A trip back to 1953 at Bloomfield Road, tricky ties for Fulham and Leicester, and plenty of minnows with eyes on a big scalp
1) Blackpool v Arsenal
The story of the 1953 Charity Shield wasn’t too dissimilar from the story of the 1953 FA Cup final. Stan Mortensen was on target for Blackpool, but his teammate Stanley Matthews ran off with the man-of-the-match plaudits. Yet the tale wasn’t an exact facsimile: despite the heroic efforts of the two Stans, Cup winners Blackpool lost the Shield to league champions Arsenal. The veteran Tommy Lawton was on the scoresheet for the Gunners that day, and, pass that crowbar please, the modern-day Arsenal have similar star strikers on which to call: Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Alexandre Lacazette, the increasingly impressive Alex Iwobi. Setting aside Aubameyang’s inexplicable hoick over the bar from a yard out at Anfield, and Arsenal’s continued travails at the back – no clean sheet in six – whoever gets the nod up front for the visitors should decisively make hay against hosts who have lost four of their last six and shipped two goals against non-league Solihull Moors in the last round. Will the Unai Emery era begin with FA Cup No 14? Or can the Seasiders reprise their recent performance at the Emirates in the League Cup – when they were a linesman’s flag away from completing a two-goal comeback – and give the Gunners something to worry about?
2) Tranmere v Tottenham
In the weeks after Tranmere won promotion back to the Football League, having already lost top scorer Andy Cook to Walsall, the fear was that the burden on James Norwood would be too great. But after scoring the winner at Wembley in May, Norwood has relished his role as Rovers’ go-to man, scoring 18 since August, propelling his side to within touching distance of the play-offs. The worry for Tranmere now is losing Norwood, with the 28-year-old out of contract this summer. Norwood has the perfect opportunity to impress suitors higher up the ladder on Friday evening, with an audition against a likely experimental Spurs back line under the lights at Prenton Park. “Big evenings like Tottenham will go a long way to seeing us keep moving forward,” said manager Micky Mellon. “We’ve seen some dark times and hit rock bottom.”
3) Woking v Watford
“I don’t see the fuss about it, we’re going to turn up here, get absolutely smashed and I’m going to go home and get on with my life again,” said Alan Dowson, the Woking manager, in an interview last week. Maybe the magic of the Cup is lost on Dowson, or moreover perhaps it is just a touch of mind games, an attempt to relax his players before facing Premier League opposition. Woking, second in the National League South, are the lowest-ranked team left and warmed up for Javi Gracia’s Watford with a 3-0 win over Hampton and Richmond on Tuesday. Greg Luer, the former Hull youngster, hit a hat-trick in that game, while Ben Gerring, an October arrival, captained Truro City to the first round last season. Five leagues may separate the teams but, after sending Swindon packing in the last round, Woking, whose assistant manager is the Sky Sports commentator Martin Tyler, may just quietly fancy their chances of another upset against a team that are almost certain to make wholesale changes.
4) Accrington v Ipswich
Ipswich Town’s recent FA Cup record is staggeringly bad. They last advanced to the fourth round in 2009-10 and have since lost eight consecutive third-round ties. Anchored to the bottom of the Championship, 10 points from safety and with two wins to their name all season, there is little to suggest they will stop the rot against Accrington Stanley, who are just 12 places below Saturday’s visitors in the league standings. While maintaining Ipswich’s Championship status is manager Paul Lambert’s priority, he told reporters at his pre-match press conference he would travel to Accrington “as strong as I can”. Even so, Stanley manager John Coleman is unlikely to be fazed but has conceded his own team haven’t been playing too well either. “We are like Jekyll and Hyde at the moment, not in our performances but in our results, so this is an opportunity for us to get back on track,” he said, before pointing out that funds generated by a 2003-04 Cup run helped get Stanley into the Football League. Advancing to the fourth round for only the third time since the collapse of the original Stanley in 1966 could land them a similarly lucrative jackpot.
5) Everton v Lincoln City
How Lincoln City must have been rubbing their hands together at Everton’s recent wobble. Marco Silva’s side must do battle with the League Two leaders, impeccably led by the Cowley brothers, after five defeats in eight matches, the latest a chastening loss to Leicester. At Lincoln, the mood could not be more contrasting. The 6ft 5in Yerry Mina, if he plays, will meet his match in Matt Rhead and John Akinde, a pair of burly strikers who will be determined to make life difficult. As well as Akinde, prolific since arriving from Barnet in the summer, Lincoln boast guile in the shape of Shay McCartan, the talented Northern Ireland forward. “We’re looking forward to playing at Goodison Park against a massive club,” McCartan said. “We’re getting teams coming to us [in the league] and raising their games. And now we’ve got the chance to do that.”
6) Newcastle United v Blackburn Rovers
These two have quite the FA Cup pedigree. They’ve won it six times apiece, a total only bettered in history by Arsenal, Manchester United, Chelsea, Tottenham, Liverpool and Aston Villa. Only problem is, all the good work was done an awfully long time ago. Newcastle lifted their sixth FA Cup in 1955, while Blackburn completed their collection in 1928, having won their other five in the 19th century. So No 7 is well overdue. More recent results – just three wins between them since the start of December – suggests the long wait is likely to go on, whoever prevails. But history can be a blessing as well as a burden: Newcastle beat Blackburn on their way to the 1910 and 1952 FA Cups, while Rovers saw off the Toon during their one successful 20th-century run. The winners are therefore permitted to brazenly ignore the current form-book and take a firm clutch of the good old Comforting Straws Of Precedence. They feel real nice, don’t they.
7) Newport County v Leicester City
Newport County saw off Welsh rivals Wrexham in emphatic style to earn themselves a plum home tie and the welcome windfall that comes with it being shown live on the BBC. In last season’s fourth round, Tottenham’s players clearly didn’t fancy the conditions on a cold January night at Rodney Parade and were extremely lucky to escape with a draw before winning the replay in the more familiar surroundings of Wembley. Given their current Jekyll and Hyde status there’s every chance Leicester could come a cropper, but Michael Flynn’s side will need to up their game considerably, having won just three of their past 15 games in League Two.
8) Crystal Palace v Grimsby
Michael Jolley worked as a corporate bond trader for six years, in London and New York, but ultimately did not find life in banking fulfilling. Born in Sheffield and educated at Cambridge University, when he returned to England to pursue a career in football he volunteered in Crystal Palace’s academy as he embarked on earning his coaching badges while working in the city part-time. On Saturday Jolley will return to Selhurst Park as manager of Grimsby Town, more than a decade on from helping the likes of Sean Scannell, John Bostock and Victor Moses graduate through the ranks. Jolley is working with a palette of different youngsters these days, with Harry Clifton and Elliot Embleton, the Sunderland loanee and England Under-20 international impressing this season. Grimsby will arrive full of confidence, having hoisted themselves up to mid-table in League Two after four wins from their last five.
9) Fulham v Oldham
Having seen off non-League outfits Hampton & Richmond and Maidstone United in the preceding rounds, Oldham Athletic will have the chance to slay a top-flight side when they travel to a Fulham team currently preoccupied with Premier League survival. Claudio Ranieri’s side should still be too good for an outfit currently sitting in mid-table three divisions below, but having knocked Liverpool out as a League One side six years ago, the Latics will fancy their chances. Currently without a manager after club legend Frankie Bunn was controversially dismissed on the back of a 6-0 Boxing Day defeat at the hands of Carlisle, Oldham are on something of a roll under caretaker Pete Wild, who has masterminded back-to-back wins against Port Vale and Notts County. An outsider in the betting to become the next manager, should he do the same against Premier League opposition he could surely stake a legitimate claim for being given the job full time.
10) Bristol City v Huddersfield
A trip to Ashton Gate is just about the last thing David Wagner needs right now. With Premier League safety undoubtedly the priority for his flailing team, a duel with a resurgent Bristol City side – unbeaten in eight – that fared so well against top-flight opposition en route to the Carabao Cup semis last season has the hallmarks of an uneasy ride. For the likes of Josh Brownhill and Lloyd Kelly, influential for the Robins this season, it is another chance to shine. City beat Manchester United, Watford and Crystal Palace last year and in Famara Diédhiou, who recently became a father for the second time, they have a striker returning to form. “I sent him a gif of Romario and Bebeto [celebrating] for Brazil and I thought that might just plant that seed in his head to get the goal,” said his manager, Lee Johnson, after the Senegalese opened the scoring in a 2-0 win at Stoke on New Year’s Day.