FA Cup Third Round weekend: What to look out for
The FA Cup Third Round is always a standout in the football calendar with no end of drama guaranteed.
Here’s what to look out for from this weekend’s set of fixtures.
Dream tie for revitalised Tranmere
Mauricio Pochettino’s hunt for a trophy continues in another competition as Tottenham’s congested fixture list continues to churn out games. Following their New Year’s trip to Cardiff, Spurs are back on the road with a trip to League Two side Tranmere.
Having just escaped near financial meltdown by winning promotion to League Two and ending a three stay in the National League, there’s a romantic feel about play-off chasing Rovers hosting Tottenham under the lights at Prenton Park for a shot at one of the country’s best teams, as well as a big payday.
The game to kick off the weekend program is arguably the pick of the bunch. And with Spurs expected to ring the changes given their demanding schedule, the upwardly moving hosts cannot be discounted entirely.
Banana skin for fragile Fulham
Perhaps not a game that automatically stands out but intriguing nonetheless. Fulham’s focus has to be on Premier League survival but they won’t want the humiliation of going out the cup to a League Two side to further dent confidence among a delicate bunch of players.
As tends to be the case after sacking a manager, Oldham look to have a new lease of life and will pose a dangerous outfit for Claudio Ranieri’s side.
The Lactics have posted back-to-back victories under caretaker boss Pete Wild, who could write himself into Oldham folklore and become a genuine contender for the job on a full-time basis should his side make it three wins in a row at the Cottage.
Woking flying the non-league flag
Woking, of the National League South are the lowest ranked side left in the competition and fly the flag for the non-league sides (alongside Barnet) this year.
More often than not, the glamour ties tend to escape lower league sides but Woking boss Alan Dowson and a capacity crowd of just over 5,500 will be delighted at the prospect of welcoming Premier League opposition, by no means unbeatable in Watford, to the Kingfield.
The Cards are bang in form too. They’ve won eight of their last nine in the NLS including the last seven on the bounce to sit second, two points off the top with two games in hand.
However, the greatest performance in the club’s history is needed to overcome opposition six leagues above them. Watford are masters of overcoming similar situations having lost just once in nineteen cup games against lower league sides. The Hornets are also enjoying a fine season and will have half an eye on a good cup run this year given their safe mid-table position in the PL.
Robins to continue cup exploits?
It was in the League Cup Bristol City saw off four Premier League teams on their way to the semi-finals last season. They landed 4/5 home ties then and their luck’s in again with Huddersfield the next potential scalp for Lee Johnson’s men at Ashton Gate.
The hosts have managed to turn their season round of late thanks to an unbeaten run of eight, are now firmly among the chasing pack in the race for the championship play-offs.
In stark contrast, the Premier League’s basement side arrive on the back of 8 straight defeats, a new record low for the club. Their top-flight status appears to be slipping away and with a make or break game with 17th place Cardiff next up when league matters resume, it’s hard to see many of Wagner’s preferred XI being involved on Saturday evening.
‘Tis the season for rotation
After a demanding Christmas schedule, most Premier League sides that can afford such a luxury, will take the opportunity to rest those in need of a breather.
It’s a whole lot easier when you’re paired with lower league opposition too, as is the case with Manchester City (at home to Rotherham), Man.United (home to Reading), Chelsea (home to Nottingham Forest) and Arsenal (away at Blackpool) who will all apply an element of rotation to their respective line-ups.
Facing second string sides can take the gloss off a giant killing, yet it does at least give the aforementioned teams some hope against the big boys.
The potential for mayhem - VAR
Whether you're for or against it, from next season there will be a Video Assistant Referees (VAR) at each and every Premier League game. In preparation for this, it's going to be trialled in this years FA Cup.
However, with all the technology involved, it will only be used in fixtures at Premier League grounds. Though this makes sense - you wouldn't expect non-league Woking to have the facilities to carry out such an operation for example - it comes away from the level playing field which makes this tournament special worldwide.
A Premier League team will have the luxury of being able to overturn a contentious decision through VAR, yet football league sides and potentially other Premier League clubs playing away from home won't have the same benefit, hence the title!
Gone are the days of the traditional 3 o'clock kick-offs. This year sees a host of games starting at varied times with only 10 of the 32 fixtures in their usual Saturday mid-afternoon slot.
You may be thinking this means more games to watch on the box. But in fact, scattering the games over the weekend allows overseas broadcasters the chance to show the world's greatest cup competition at a more convenient time for them.
Tranmere vs Tottenham (7.45pm)
Bournemouth vs Brighton (12.30pm)
Burnley vs Barnsley (12.30pm)
Man United vs Reading (12.30pm)
Sheffield Wednesday vs Luton (12.30pm)
Shrewsbury vs Stoke (12.30pm)
West Brom vs Wigan (12.30pm)
West Ham vs Birmingham (12.30pm)
Accrington vs Ipswich (3pm)
Aston Villa vs Swansea (3pm)
Bolton vs Walsall (3pm)
Brentford vs Oxford (3pm)
Chelsea vs Nottingham Forest (3pm)
Derby vs Southampton (3pm)
Everton vs Lincoln (3pm)
Fleetwood vs AFC Wimbledon (3pm)
Gillingham vs Cardiff (3pm)
Middlesbrough vs Peterborough (3pm)
Blackpool vs Arsenal (5.30pm)
Bristol City vs Huddersfield (5.30pm)
Crystal Palace vs Grimsby (5.30pm)
Newcastle vs Blackburn (5.30pm)
Norwich vs Portsmouth (5.30pm)
Fulham vs Oldham (2pm)
Man City vs Rotherham (2pm)
Millwall vs Hull (2pm)
Preston vs Doncaster (2pm)
QPR vs Leeds (2pm)
Sheffield United vs Barnet (2pm)
Woking vs Watford (2pm)
Newport vs Leicester (4.30pm)
Wolves vs Liverpool (7.45pm)