One game left in the Championship programme this weekend: Barcelona v Real Madrid will be overshadowed by the East Midlands’ version of El Clasico when Nottingham Forest travel to Leicester (Sky Sports 2, 7:45pm). Both clubs got off to sluggish starts following the trauma of failing in the playoffs last season, but they are more or less performing at similar levels as they were last season and this could be an entertaining – if low scoring – game. A Forest win would put them back in the play off positions but the Foxes are unbeaten in their last five home games in the Championship and have the upper hand in recent league meetings in Leicestershire – they’ve only lost one of the last five games.
The slim chance of a club from outside the top tier of English football winning the FA Cup for the first time since 1980 were reduced even further following the draw for the 3rd Round on Sunday evening. Twelve Championship sides were drawn against Premiership opposition; two ties are between Championship sides, leaving only seven clubs with games against opposition from the lower divisions.
Arguably the best chance of a third round upset from a Championship point of view is QPR’s trip to Blackburn – if Rangers can maintain their Championship form then at the very least they should be able to force a replay, although presumably Neil Warnock’s priority will be promotion rather than cup glory. West Ham may not be looking forward to a visit from Barnsley: the Tykes don’t have a particularly good away record in the league but knocked Chelsea out of the competition a couple of seasons ago. At the other end of the scale, although there’ll be plenty of media attention at the Walker’s Stadium for Leicester’s game against Manchester City, Sven-Goran Eriksson will probably realise that his new side may have to concentrate on the league rather than look forward to the fourth round. Although Scunthorpe will enjoy a big crowd when Everton visit, the Iron’s home form in the Championship has been very poor so far.
The all Championship games could provide a distraction for two of the current bottom three. Crystal Palace have a good record at Coventry and have already beaten the Sky Blues this season: despite being three points adrift at the bottom of the table after this weekend’s games, Preston host Nottingham Forest at Deepdale.
On paper Swansea, Watford, Burnley and Norwich look as if they may have the best chances of progressing to the fourth round: Colchester United are currently just outside the playoff positions in League 1 but at time of writing have only lost once away from home and might fancy their chances at the Liberty Stadium. The Hornets will have to wait for a replay between Hartlepool and Yeovil before knowing their opponents but Burnley will need to be at their best when Port Vale come to Turf Moor – the Valiants are currently top of League 2 and have a very impressive away record. Norwich also need to wait for a replay, but should be able to get past either Droylsden or Leyton Orient.
If you’re looking for a possible shock involving a Championship team, Middlesbrough’s trip to Burton Albion might be the tie worth looking at, but if Brighton beat FC United of Manchester, they would ensure a tasty looking South Coast Derby with Portsmouth that – given Brighton’s position in League 1 – could be a Championship game next season.
Ipswich – away at Chelsea – probably won’t be able to repeat their performance in the Carling Cup. Wednesday night’s quarter final against West Bromwich Albion is the first time the Tractor Boys have played top tier opposition in this season’s competition – and having lost 4-1 at Norwich the day after the Baggies won 4-1 at Everton, it looks as if the semi finalists will all come from the Premiership.