Swansea City vs. Fulham
Many may see this one as an away banker for Premier League side Fulham, but those people would be overestimating the gap between the lower half of the Premier League and the top of the Championship. Though Fulham sit 10th in the Premier League they are only 8pts off the bottom, and Swansea are in the midst of a battle for the play offs in the Championship, currently in seventh. They also play rather good football, and Fulham aren’t exactly a force away from home this season, and so I think there is certainly the chance of an ‘upset’ here today. Let’s go for it eh…
Sheffield United vs. Hull City
This is another match up that pits together two clubs in different leagues but of similar ability. Indeed, Hull only escaped the Championship last year and despite a good start to Premier League life have struggled of late, while Sheffield United are looking strong for at least a play off place in the Championship. They have plenty of Premier League experience too, and Phil Brown might have the league in the back of his mind as he approaches this clash. There can be no doubt that Premier League survival will mean more to them than a Cup run, but that said, a Cup run can do wonders for confidence. I think Hull might sneak this one.
West Ham United vs. Middlesbrough
The Hammers are in good form going into this clash, despite a narrow loss to United last time out, there is no shame in pushing them all the way. Middlesbrough on the other hand have deteriorated beyond all recognition from the start of the season and must be getting seriously worried about what the future holds. With West Ham having the home advantage I think they will take a fairly comfortable win from this one, though of course Middlesbrogh must start playing again at some point and so if it happened to be today, things could be different. Still, don’t hold your breath.
Blackburn Rovers vs. Coventry City
Coventry are sitting comfortably in mid-table in the Championship, they won’t go down and they won’t go up, so they might fancy a bit of a Cup run, and given they beat league leaders Wolves last time out shows they’re in good form and will be full of confidence. Blackbrun are another side with more pressing matters on their minds, though they have looked much more solid under Big Sam and I expect them to survive. Still, whether Coventry’s added incentive to have a Cup run will be enough to get them an away win is debatable, but I can see them getting a draw and taking Rovers back to the Ricoh Arena.
Watford vs. Chelsea
Struggling Premier League title chasers Chelsea meet struggling Championship relegation battlers Watford in this FA Cup clash that should hopefully remind Chelsea’s fickle fans that things could be much, much worse. They’re up in the air a bit at the moment but have appointed a very able stand-in manager and new managers often get a win in their first game in charge. Having said that, Chelsea have struggled against lowly opposition already this season and face their former reserve team coaches side, and he would love to get one over on the big boys. Watford will be well up for it, yes, they need to focus on staying in the Championship but there’s no motivation like playing players earning more in a week than you do in a year and a good performance here could kick start their survival campaign. Draw.
Everton vs. Aston Villa (Sun)
The tie of the round, without a doubt. Everton overcame Liverpool thanks to a cracking late Dan Gosling winner and have been in imperious form since succumbing to a late Ashley Young goal at Goodison to sink to a defeat that they certainly didn’t deserve. Since Villa got that tremendous slice of luck that day they too have gone from strength to strength and find themselves in nosebleed territory at the top of the league. Everton’s home improvement has been drastic though, and their defence has gone from being one of the shakiest in the league to perhaps the strongest bar United’s and so Villa can’t count on any more gifts tomorrow. They will be without Fellaini and perhaps Pienaar but in Cahill, Arteta and even Jo, have three great goal threats in form. Villa are a superb side too and I really can’t pick between them with my head, so my heart says…
Derby County vs. Manchester United (Sun)
Derby gave Man Utd a scare when they met in the Carling Cup earlier in the season, but the World Champions’ quality eventually shone through. Still, since then Nigel Clough has come in at Derby and breathed new life into them in a way that is eerily reminiscent of his legendary father, though I’m sure he is getting mighty sick of those comparisons already. In Alex Ferguson though, the ‘son of god’ comes up against another legendary boss, and this is one that has a lot more world class players not to mention experience in his locker. I expect United to be too strong for Derby, but the Rams have a great battling spirit and will make their illustrious opponents work for it.
Arsenal vs. Cardiff City (Mon – 4th Round Replay)
Arsenal are well off the pace in the Premier League this season and their fans are becoming increasibly frustrated with the previously untouchable Wenger after another transfer window came and went in which he simply refused to address the gaping holes in his squad. Still they will know that the FA Cup represents possibly their best chance of silverware this season and should be going all out to overcome Cardiff. That will be no easy task though, as the Championship high fliers are playing some great stuff under Dave Jones and will fancy their chances of breaking down a shaky Arsenal defence. In the end, Arsenal should have enough quality to see them off, but I won’t be surprised if they sabotage their season yet again.
Portsmouth vs. Manchester City (Sat)
The weekends only Premier League fixture sees struggling Pompey take on Manchester City, who also find themselves at the wrong end of the table. However, while Tony Adams was unceremoniously shown the door after a desperately unlucky defeat to Liverpool last week, Man City’s owners have, against all the odds, kept faith with Mark Hughes so far. For that alone, City deserve to win this game because the treatment of managers is becoming pathetic. I think City will win too, they won against ‘Boro last time out and do have some genuinely top class players, with Ireland in great form and Wright-Phillips England’s best player against Spain in midweek. Portsmouth’s caretakers have to stem the flow of goals against them and try and magic Peter Crouch into a complete striker if they stand any chance of survival. They’re doomed.