January fairytales: 10 FA Cup storylines to watch

From potential giant-killers to history-makers, here are the games to look out for this weekend...
January fairytales: 10 FA Cup storylines to watch

1 Man United v Reading — the one where Jaap Stam returns

Classy Dutch defender Jaap Stam was a Manchester United favourite, winning three Premier League titles, the FA Cup and the Champions League between 1998 and 2001 during a successful spell at the club. But what will happen if the Reading manager bumps into Alex Ferguson at Old Trafford when he returns ‘home’?

Rumours are the pair had a massive falling out before Stam was sold to Lazio, so this could be an interesting one.

“If he’s there and he’s around and wants to speak to me, of course we will speak,” insists Stam “It’s not like we are enemies like certain people think.”

Stam is guaranteed a hero’s reception from the Stretford End anyway, while fans will also be keeping an eye out for the lesser-spotted Bastian Schweinsteiger, who could make a rare appearance for the hosts.

2 Sutton v AFC Wimbledon — the one with jumpers for goalposts

FA Cup romantics need look no further than this tie to rekindle glassy-eyed memories of jumpers for goalposts and classic stories of giant killings from days of yore.

Wimbledon produced the biggest story of them all back in 1998 when the Crazy Gang beat the Culture Club at Wembley to leave Liverpool red-faced, not least when John Aldridge’s penalty was saved by Dave Beasant.

But non-league Sutton United have history of their own. Their 2-1 third round victory over Coventry, who were a top flight outfit in 1990, at Gander Green Lane is one of the cup’s great memories. AFC love the ground too — it was the venue for their first ever match after reforming as a fan-owned club in 2002. All the more reason for dewy eyes this weekend.

3 Wycombe v Stourbridge — the one with an ultimate underdog

Everyone loves an underdog in the FA Cup so there will be plenty of neutral support for Stourbridge, the lowest-ranked team left in this year’s competition.

The Glassboys play their football in the Northern Premier League Division (that’s level seven in the English pyramid) and they currently sit ninth in the table. So there are 54 teams between them and Sutton United, the second lowest-ranked side in the third round. Don’t rule them out, though. Gary Hackett’s side are unbeaten in 13 games and Jack Duggan is raring to go after scoring the goal which knocked Northampton out in the last round. Wycombe, who reached the FA Cup semi-finals in 2001, will have to be at their best.

4 Brentford v Eastleigh — the one where former heroes do battle

There’s lots to look out for at Griffin Park where ‘Mad Dog’ Martin Allen, who was hugely popular as manager of the Bees from 2004-2006, returns to west London with an Eastleigh side that was one of the big stories of last year’s competition.

The Hampshire side reached the third round where they drew 1-1 with Bolton before narrowly losing 3-2 in a cracker of a replay. The BBC took all kind of stick for choosing not to televise that match but surely won’t make the same mistake if Allen’s side make round four?

Brentford’s potential Republic of Ireland candidate Scott Hogan is rated 50-50 for the game with West Ham preparing a €15m bid, but Martin O’Neill may have one eye on this game just in case.

5 Barrow v Rochdale — the one where history could be made

A little bit of history could be made at Holker Street where National League side Barrow, who have never reached the fourth round despite reaching this stage on 11 previous occasions, are going for glory again.

The club says a sell-out crowd will be its biggest in 27 years and manager Paul Cox has put together a team which certainly has the potential to break new ground.

Rochdale, with Keith Hill in charge, are enjoying a good season in League One too and this one has the makings of a real battle.

6 Bolton Wanderers v Crystal Palace — the one where Big Sam goes home

He’s had a few scrapes since the good old days but Sam Allardyce will always be associated with Bolton, a club he managed from 1999-2007 and took JJ Okocha and Co into Europe.

Now he goes back with Crystal Palace to find his former team stuck in League One. “For me it’s very sad to see what’s happened but I will enjoy going back to that fantastic stadium,” he says. This match has real potential for a giant killing, though. Palace are struggling while Bolton are going for promotion.

7 Ipswich Town v Lincoln — the one where giants could be slain

This will be a nervous fixture for Ipswich and their under-pressure manager Mick McCarthy.

It’s been a frustrating season in the Championship for the Tractor Boys, who are nowhere near the promotion race. They have also failed to advance from the third round of this competition on their last six attempts.

So, National League Lincoln, who are top of the table and looking odds-on for a long-awaited return to the Football League, smell an upset.

Gamblers may well fancy a punt on Danny Cowley’s side to put Big Mick in even more trouble.

8 Liverpool v Plymouth — the one where a forgotten man returns

Remember young Joe Gomez? He made a big impact for Liverpool in 2015 when he arrived from Charlton and wowed fans with his raids from left-back. Sadly he hasn’t been seen since because of a terrible knee injury sustained playing for England U21s that year.

Now, however, he is ready for a return and tipped to play against Plymouth as Jurgen Klopp shakes up his team to give some of his big-name players a rest.

Plymouth might like the sound of that because they’ll have a huge following at Anfield and are currently sitting second in League Two. Irish goalscoring midfielder Graham Carey (who has nine goals this season already) could be a threat.

9 Cambridge United v Leeds United — the one that brings back memories

Remember Cambridge United? Louis van Gaal certainly does. He took Manchester United there two years ago and saw his team held 0-0 — and rather than appreciate the romance of the result the Dutchman moaned that ‘everything was against us’ as he huffed back to Old Trafford. These days Shaun Derry is in charge at the Abbey Stadium and ready to face another giant in Leeds, one of his former clubs. This is a tie, being played on Monday in front of the tv cameras, which offers up real hope of a giantkilling. Leeds will certainly need to be aware of midfielder Luke Berry who has 15 goals in just 29 appearances for Cambridge.

10 Hull City v Swansea City — the one with the rookie bosses

At this stage of the competition an all-Premier League fixture is not usually what you look for — but there’s extra spice up in Hull where two new managers make their debuts.

Marco Silva, regarded in Portugal as ‘the next Jose Mourinho’ will be looking to prove he’s a special one as the Tigers attempt to get one over Paul Clement, who takes charge of the Swans for the first time.

The nature of the FA Cup means that one of those two is going to end the weekend disappointed or frustrated — and considering both have been brought in to make an instant impact and save their teams from relegation, the pressure is on.

More in this section

Sport
Newsletter

Latest news from the world of sport, along with the best in opinion from our outstanding team of sports writers

Sign up
IE_logo_newsletters

Select your favourite newsletters and get the best of Irish Examiner delivered to your inbox