Eight fixtures await as the FA Cup begins its fifth round this weekend and, somewhat unusually, seven of these ties feature Premier League clubs facing off with opposition from the lower levels of the English game.
Some represent the Championship and potentially could be seeing more of their opponents next season if their promotion bids come to fruition, but others still are from League One and Two. Some have felled mighty names to get this far, some have their eyes on pulling off the tournament-defining upset by booking their place in the quarter-finals at the big boys' expense.
With the possibilities for shocks higher than ever, Goal.com has taken it upon itself to give you the lowdown on all seven of the Football League sides hoping to tear up the script on Saturday and Sunday.
|Birmingham City (v Chelsea, away)
Manager: There was widespread surprise when Chris Hughton was fired by Newcastle in December 2010, having arrived initially as caretaker boss upon the club’s relegation from the Premier League in 2009 and overseeing an impressive recovery. The former Ireland defender subsequently took the reins at St Andrew’s in a similar situation, the Blues having just dropped into the Championship and with Alex McLeish making the unpopular switch to Aston Villa. A calm and honest presence on the touchline, Hughton’s brand of passing football has endeared him to Birmingham fans.
Key Man: Five years ago, Curtis Davies became West Brom’s second-youngest captain of all time and was seen by many as being about to push on towards full England honours. Now, the centre-back is 26 and has been at St Andrew’s for just over a year, having come via Aston Villa and Leicester City. Davies has clearly not become the player that some had hoped he would be but remains a more-than-competent defender and is a key part of the Blues back line that will need to hold firm at Stamford Bridge.
Season So Far: As League Cup winners last season, Birmingham enjoyed an excursion into the Europa League despite their relegation, and Hughton guided them into the group stages having seen off Nacional in a qualifier. The Blues then only just missed out on progression, ending the round just one point behind both Braga and Club Brugge in a frustrating but admirable campaign. On the domestic front, they are one of the many sides scrapping it out for a chance to go back up to the Premier League, currently sitting fifth with a game in hand that could move them to within three points of leaders West Ham.
Form: Birmingham enjoyed a prolific January, scoring 21 in eight matches last month including a 6-0 demolition of Millwall and a 4-1 dismantling of Leeds in which 6’8” striker Nikola Zigic netted all four. February has seen the goals dry up, though, with just one scored in three games, but the Blues have still picked up five points and drawn with second-placed Southampton. Most importantly, perhaps, Hughton has masterminded a phenomenal parking of the bus recently – his side have conceded only four goals in 14 since Christmas.
Did You Know?: Birmingham this season became the first Championship side to represent England in European competition since Millwall’s Uefa Cup campaign in 2004-05.
|Blackpool (v Everton, away)
Manager: Ian Holloway is one of the game’s most popular managers, renowned for his whimsical and imaginative quotes on a variety of subjects as well as, more recently, earning great professional respect for his achievements in bringing Blackpool to the Premier League and nearly keeping them in it last season.
Key Man: Winger Matt Phillips is one of the hottest young properties in English football, having caught the eye on a brief loan spell at Sheffield United earlier in the season and providing 10 goals and four assists in his 17 games for the Tangerines since his November return. The 20-year-old has already had a £20 million price-tag mentioned by Holloway amid reported interest from Premier League sides and will be Blackpool’s main attacking threat against Everton.
Season So Far: Blackpool are on course for another crack at promotion after suffering relegation on the final day of last season. Holloway’s side have been there or thereabouts in the playoff positions for most of the season and are currently in a healthy fourth, four points behind the top two.
Form: There have been few dull moments in recent weeks but the Tangerines have still done very well. Blackpool have not failed to score in any competition since December 17 but have only registered two clean sheets in that period. Their gung-ho approach has been paying off, though, with a Phillips-inspired 3-1 win away at Cardiff the highlight of a 10-goal February and 5-1 and 3-0 wins over first Fleetwood and then Sheffield Wednesday have brought them to this stage of the FA Cup.
Did You Know?: The two games between Everton and Blackpool in the Premier League last season begat 14 goals, including a 5-3 thriller when the two sides met at Goodison Park.
|Millwall (v Bolton, home)
Manager: Kenny Jackett is currently the longest-serving manager in the Championship, having joined Millwall in November 2007. Jackett led his side, via playoff heartache in 2008-09, towards a victory at Wembley over Swindon Town in 2010 that brought them back into the Championship. A former Wales international of 31 caps, Jackett has drawn praise for his ability to get the best out of his squad despite limited resources.
Key Man: Goalkeeper David Forde is a veteran of 187 appearances for the Lions, having made the move to the Den from Cardiff in the summer of 2008. The 32-year-old kept an impressive 20 clean sheets in 2010-11, the club’s first term back in the Championship, with a series of displays that earned him international recognition with his first two caps for Giovanni Trappattoni’s Ireland side.
Season So Far: 2011-12 remains very much about maintaining second-tier status for Millwall, with Jackett admitting that the FA Cup is not his priority, and, as things stand, the Lions are six points clear of the drop-zone in 20th. A 6-0 home mauling by Birmingham in January has perhaps been the most difficult moment.
Form: That heavy defeat was, however, followed by a convincing 5-0 win over Dagenham & Redbridge in their FA Cup fourth-round replay to get back on track. The competition again provided a boost earlier this month as the Lions came from behind to seal a late away win at Southampton thanks to Liam Feeney’s magnificent injury-time goal, but league form has been patchier, with just two points from their last four Championship games.
Did You Know?: Millwall reached the FA Cup final in 2004, making them the most recent non-Premier League side to do so. They were outclassed 3-0 by Manchester United on that day but qualified for Europe nonetheless.
|Leicester City (v Norwich City, away)
Manager: Nigel Pearson is taking his second bite of the apple at the King Power Stadium, having left the post in 2010 having felt undermined by the previous owners. The former Southampton boss arrived for his second spell having inspired Hull City to a promising start to this season, and has shown a willingness to trust young and inexperienced players since rejoining the club.
Key Man: Former Leeds and Everton forward Jermaine Beckford has been something of an FA Cup specialist this season for the Foxes. The 28-year-old hit a classy hat-trick in the 4-0 win over Nottingham Forest in the third round before poaching both goals to ease past Swindon in the following match-up. Lining up against a Norwich City defence who have failed to regularly keep anyone out this season, Beckford will be crucial for Leicester.
Season So Far: Previous manager Sven-Goran Eriksson spent freely in the summer transfer window on the likes of Beckford and defender Matt Mills, causing the Foxes to be labelled as favourites for promotion in 2011-12, but things have not gone to plan at the King Power Stadium. A mediocre start, featuring only five wins in their first 13 games, precipitated the Swede’s departure in October but results are yet to pick up, with the side still mid-table in 12th, nine points behind the playoff positions.
Form: Leicester have scored plenty of late but have still slipped to the occasional frustrating defeat. A comprehensive 2-0 away win at high-flying Southampton in between two FA Cup victories reminded everyone of the Foxes’ potential but an up-and-down February, including most recently a 3-2 loss to Watford having led 2-1, has put the brakes back on.
Did You Know?: The Foxes played out a thrilling double against Saturday’s opponents, Norwich, last season. Leicester picked up no points against the then-Championship outfit but played their part in hectic 4-3 and 3-2 defeats.
|Crawley Town (v Stoke City, home)
Manager: Best known by some for being hit with a one-year suspended prison sentence and a thousand-pound fine for tax evasion while in charge of Boston United in 2006, Steve Evans has nonetheless guided Crawley into the Football League for the first time in the club’s history. Under his stewardship, and backed by heavy investment for their level, the Reds caught the eye last season playing Manchester United in a glamour FA Cup fifth-round tie at Old Trafford, coming only a stoppage-time header against the bar away from earning a replay.
Key Man: Tyrone Barnett arrived at Crawley in June last year upon their emergence into the Football League and nearly departed again in January – Blackpool had taken note of his good form and had a bid accepted, but personal terms prevented the deal from going through. Reds fans will have been relieved that the 26-year-old, who has 14 goals to his name this season, stayed at the Broadfield Stadium after top scorer Matt Tubbs was sold to Bournemouth, making Barnett the main man up front.
Season So Far: Crawley stand every chance of achieving triumph in their first League Two campaign. Evans’ men currently sit fifth on 55 points but, like Swindon, could go five points clear in the automatic promotion slots if they win both of their two games in hand.
Form: The Reds overcame two Championship opponents to reach this fifth-round tie at home to Stoke City, solitary goals from the now-departed Tubbs edging them past first Bristol City and then Hull. Evans’ side have only played two matches in February, however, due to postponements, with one an important 4-2 triumph over promotion rivals Cheltenham but the latest a 3-0 submission to Paolo Di Canio’s Swindon.
Did You Know?: The club had an application for a new stand at the Broadfield Stadium approved by Crawley Council last month in a move to appease the Football League. The ground as it is remains just four short of the mandatory minimum capacity of 5000.
|Stevenage (v Tottenham, home)
Manager: Gary Smith is less than a month into his time in charge of Stevenage after replacing Preston-bound Graham Westley but has experience of winning the 2010 MLS Cup in the United States with the Colorado Rapids, becoming the first English coach to win silverware in the country. A former professional player with Fulham and Wycombe Wanderers before injury forced his retirement, Smith has also worked as a scout for Arsenal.
Key Man: Defender Lawrie Wilson has been at Broadhall Way since 2007, playing a key role in the club’s swift rise from the Conference to League One over the past two seasons. The 24-year-old has already racked up 169 appearances for the Boro and will be the man tasked with containing Tottenham’s Gareth Bale if the Welshman is deployed in his familiar left-wing position on Sunday.
Season So Far: Stevenage have shown no sign of slowing down this year after climbing out of League Two at the first time of asking and are currently in sixth place in English football’s third tier. They have struggled somewhat for goals – Chris Beardsley, the club’s top scorer, has yet to break double figures – but have nonetheless recorded the occasional emphatic victory, a 4-2 win over MK Dons and a 6-1 savaging of Colchester in December proving their League One pedigree.
Form: A promising run of results in January of four wins in five has been brought to a halt by the weather in recent weeks, Tuesday’s match at Sheffield Wednesday being the Boro’s first fixture to go ahead in 17 days. However, rustiness did not seem to be too much of a problem as the visitors returned with three points thanks to Scott Laird’s goal.
Did You Know?: Steve Morison of Premier League outfit Norwich City was playing his football in the Conference with Stevenage as recently as 2009, scoring 86 goals in 151 matches for the Hertfordshire side.
|Brighton & Hove Albion (v Liverpool, away)
Manager: Former Chelsea and Tottenham midfielder Gus Poyet is in his maiden management role at the Amex Stadium and has so far proved a success, leading the Seagulls to the League One title last year in his first full season in charge. An occasionally outspoken presence, the Uruguayan has drawn the ire of Manchester United boss Sir Alex Ferguson at times this season for his comments on the Luis Suarez racism row, but is well-liked by Brighton fans. The 44-year-old recently distanced himself from links to the vacant managerial post at Leeds.
Key Man: Since his summer switch to Brighton, forward Craig Mackail-Smith has not been banging in the goals as he did in League One for Peterborough – he notched 27 in the league last year – but is nonetheless a vital and energetic figure in the Seagulls attack. The Scotland international’s work-rate is admirable and his determination and quality have seem him pick up six assists in the current campaign, more than any of his team-mates.
Season So Far: Brighton are proving more than capable of holding their own at Championship level, with a playoff place still very much achievable for Poyet’s men. The Seagulls are one of a cluster of teams within very few points of each other, in ninth place as it stands but only four points behind Cardiff in third.
Form: Since their shock 3-0 loss on December 30 to Championship whipping-boys Coventry, the East Sussex outfit have gone unbeaten in 2012, including an eye-catching 3-0 overturning of Southampton on January 2 and, in particular, a spirited home effort to dump Premier League overachievers Newcastle out of the FA Cup. A late comeback to save a point at home to Millwall on Tuesday will have Poyet’s troops in good morale going into their Anfield test.
Did You Know?: Brighton’s last trip to Anfield was way back in January 1990 when they played out a 2-2 draw in the FA Cup, but the two sides in fact clashed earlier this season in the League Cup. The Seagulls were defeated 2-1 in September as Kenny Dalglish’s side put paid to a promising campaign in the competition which had seen them overcome Sunderland in the previous round.
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