While the third round has become hamstrung by cliché and mythology and never fails to disappoint, all the cool kids know the fourth round is where it’s really at. It’s the orange to the third round’s black. Chia seeds to quinoa.
Let the hopeless romantics delude themselves that a postman will score a late winner against a Premier League side. Let them evoke nostalgia from Motty’s sheepskin coat. Let them revel in sepia-tinged David and Goliath fables of yesteryear.
For those of us who Andy Townsend might describe as ‘having something about them’ it is this weekend that offers the true promise of upset and drama as the gene pool gets stronger and the vague notion of a cup run becomes a genuine possibility.
Manchester City 9/2
Manchester United 5/1
(All odds provided by Intertops.eu are accurate as of today and subject to change)
Take Rochdale’s (15/4 with Intertops.eu) hosting of Stoke (13/20) on Monday evening. The Potters’ previous opponents were Conference side Wrexham at the Britannia and though the Welshmen applied themselves outstandingly – ‘plucky’ I believe is the obligatory term – was there any doubt as to whether the top flight club would ultimately prevail? They always do. Class tells as legs tire and all that.
This time out Mark Hughes’ men travel to Spotland to face a side contesting a League One play-off place who have brushed aside a Christmas blip and rediscovered some fine form. In a tight hostile environment packed to the rafters with fervent believers – and presumably some snowy conditions levelling the field – even Hughes’ battle-hardened eleven will struggle to impose their superiority.
At Villa Park Bournemouth (19/10 with AllYouBet.ag) almost go into the tie as favourites having scored more goals in the Midlands in a single game this term (their 8-0 drubbing of Brum at St Andrews in October) than a misfiring Aston Villa (5/4) have managed in 11 attempts (having notched just seven at home). It’s a mind-boggling statistic that aptly illustrates the gulf in attacking freedom shown by both sides and you almost feel sorry for Paul Lambert that the hat threw up this no-win clash for a game that might decide his managerial fate.
Elsewhere high-flying Bristol City (13/5) will fancy their chances against West Ham (19/20) while draw-specialists Brighton (4/1) will see the visit of Arsenal (57/100) as a blessed relief from relegation concerns (all odds via AllYouBet.ag).
For those among us who still believe in the magic of the cup – aww bless – please brace yourselves for this but what really takes the fourth round up a notch on its quixotic cousin is the increasing likelihood of an all-Premier League affair. Oh and while we’re at it Santa Claus doesn’t exist either.
Unusually this year however there are only two top flight clashes in Tottenham v Leicester and Southampton v Palace and while neither are exactly an all-Merseyside derby or top four grudge-match both offer intriguing narratives. Victory at the Lane will give Foxes fans a rare glimpse of Wembley on the horizon to accompany a spirit-sapping fight for survival while Alan Pardew will scent the opportunity to cement his place back in Eagles folklore should Southampton prioritise their Champion’s League dream. The odds for either club going all the way this year are generous across the board – especially considering their onerous away trips this weekend – but bear in mind the recent trend for relegation-battlers reaching the final.
Another long-shot for cup glory lies in the victor from Birmingham v West Brom, a tasty Midlands encounter that is given extra titillation with each side being turned around by new managers. Since his appointment in late-October – following their eight goal humiliation as it goes – Gary Rowett has performed superbly in revitalising the Blues fortunes while new Baggies gaffer Tony Pulis may not usually value a distracting cup run but is intent on imposing winning ways to his new club.
Okay, so you want one ceding to FA Cup magic? It of course comes in the form of Cambridge squaring up to the slightly more famous United. Televised this Friday evening – how traditional – it will give the U’s some welcome exposure, some even more welcome revenue, and their players a chance to swap shirts with Wayne Rooney and co.
They won’t win naturally because romance is dead but all the very best to them.
Long live the 4th round. Motty, put away your sheepskin, things just got real.
Betting Instinct tip – Manchester United to crush Cambridge dreams with a 4-0 win is 9/1 with AllYouBet.ag