The Third Round of the FA Cup used to be one of the highlights of the domestic calendar but over the past few seasons it’s become the equivalent of being invited to your teetotal vegetarian sister in law’s on Boxing Day.
Nonetheless, here are four games that should be worth keeping an eye on. All are 3:00pm kick offs on Saturday afternoon.
Blackburn Rovers v Hull City
First meeting in the competition at Ewood Park since January 1954 and Rovers haven’t won any of the previous three ties where they’ve had home advantage. However, this is not going to be an easy one for the Tigers, who have only won two of their last 10 trips to Blackburn in all competitions and have only won once on the road in the Championship this season. I’ll make the case for Blackburn over at Buzzin League One Football.
Bolton Wanderers v Huddersfield Town
Avoiding the drop is the priority for both teams: Bolton have won all four of their FA Cup ties against Huddersfield in Lancashire, but the last of those wins was in 1956 and since the turn of the century they’ve only beaten the Terriers twice in five games at the Macron. Wanderers’ recent home form has been impressive after a poor start – one defeat since the end of September – while Huddersfield have struggled on their travels in the Premier League, failing to score in eight of their eleven games so far.
Ipswich Town v Sheffield United
This is easily the most competitive of the four ties between Championship clubs – the other three look one sided and the Birmingham/Burton game might easily be the least interesting tie of the round.
First meeting in the FA Cup in Suffolk for almost exactly 20 years and the Blades first trip to Portman Road in any competition for seven years. The Tractor Boys had their five game home winning streak snapped by Derby last week and haven’t won a home tie in the competition for almost nine years. United reached the semi finals of the FA Cup almost four years ago, but have only won one away game in the tournament since then; Chris Wilder’s team haven’t recorded an away win in the Championship since mid-November.
Wycombe Wanderers v Preston
Most recent encounter in the FA Cup was just over four years ago, when the sides were separated by a single Kevin Davis goal for the Lillywhites. Preston have reached the fifth round twice in the last decade and could be poised for another decent run in 2018: they’re currently unbeaten in five away from Deepdale and that run includes wins at both Bristol City and Cardiff.
Televised games: Norwich v Chelsea (Saturday, 5:30pm, BT Sport 2) and Nottingham Forest v Arsenal (Sunday, 4:00pm, BT Sport 2). I can’t see either of those ending in surprise results, but Newport County v Leeds (Sunday, noon, BBC Wales) has plenty of potential for an upset.
Back to the league programme next weekend – it won’t come as a surprise I’ll be concentrating on the recent trio of managerial changes, two of which were somewhat baffling. Before that, on Tuesday Bristol City travel to Manchester City for the first leg of the League Cup semi-final (7:45pm, Sky Sports Football/Main Event)