An uninspiring looking Third Round draw in this year’s FA Cup still managed to throw up some surprising results over the course of the last couple of days. Manchester City have the butt of the majority of the jokes this morning, following a 3-0 home defeat by Nottingham Forest at Eastlands yesterday. Mark Hughes has been in the firing line for some time as City slumped down the Premier League table, but those looking to vent their anger may be better off looking in the direction of chairman Garry Cook. Cook’s outbursts on the subject of how much money City have got now seem to have had a massively detrimental effect the confidence of the players that they already have. It must be difficult to play with any assurance when there isn’t any guarantee that you’ll still be in the team by the end of the month.
Stoke City appear to have joined the list of clubs that now feel that they are too big for the FA Cup, having made seven changes from their last Premier League match for their trip to Hartlepool United. They now have plenty of time to focus on trying to keep noses in the bag after a 2-0 defeat at Victoria Park yesterday afternoon. In truth, they were completely outplayed by the League One side, and deserved no more than they got. As Reading found out to their cost this time last year, though (and, indeed, Sheffield United two years ago) playing an under-strength for one match in January is far from being a guarantee of being able to ensure Premier League survival four months later, perhaps unsurprisingly. Stoke supporters are, therefore, left to ruminate upon the fact that the best that their club will be hoping for will be finishing seventeenth in the Premier League. If I was one of them, I’d be looking at alternative options to that particular future.
The Big Four all found themselves in the draw for the Fourth Round, although not all of them are yet through. Chelsea were held 1-1 at home by League One side Southend United, who scored a last minute equaliser through journeyman Paul Clarke. Considering that Chelsea’s team still contained Ricardo Carvalho, Frank Lampard, Joe Cole, Ashley Cole and Didier Drogba, we shouldn’t understate Southend’s achievement. The other three, however, are all through. Manchester United were the beneficiaries of some peculiar refereeing decisions in beating Southampton 3-0 at St Marys Stadium, whilst Arsenal looked comfortable enough in beating Plymouth Argyle 3-1, though Liverpool looked under par and were somewhat flattered by a 2-0 win away to Preston North End.
Four non-league clubs were in the hat for this afternoon’s Fourth Round Draw, though only two are definitely through. Torquay United threw up one of the shocks of the round, beating Championship club Blackpool 1-0 at Plainmoor, whilst Kettering Town beat Eastwood Town 2-1. Both clubs have been rewarded with attractive matches in the next round. Torquay might just fancy their chances of repeating their Third Round trick with another home match, this time against Coventry City, whilst Kettering Town are at home again in the next round, this time against Fulham. The other non-league sides, perhaps unexpectedly, were less successful. Coventry required two second half goals to beat Kidderminster Harriers yesterday, whilst Forest Green Rovers led twice against Derby County before losing 4-3 at The New Lawn. Barrow lost 2-1 at Middlesbrough. The other two non-league sides in the Fourth Round draw are Histon, whose home match against Swansea City waas frozen off, and Blyth Spartans, who play Blackburn Rovers tomorrow night. If they get through, Blyth would face a short journey to Wearside to play Sunderland, whilst Histon will have an away match against Portsmouth or Bristol City (who drew at Fratton Park yesterday) should they get past Swansea.
The Fourth Round draw, made this afternoon, threw up some intriguing fixtures. Harry Redknapp knocked Manchester United out of the FA Cup at Old Trafford last season, and he has the opportunity to repeat this when he takes Tottenham Hotspur there later this month, whilst Liverpool and Everton meet at Anfield. This season is Cardiff City’s last at Ninian Park, and they will replay the 1927 FA Cup final with a home match against Arsenal. Should they get through, Chelsea are at home to Ipswich Town. The Fourth Round draw is as follows:
Liverpool v Everton
Manchester United v Tottenham
Hull or Newcastle v Millwall or Crewe
Sunderland v Blyth or Blackburn
Hartlepool v West Ham
Leyton Orient or Sheffield United v Charlton or Norwich
Cardiff v Arsenal
Portsmouth or Bristol City v Histon or Swansea
Chelsea or Southend v Ipswich
Cheltenham or Doncaster v Aston Villa
West Brom or Peterborough v QPR or Burnley
Torquay v Coventry
Kettering v Fulham
Watford v Leicester or Crystal Palace
Derby v Nottingham Forest
Birmingham or Wolves v Middlesbrough
Highlights of the match between Hartlepool United and Stoke City are here: