The Cup of Dreams: FA Cup 3rd Round Preview


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The FA Cup is the oldest cup competition in the world, and third round weekend is where many dreams begin. It is the point when the 20 surviving teams from the preliminary rounds come face-to-face with English football’s top two divisions.

Chelsea start their Cup defence against Nottingham Forest

The favorites start on the road to Wembley

Manchester City is the initial favourite, and having suffered a shock exit to League One Wigan last season, Pep Guardiola’s side has the depth of talent to navigate their way all the way to the final. Their neighbours in United are out of the title race and have suffered an embarrassing early exit in the League Cup to Derby, the Cup represents the only realistic chance of a trophy for interim boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.

Chelsea seems out of the title race, but they have shown in the Europa League that they have the depth to compete on multiple fronts. The same could be said of Arsenal, who has won this competition a record 13 times, and will be balancing a cup run against Europa and Premier League commitments.

Mauricio Pochettino is desperate to land his first trophy with Tottenham, but may find with Premier and Champions League commitments, the Cup could be a major strain on his squad. Liverpool has enjoyed an excellent start to the season, and much like Pochettino, Jurgen Klopp has yet to win a trophy. but with his side engaged in the title race, it will be up to Liverpool’s undercard to progress in the Cup. The top 6 have dominated the final stages of the Cup in recent years, however Leicester and Wolves could prove Cup dark horses.

A day in the January sun

For all the knocks it’s taken, there is still something magical about the FA Cup. Amongst those left in the draw is Woking of National League South, the 6th tier of England’s pyramid. They drew a plum home tie against Premier League Watford, so with Watford in erratic form, could Woking pull off an upset?

From the 5th tier National League comes Barnet, who drew an away tie away at Sheffield United. Being at Bramall Lane will give the Blades the edge, but will boss Chris Wilder be tempted to rest his best players? Away from the semi-professional leagues are 5 survivors from League 2 in Newport County, Tranmere Rovers, Oldham Athletic, Grimsby Town and Lincoln City.

Potential giant killings

There is always a shock in the 3rd round, and there are a few that seem ripe for a surprise. Burnley has struggled at home in the Premier League, and host League 1 playoff contenders Barnsley. Newcastle has a poor recent record in the Cup, and a home tie with Blackburn looks like a banana skin waiting to be tripped over. West Ham is a potential dark horse in the Cup, but also drew a potentially hazardous home tie against Birmingham City. But perhaps the biggest shock could come at Craven Cottage where struggling Fulham host League Two Oldham.

Remembering 6 great 3rd round Cup shocks

Surprises always happen in the 3rd round, and just to prove it, here are 6 of the most memorable Davids who knocked out a Goliath:

1972: Hereford 2-1 Newcastle

The game Geordie fans hate to be reminded of, it is often forgotten about. Having drawn 5th tier Hereford at home, 1st division Newcastle was expected to progress with ease, but were held to a 2-2 draw at St. James Park. For the replay at Edgar Street, Malcolm McDonald gave Newcastle the lead. Then up stepped Ronnie Radford to blast home a 30-yard rocket into the roof of the Newcastle net. It went to extra time, and substitute Ricky George stepped up to seal a shock win.

1984: Bournemouth 2-0 Manchester United

Ron Atkinson’s tenure as Manchester United manager was all about the FA Cup. They had won it in 1983, and when the holders turned up at 4th division Bournemouth knew few sensed danger. But United keeper Gary Bailey got it wrong at a corner, and Milton Graham stepped up to put Bournemouth ahead. United was on the back foot, and just when it seemed it couldn’t get any worse, Ian Thompson added a second to close the game. United went on to win back the Cup a year later.

Sutton United cause a classic cup shock

1989: Sutton United 2-1 Coventry City

Less than two years on from winning the trophy, 1st division Coventry arrived at None League Sutton United. The hosts took a shocking lead through a well-worked corner, but Coventry regained control when David Phillips equalized early in the second half. Coventry threw everything at Sutton, but it wouldn’t come as the minutes ticked away. Matthew Hanlon drove forward and scored a spectacular winner for Sutton.

1992: Wrexham 2-1 Arsenal

Possibly the biggest shock of all time came when defending League Champions Arsenal visited Wrexham in 1992. At the time. Wrexham was dead last in the 4th Division. Not to mention, the team was facing the immediate threat of bankruptcy. Drawing Arsenal was seen as a payday, and the money generated was seen as a win itself. It seemed that way when Alan Smith gave Arsenal a deserved lead after a dominant first half display. However, Wrexham stormed back, with journeyman midfielder Mickey Thomas rifling home a sublime free kick, before a Steve Watkins goal ensured a shocking win.

2005: Burnley 1-0 Liverpool 

Liverpool has suffered a few 3rd round cup shocks in their time. More recently, 2nd tier Burnley stunned them in 2005. Rafa Benitez’s first taste of the FA Cup saw the then Liverpool boss make the fatal mistake of resting all his best players for the trip to Turf Moor. Burnley went close through future Chelsea star Gary Cahill and then Micah Hyde, but Liverpool looked to be seeing the game out for a replay. But Benitez hadn’t counted on Djimi Traore scoring a comedy own goal and Liverpool were humbled. The pressure was turned up on Rafa, until he went on to win that season’s Champions League.

Beckford stuns Old Trafford

2010: Manchester United 0-1 Leeds United

A decade earlier, this was one of the Premier League’s elite fixtures. Sir Alex Ferguson, who was acutely aware of the bitter rivalry between the two clubs, warned his players not to take Leeds lightly. It was Leeds who got the better start and took the lead before halftime through Jermaine Beckford’s strike. In the second half, Leeds again was the sharper team, and both Robert Snodgrass and Beckford went close to adding to their lead. Despite the inevitable late fight, Leeds held on for a deserved win. Leeds had their first win at Old Trafford since 1981, Ferguson his only ever FA Cup defeat to a lower division side.

FA Cup Third Round Final Draw- ties to be played 4-7 January 

Tranmere Rovers (4) v Tottenham Hotspur (1)
Sheffield Wednesday (2) v Luton Town (3)
Manchester United (1) v Reading (2)
Shrewsbury Town (3) v Stoke City (2)
Bournemouth (1) v Brighton & Hove Albion (1)
West Ham United (1) v Birmingham City (2)
Burnley (1) v Barnsley (3)
West Bromwich Albion (2) v Wigan Athletic (2)
Bolton Wanderers (2) v Walsall (3)
Gillingham (3) v Cardiff City (1)
Brentford (2) v Oxford United (3)
Everton (1) v Lincoln City (4)
Chelsea (1) v Nottingham Forest (2)
Derby County (2) v Southampton (1)
Accrington Stanley (3) v Ipswich Town (2)
Fleetwood Town (3) v AFC Wimbledon (3)
Middlesbrough (2) v Peterborough United (3)
Aston Villa (2) v Swansea City (2)
Newcastle United (1) v Blackburn Rovers (2)
Crystal Palace (1) v Grimsby Town (4)
Bristol City (2) v Huddersfield Town (1)
Blackpool (3) v Arsenal (1)
Norwich City (2) v Portsmouth (3)
Millwall (2) v Hull City (2)
Preston North End (2) v Doncaster Rovers (3)
Fulham (1) v Oldham Athletic (4)
Manchester City (1) v Rotherham United (2)
Woking (6) v Watford (1)
Queens Park Rangers (2) v Leeds United (2)
Sheffield United (2) v Barnet (5)
Newport County (4) v Leicester City (1)
Wolverhampton Wanderers (1) v Liverpool (1)

Jonathan Fearby

Jonathan Fearby is a United Kingdom native. Prior to joining The Athletes Hub as a staff writer, he founded and operated Football England.

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