Following some shock results last weekend, fourteen nPower Championship teams will be concentrating on the league for the rest of the season. Another four clubs face replays, all of which means a total of six clubs will be taking part in the fourth round at the end of the month.
To be fair, seven clubs were eliminated by Premiership teams. However, four sides were beaten by opposition from below the Championship and in Derby’s case from the Blue Square Premier. Although we highlighted the possible pitfalls facing Portsmouth in their trip to Brighton last weekend, Leyton Orient’s win at Carrow Road and Middlesbrough’s defeat at Burton Albion were genuine upsets. Kudos to Crawley Town though – Sergio Torres’ last minute goal gave the Sussex club a memorable victory over the Rams.
Overall, the lack of success in the FA Cup seems to indicate that the gap between the Championship and the Premiership is wider than the gap between the Championship and the rest of the Football League. Only Reading beat Premiership opposition, although Leeds were only a couple of minutes away from a major surprise at the Emirates. Leicester – who took the lead after two minutes when Souleymane Bamba scored – deserve a lot of credit in coming from behind to hold Manchester City to a draw at the Walkers Stadium.
The fourth round draw was relative kind to the surviving clubs, all of whom are currently in the top half of the Championship table. Only Coventry and Nottingham Forest were drawn against Premiership opposition, but the remainder face teams that knocked out higher ranked opposition. Arguably the tie of the round is Reading’s trip to Stevenage, but if Leeds can defeat Arsenal at Elland Road next Wednesday then an all Yorkshire tie with Huddersfield looks like a great cup tie.
After being thrashed 7-0 at Stamford Bridge in the FA Cup, Ipswich took a small yet completely unexpected step to the Carling Cup Final with a 1-0 win over Arsenal at Portman Road thanks to a strike from Tamas Priskin. Although Paul Jewell was introduced to the fans as the new manager, the victory over the Gunners was overseen by caretaker boss Charlie McParland. Jewell has a task on his hands – Ipswich still have to visit QPR, Cardiff, Swansea and Leeds this season.
Crystal Palace also have a new manager. Former striker and fan favourite Dougie Freedman was promoted from assistant manager and was awarded a two and half deal. The new boss will face a baptism of fire: Palace travel to Swansea in the first game of the weekend (Sky Sports 2, 12:45pm) hoping they can pull off a surprise win. The hosts aren’t exactly pushovers though – this season they’ve won all three of their home games against teams currently in the bottom six without conceding a goal. Not only that, a win would put Swansea into second place – although Brendan Rogers’ side has had multiple opportunities to do that this season without making the most of them.
There are a couple of other games that will have a direct impact on both ends of the table. Leeds entertain Scunthorpe in a league game at Elland Road for only the second time since President Kennedy was assassinated, but it might not be plain sailing for the hosts. Six of Scunthorpe’s seven wins this season have been in away games, including a 2-0 win at Watford in October: Leeds’ record against the bottom three includes a close win over Crystal Palace and the 4-6 defeat by Preston. The biggest problem for Leeds this weekend is that Alexander Armstrong lookalike Simon Grayson won the December Manager of the Month award – Leeds haven’t won since the turn of the year!
There’s absolutely no doubt about the game of the week. Cardiff have only won twice at Carrow Road in the 20 league games there since January 1933, although the last time was a 2-1 victory in September 2007. Norwich’s opening day defeat at home to Watford is the only time they’ve lost to a team in the current top six this season, but Cardiff have lost at both QPR and Watford. As the Canaries have won six of the last ten home games in the league, Norwich may have the edge: the potential reward for the winners is second place.
For the third week in a row there is not exactly a huge amount of transfer activity to report, although Millwall’s permanent signing of Huddersfield striker Theo Robinson is a sensible move as the Lions are currently ninth but are goal shy away from home. Norwich boss Paul Lambert signed Marc Tierney from Colchester United on Thursday and the defender could make his debut against Cardiff, but other than that there’s not much to report.