensible, professional and clinical approach to the game, otherwise any complacency will be rewarded with a less than favourable set of headlines in Tuesday morning’s media.
Everton know the potential pitfalls of such a match, and with a dearth of silverware stretching back to 1995’s FA Cup victory weighing heavy on the shoulders of the men in blue, expect to see Moyes select a near full-strength team to secure their place in round 4, where they will meet either Bolton Wanderers or Sunderland.
Prediction: Cheltenham Town 1-3 Everton969552