The third round of the FA Cup, in particular Exeter City’s draw at Old Trafford, inspired the media romantics to come out in force this week.
The Grecians’ plucky display had the back pages purring on the subject of magic, wonderment and underdogs sticking it to the big guns in the greatest cup competition in the world. The realists quickly fought back however. They pointed to the fact that the top four teams in the country saw the third round as a chance to give their reserves a run-out and they opined that to clubs like Exeter, the FA Cup is no longer anything more than a chance for a big pay-day, if you’re lucky enough to draw one of the top sides.
The truth? Predictably enough, it’s probably somewhere in the middle of these two arguments. True, it now seems that winning the cup is an impossibility for anyone other than the top three or four teams in the country (in 1980, a team from outside the top flight won the whole thing. Imagine that? Can you?). This is not a good thing. But then, it’s not all bad news. In an era which has seen the introduction of group stages to the European and UEFA Cups, the demise of the Cup Winner’s Cup and the marginalisation of our own League Cup, the FA Cup still stands out as a tip-top knockout competition that produces at least one or two classic matches every year, without fail. So there.
The fourth round is not looking too exciting though. Especially for the London clubs, who have pretty much all been handed fixtures that look decidedly predictable. Still, you never know, the magic of the Cup and all that eh?
Arsenal host Wolves, to whom they handed out a pair of sound beatings last season and there’s no reason to presume the same won’t happen this time round. Thierry Henry to end his recent goal drought, scoring three whilst wearing nothing but a towel and shouting “va va voom!” (see below).
Charlton should persevere against Yeovil Town (cue travelling fans from Zomerzet wandering around south-east London looking confused and muttering about ’steel snakes under the ground'), although the tie does present Paul Terry, elder brother of Sid Vicious...I mean John Terry, the chance to gain revenge against the club that once released him.
Fulham travel to the midlands to take on a resurgent Derby County. Could be an upset here, but Londonist firmly believes that the Cottagers will hang on for the draw.
Spurs play West Brom at The Hawthorns. Isn’t Jermain Defoe due a goal? Come on wee man, it’s time to put some more pressure on young Michael Owen for his England place.
West Ham v Sheffield United. Oh dear. We feel that Mr Pardew will be one step closer to the trapdoor after this game.
Chelsea play Birmingham City at the Bridge on Sunday. Emile Heskey will score six. Maybe. Oh alright then, Chelsea to cruise through.
The most interesting of the ties involving London clubs is undoubtedly Brentford vs. Hartlepool. The Bees are currently sixth in Division 2, and Hartlepool are just one place above them. Brentford have had the better of recent exchanges with eight wins on the bounce and Martin Allen's side are unbeaten in five League and Cup games, having won three of them and kept clean sheets in three.
Hartlepool, meanwhile, have never qualified for the Fifth Round and they’ll be fighting hard for the honour of being the only side from England’s third level of English League football in the last 16. Something’s gotta give, and apparently there are still a few tickets available, so get down to Griffin Park on Saturday and help free the Bees.