The English F.A. Cup, football’s oldest knockout competition, reaches the third round stage when the giants of the game enter the fray.
Supporters, managers and players of the clubs from the lower divisions still remaining in the draw get to pit their wits against the likes of Manchester United, Manchester City and Chelsea, while there are many potential banana skins for other teams from England’s top two leagues to successfully negotiate.
This is the weekend of the season for footballing romantics everywhere as they watch hopefully and expectantly for one or two giant-killing feats from the minnows.
It is also a weekend where those who like to take on the bookmakers attempt to find where the shocks might occur and roll the dice at spectacular odds. For those people and for anyone anticipating the favourites coming to grief, here are five potential Cup upsets:
Brighton to beat Newcastle United
The struggling Magpies are sliding dangerously close to the Premier League relegation zone and have lost nine of their last eleven fixtures. Top scorer, Demba Ba, has opted to jump ship for the bright lights of west London with Chelsea and Newcastle’s defensive generosity is threatening to drag them into the mire. Brighton, pushing for promotion to the top flight are a tough proposition at the Amex Stadium, as this weekend’s visitors found out this time last season when exiting the competition at the hands of The Seagulls.
Ipswich Town to win @ Aston Villa
Paul Lambert’s Aston Villa had a dreadful Christmas with heavy defeats against Chelsea, Tottenham and Wigan Athletic before letting a victory at Swansea slip through their fingers. Their crop of young players are finding the rigours of top level football difficult to cope with. With Premier League survival at the top of their list of priorities, don’t be surprised to see a recently improved Ipswich pull off a surprise and leave Villa Park with a famous win. New boss Mick McCarthy, a wily and seasoned campaigner, would like nothing more than getting one over a top flight club, especially one who were his fierce local rivals from his time in the Midlands with Wolverhampton Wanderers.
Crawley Town to beat Reading
The small club from League 2 have had a meteoric rise from obscurity over the last few years thanks to good management and substantial financial investment. And yet again this year, manager Richie Barker has manoeuvred the team into a promotion challenging position. Premier League strugglers Reading will expect a hostile reception at Broadfield Stadium, where Crawley will hope to make the small-club, small-time atmosphere count against the players more used to the big stadiumsand crowds of the Premier League. Reading’s form could hardly be any worse and manager Brian McDermott may consider this to be an unwelcome distraction to their attempt to avoid relegation.
Luton Town to beat Wolverhampton Wanderers
Once a very decent top division club, Luton Town have slipped to the 5th tier of English football over the last 20 years. One strength they always possessed was their tight little stadium, Kenilworth Road, and it is Championship side Wolves who must try to negotiate this potential landmine this weekend. The Hatters are close to the top of the Blue Square Premier Division and are one of the favourites to make a return to League football at the end of the season. Wolves, relegated from the Premier League last season, are fairing no better this year under boss Stale Solbakken. The pressure is on the Norwegian and with morale and form at a low ebb, a cup defeat could prove to be fatal to his prospects of keeping his job.
Milton Keynes Dons to win @ Sheffield Wednesday
These two clubs battled it out for promotion from League 1 to the Championship last year, with Sheffield Wednesday winning that fight, so the two clubs have recent history. The Owls’ return to the Championship has so far been an unhappy one as they find themselves at the wrong end of the table. Milton Keynes are just starting to go through the gears as they begin to get this season’s promotion push into full swing, and Saturday’s game may show there is little difference in quality between the two teams despite the difference in League status.