The FA Cup presents a unique set of challenges for Championship clubs: the extra revenue generated by a run in the oldest knockout competition in the world is always welcome, but as it’s been over three decades since a second tier side won the cup. The competition is also a distraction from the league but having said that, five of the last 20 finalists are currently playing in the Championship (Cardiff, Millwall, Portsmouth, Southampton and West Ham) with both Cardiff and Millwall reaching the final as Championship clubs in the last decade.
Seven clubs will be playing Premier League sides with half of them having home ties, although it seems odd writing about Burnley’s trip to Norwich as it was only last season that this would have been a league game. Barnley’s game against Swansea at Oakwell could be the best chance of an ‘upset’ even though once again this was league fixture in 2010/11. At the other end of the telescope, Portsmouth have to visit Chelsea in a repeat of the 2010 final but given Pompey’s poor away form I’d be surprised if that tie finished with a 1-0 scoreline this time round.
The Championship is guaranteed at least four clubs in the fourth round: Nottingham Forest play Leicester City, Southampton travel to Coventry, Derby entertain Crystal Palace and Hull take on Ipswich at the KC Stadium. That leaves nine clubs playing opposition below the Championship, although at the moment only Brighton (who will be playing Wrexham in the first FA Cup tie at the Amex Stadium) are the only club playing opposition outside the football league. If Fleetwood Town beat Yeovil in next Tuesday’s replay then Blackpool will have to make the seven mile trip north to visit the Trawlermen.
The FA Cup ties don’t take place until next month and so it’s back to league action – and there were some real coupon busters last weekend. Billy Sharp scored the only goal of the game as Doncaster Rovers beat Southampton and Burnley came from behind to beat West Ham at Upton Park for the first time since 1973. Those results meant that the goal that Kenny Miller scored for Cardiff against Birmingham on Sunday lunchtime was very significant: the Bluebirds could overtake West Ham this weekend but more of that later. Middlesbrough needed some questionable referring at Ashton Gate to record their sixth win away from home this season, while Hull’s two wins in the space of a week means they’re back in the top six.
At the bottom of the table, Coventry’s defeat at Portsmouth and Doncaster’s surprise win means that Sky Blues fans could be facing a very miserable Christmas as their team is now rock bottom. Nottingham Forest join them in the bottom three – since Steve Cotterill took over in mid October, Forest have lost five of their nine league games and have failed to score in their last three.
There are two televised games this weekend: the first is between Southampton v Blackpool (Sky Sports 2, 12:45pm) both of whom were outside the Championship last season but have made good starts in 2011/12. Although the Tangerines won the last time these two met in the league, it’s not been a happy hunting ground for them over the years and considering Saints impressive home record Ian Holloway’s side could struggle at St. Mary’s.
Although there’s no outstanding candidate for game of the week, there are a couple of 3:00pm kick offs that could be worth keeping an eye on as they involve teams at either end of the table. If Cardiff City win at the New Den and West Ham lose at Reading, the Bluebirds will move into the second automatic promotion spot – although it’s a big if as the Welsh club haven’t won at Millwall since September 1982 and the last four league games between the sides in South London have ended all square.
Hull travel to the Ricoh Arena having lost two of their last three away games but there are some signs that caretaker manager Nicky Barmby has removed the ‘defence first’ mentality that characterised the Tigers under Nigel Pearson. To make matters even worse for the hosts, they’re still far too reliant on Lukas Jutkiewicz for goals: rumours are beginning to circulate that Coventry’s leading scorer could be on the way to Southampton during the transfer window – a move that would ensure the short term financial future of the club but would appear to cast doubts over their future as a Championship team.
The teatime game is Barnsley v Ipswich (Sky Sports 2, 5:20pm) – under the management of former Rochdale boss Keith Hill the Tykes have quietly crept up the table and are now just three points off the playoff positions. There are no household names in the Barnsley side, but when you’ve got a promising young goalscoring defender like Jacob Butterfield playing behind Craig Davies and Ricardo Vaz Te then you probably don’t need them. I wasn’t very complimentary about the Tractor Boys last week and despite taking the lead against Watford on Saturday thanks to Keith Andrews, two goals in four minutes meant a seventh consecutive defeat for Paul Jewel’s side, who are now only outside the bottom three on goal difference.
The winners of manager of the month and player of the month awards for November were announced on Friday afternoon and although I don’t normally mention them, under the circumstances I think it’s worth highlighting that Billy Sharp of Doncaster Rovers won the award for player of the month. In case anyone’s forgotten Sharp’s story, you can read it here: he deserves an award – however inconsequential – after the terrible few weeks he’s been through.