It was a May night in 1972 when my mother and grandmother made a decision that would change my life. They woke me up at about 11.45pm for a special treat: to sit down and watch the English FA Cup final between Leeds United and Arsenal.
The FA Cup returns for the fourth round this weekend.
Although it is still a little anticlimactic after the anticipation of the third round and a Premier League season that seems to have limitless twists and turns and surprises, the FA Cup is still a great concept and one of the great yearly sporting tournaments.
The draw made for the fourth round was slightly underwhelming with no clashes really standing out as classics or the form guide being circled as cup-set specials, but that won’t stop a preview and a few thought on some games which may provide the token upset for the round.
Derby County v Man Utd
Sat 6:50am EDST – ESPN 1
Manchester United’s problems are well documented this season and were even booed last weekend after a home defeat to Southampton. Then there’s the reports during the week of Louis van Gaal’s resignation and a love letter from Jose Mourinho. A defeat in the FA Cup to Derby County will probably be the final straw for Louis van Gaal and the United fans.
If they were playing a pre-Christmas Derby County, this game may hold more danger for the Red Devils, but Derby’s only win since Boxing Day was in the third round against fourth tier Hartlepool. The Rams have dropped from near certainties for promotion to fifth.
Manchester United did play in this exact timeslot last season away to fourth tier Cambridge United and needed a replay at Old Trafford to progress.
Colchester United v Tottenham
Sat 11:40pm EDST – ESPN 1
Colchester, who went into the third round of the FA Cup on the back of nine straight losses in the third tier League One, somehow found a side going worse than them last round in the shape of troubled Championship club Charlton. They haven’t won in the league since and their last win in the league was October 20. The FA Cup is at least providing some joy for the bottom placed League One side.
So given Spurs’ recent form in the EPL, especially away from home with just one loss in 11, this looks as one sided as any game in Round 4. However, it is still the FA Cup and anything can happen, but even a weakened side should progress to the fifth round without too much fuss.
Arsenal v Burnley
Sun 1:55am EDST – ESPN 1
The winners of the last two FA Cups have the toughest test of the Premier League sides to face lower league opposition as they take on a Burnley side who are giving themselves every chance of bouncing back to the Premier League at the first attempt with a run of four wins in five. They have climbed to third and thrashed fellow high flyers Derby 4-1 during the week, plus have the Championship’s equal leading scorer in Andre Gray, and the ever feisty Joey Barton who still has plenty of quality and fight to annoy the Gunners.
But Arsenal very rarely lose to lower league opposition in the FA Cup and last got knocked out of this round in 2010 at the hands of Stoke. So this should be another Premier League side knocking out a lower league side on paper, but who knows what side will be put out with a long awaited League title within reach, and a draw wouldn’t be out of the question here.
West Ham v Liverpool
Sun 4:25am EDST – ESPN 2
The only televised game of the three all-Premier League fixtures for the weekend and an interesting match up between the 2006 finalists. Liverpool will still be on a high after booking a trip to Wembley for the League Cup final during the week, but will the midweek penalty shootout have some effect against a West Ham side who have more time to rest?
Liverpool have been up and down, and sometimes within the same game as last weekend’s game against Norwich showed. Interest will be in what kind of side they put out against West Ham given the young side they played at Exeter weren’t good enough to get past the fourth tier side at the first attempt and the last thing they probably need at this point is another game.
West Ham are currently sixth in the League are just one point from Manchester United in fifth and beat Liverpool at home earlier in the season 2-0. They are also unbeaten in nine at home, although a good number of those have been draws. And a draw looks a likely result here.
Carlisle v Everton
Mon 12:25am EDST – ESPN 2
The pressure is building on Robert Martinez as Everton sit just one point above Chelsea in 12th, and were knocked out of the League Cup by Manchester City during the week. Everton have received a charmed life with FA Cup draws however, as they take on fourth tier opposition for the second consecutive round.
Carlisle are at least a midfield League Two side and they have only just returned to their home ground after flooding stopped them from playing at home for an extended period this season. The visit of a Premier League side in addition to the winnings from making the fourth round will be most welcome.
The FA Cup looks Everton’s best chance at success this year as even a Europa League spot looks a distance away, and given their relatively easy run progression to the fifth round with a ruthless performance would be the absolute minimum.
Milton Keynes v Chelsea
Mon 2:55am EDST – EPSN 2
Chelsea have somewhat turned the corner in the Premier League and the trip to Milton Keynes is another that looks like an easy progression on paper for a Premier League side. But the same could be said about Chelsea’s fixture in last year’s fourth round at home to third tier Bradford City, where they allowed a 2-0 lead to turn into a 4-2 loss. The 20th-placed Milton Keynes probably have more to worry about in the League as they sit just two points from relegation.
Portsmouth v Bornemouth
A match up of two south coast teams where a major point of interest lies in the progression of these clubs since 2010. Bournemouth were in the fourth tier in 2010 while Portsmouth were still in the Premier League and in the FA Cup final.
So six years later the two teams have switched divisions with Bournemouth arriving in the Premier League this season with more feel-good factor than any side in recent years.
Crystal Palace v Stoke
Will Emmanuel Adebayor be worth the risk for Crystal Palace? Hopefully he plays on Saturday to add another element to what already looks a great game between two sides who are great to watch at their best.
Fourth round stats
•At least one Premier League side has been knocked out by a lower league side in Round 4 the past four seasons.
•2012-2013 was the biggest season for upsets with five Premier League sides knocked out – the biggest upset was non-league Luton’s win over Norwich.
•Both Chelsea and Manchester City were knocked out at this stage last year.
•There are three teams left from League Two, five from League One, and ten from the Championship.
•At least five football league sides are guaranteed a spot in the fifth round.
•Teams get 90,000GBP if they win in the fourth round. That doesn’t include TV money.
Given there’s recent history of a few upsets at this stage, here’s a few games that look like potential upsets. This is hopefully where a season long dedication to following the Football League pays off.
Notts Forest v Watford
Peterborough v West Brom
Oxford v Blackburn
Carlisle v Everton
Walsall v Reading
Draw: Aston Villa v Manchester City
Derby County versus Manchester United
Colchester versus Tottenham
Nottingham Forest versus Watford
Crystal Palace versus Stoke
Shrewsbury versus Sheffield Wednesday
Arsenal versus Burnley
Oxford versus Blackburn
Reading versus Walsall
Bolton versus Leeds
Portsmouth versus Bournemouth
Aston Villa versus Manchester City
Bury versus Hull
West Bromwich Albion versus Peterborough
Liverpool versus West Ham
Carlisle versus Everton
Milton Keynes versus Chelsea