FA Cup 3rd Round: Where will the shocks come?
Background photo: Jbmg40, CC-BY-SA-3.0
For surviving lower-league clubs, January's first weekend is the biggest in their season. The big hitters enter the FA Cup in the third round. While Premier League sides don't value the old tournament like they used thanks to the prizes on offer elsewhere, it's still massive for small clubs. In the 32 ties taking place this weekend, some of the eager squads will come up against a sleeping giant, hoping they can nick the golden goose. Let's do a little reconnaissance.
After the many qualifying rounds, two non-league teams survive. Woking are the lowest ranked of the 64 teams playing their football in the National South, five levels below the Premier League. They already produced one shock in the second round, winning 1-0 away to League Two Swindon. They also dispatched Torquay who lead the National South in the first round. The Cardinals come into the game in great form, second in the table on a six-game win streak. Their deserved reward is a home tie against Premier League Watford on BT Sport. Having only lost four games so far in any competition this season, Woking certainly will not go down easily.
The other non-league side still in the competition is National Premier side Barnet. They travel to Bramall Lane to take on Sheffield United. The Bees have been up and down over the past decade, but this cup run is a sweet bit of honey for the Hive. In the last round, they defeated Stockport County. that was light work after stunning Bristol Rovers in the 1st Round. Sheffield United are high up in the Championship and their mind will surely be on the league. Barnet have a chance.
Five League Two sides pushed through the first two rounds. All have been rewarded with games against top-flight opposition.
Newport County host Leicester. After a couple strong seasons, it's a deserved challenge. Likewise Tranmere Rovers who were promoted back into the Football League last May. They host Tottenham. Whatever XI Mauricio Pochettino throws out at Prenton Park, itwill be strong. Football is always a game of confidence, however. Tranmere have it in reserve.
The other three League Two sides are away from home. Mid-table Oldham and Grimbsy go to Fulham and Crystal Palace respectively. Lincoln City are the must watch, though. The Imps pop up in Goodison Park to face Everton.
Lincoln's recent ascendance includes their FA Cup quarter-final run, an FA Trophy success and a promotion. This season, they're bossing League Two. If Everton continue to be off their game, look out.
Several League One sides are in the 3rd Round. At least one is guaranteed to advance. Joey Barton's Fleetwood Town tangle with Wimbledon.
The one lingering disappointment remains broadcast choices. Televising matches with League Two clubs visiting Premier League grounds would be a treat for those who can't travel. The networks have other ideas. The remaining three games on the air are Manchester United v Reading, Wolves v Liverpool and Blackpool v Arsenal. The final matchup makes sense as Unai Emery is still sorting his best XI. The other two contests will almost certainly feature weak XIs as Ole Gunnar Solskjaer focusses on getting back into the Champions League places and Wolves and Liverpool can just use the rest.
Big clubs with low levels of enthusiasm and smaller ones with high hopes are a recipe for a shock or two. Picking them is half the fun. Watching the upset unfold is the other. Enjoy.