The 4th round of the FA Cup rolls into town this weekend and whilst teams like Tottenham prepare for their Colchester game with a trip to Barcelona, Carlisle were applying to the finishing touches to their recently flood stricken ground. This is still David vs. Goliath territory and here are three games where the shocks could be very real.
- Derby County vs. Manchester United, Friday, KO: 19.45
Whilst it is true that Derby haven’t won in five games in the Championship, this is a side that if they can string a tidy run of wins together will being playing Premier football again next season. Derby County were last playing top flight football in the 07-08 season, a season where they ceremoniously went down with 11 points, conceding 89 goals in the process.
Where to start with Manchester United. The abject pace at United approach football tactically. The discontent from the stands after the Southampton defeat. Louis Van Gaal has admitted that a defeat to Derby could see the Dutchman moving on to pastures new and early retirement. A blessing in disguise? Perhaps, but would Giggs want to step up to the breach once more after another failed post-Fergie manager? He surely must be sceptical with this current United squad.
For Derby County, the tide is changing and against this very stagnant Manchester United side, a potential upset is certainly on the cards at the iPro Stadium.
2. Oxford United vs. Blackburn Rovers, Saturday, KO: 15.00
The hosts provided the shock of the round as Oxford beat Swansea City 3-2 at the Kassam Stadium. Since then, whilst a defeat to Bristol City might of dented their league form, a 2-0 victory over League One Millwall in the first leg of the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy area final see Oxford United one game away from a trip to Wembley.
This is an Oxford side that has been transformed by Michael Appleton, and this gives Appleton a chance to show Blackburn Rovers that whilst his spell was ill-fated, it certainly wasn’t due to his shortcomings as a coach. This FA Cup game also represents the last appearance at the club for right back George Baldock who has been recalled to parent club MK Dons. Baldock’s attacking influence can’t be diminished and as such, Oxford will certainly be weaker for the rest of the season.
For Blackburn Rovers, no win in seven and in their last outing saw a 1-1 draw with the hapless Charlton Athletic. Whilst Paul Lambert may be rejuvenated after some TLC post-Aston Villa, you can’t help but feel like he has traded one sinking ship to one barely staying afloat. And as it always seems to be the case with Blackburn Rovers, the best bit of news is that Jordan Rhodes remains plying his trade at Ewood Park. It seems from an outsider looking in that the 1996 Premier League Champions greatest ambitions seems to amount to very little more than retaining Rhodes and retaining their Championships status. It is very little return for something of a sleeping giant in Lancashire.
3. Portsmouth vs. Bournemouth, Saturday, KO 15.00
Oh, how two teams’ fortunes can change so much so quickly. At the end of the 2008 season, Portsmouth won the FA Cup under Harry Redknapp with the likes of Sol Campbell, David James, Kanu and Lassana Diarra taking to the field. For Bournemouth, the very same season brought about points deductions and retaining League One status on the final day of the season.
After consolidating their position in League Two, Portsmouth finally seem to be a steadying ship. Not to dissimilar to Oxford United, Portsmouth have eyes on promotion to League One this season. Since the successful take over by the Pompey Supports Trust, Portsmouth are the largest fan owned club in the country and with signings such as Gary Roberts from Chesterfield last summer, this fixture could be a pleasant reminder of what Portsmouth could become under the right leadership.
Bournemouth’s rise through the football league is as unlikely as it is inspirational. Whilst everyone raves about Jamie Vardy’s rise through the ranks of football, to guide a club from near bankruptcy at the foot of the league football pyramid to playing the Premier League is incredible. For Eddie Howe securing Premier League status is undoubtedly the main aim of this season. With the new TV rights deal starting next year, the riches Bournemouth could experience through securing their top-flight status is unimaginable.
This game embodies the difficulties that face the FA Cup. For Portsmouth, this game is massive, an opportunity to beat not only higher league opposition but a domestic rival who are leading the life they once did. For Bournemouth (who are the only Premier League club bar Villa who are in the bottom six of the league and still in the FA Cup), retaining their Premier League status takes precedence over anything else and in turns diminishes the value of the FA Cup.
In the footballing world where money speaks so strongly, a Portsmouth victory could secure a big away tie to a Premier League giant. A Portsmouth victory could also aid Bournemouth’s attempt to stay in the Premier League.
Rich, The Sweeper Football Blog