It’s FA Cup third round time and as if it wasn’t difficult enough figuring out all the moving parts, this January we have isolations and postponements to factor in too. We’ve looked at all the Championship teams’ ties, opponents and likeliness of the managers to play a complete reserve team, and ranked each club’s chances of progress from best to worst…
Harrogate at home, Luton boss Nathan Jones has a new contract and his team will be raring to finally get on the pitch – the Hatters are my most likely to progress.
Posh face Bristol Rovers at home in need of something to bump their poor league form. They’re better at home than away and Rovers have won only one of their last four in League Two.
The Cherries top the Championship and are likely to field as many fringe players as possible; that said, opponents Yeovil are in the National League.
Michael O’Neill needs some good news, or more pertinently doesn’t need any more bad news. Leyton Orient at home even resting a few players should provide it.
Barrow dumped Ipswich out on TV in the previous round, but if any Championship manager has an incentive to play his strongest side it’s Barnsley’s Poya Asbaghi, who hasn’t won in six as the Oakwell boss.
Boro face Mansfield with both sides in form. Much depends on how seriously Chris Wilder takes the competition. Perhaps the sense of good feeling around the club keeps things moving in this tie.
The lowest-ranking team facing any of our Championship sides is Kidderminster of the National League North, but they are riding high in fifth place. Reading will likely rest players, along with AFCON absentees and injuries, but will they have enough to win.
8) Nottingham Forest
Forest have been in fine form and face Premier League giants Arsenal; this is something of a ‘joker’ from me based on the 4-2 home win in the same fixture a few seasons ago and a probable Gunners reserve side.
It’s Hartlepool away for Blackpool, who haven’t been in good form in the Championship with their only recent victories coming at home to their adversaries from last season’s League One. Could be a potential banana skin for the Seasiders in the battle of the Pools.
In Championship terms Fulham’s squad is light years ahead of opponents Bristol City, Marco Silva will likely play some hungry fringe players and still be favourite to win this one.
The Sky Blues need to rekindle that brilliant home form that had them up in fourth for much of the early going in the Championship. Mark Robins might use this as an opportunity to throw in goal-shy Vitkor Gyokeres in what could be fairly close to full line-up at home to Derby.
League One leaders Rotherham will be hoping to show the Championship what they’re missing and possibly about to receive. QPR may be more focused on mitigating the loss of their AFCON trio and protecting their current fifth-placed spot.
This one smells a bit of an upset. Birmingham are in need of a sort out and Lee Bowyer could use the game experimentally, while Plymouth are having a great season and despite losing manager Ryan Lowe to Preston, still reside in the League One top six.
It’s an all-Championship clash between the Bluebirds and Preston, Cardiff got a creditable draw at West Brom last time out and perhaps some of their decent youngsters will see them through this one.
If Tony Mowbray sees Rovers being in the top two of the Championship with 21 to play as the golden opportunity that most of us do, then he may be tempted to let local rivals and top three League One side Wigan have the temporary north-west bragging rights.
The Rams are in fine form ahead of an all-Championship clash with Coventry. We may get two strong sides but I suspect if you promised Derby fans four points in their next two league games in exchange for defeat here they’d all take it. Perhaps Wayne Rooney will feel the same.
Ryan Lowe has a perfect two out of two league record as Preston boss but an away trip to fellow Championship side Cardiff may not be the most inspiring in terms of grabbing a third.
18) Bristol City
If Bristol City go full first XI in this one and Fulham go full-on reserves then they’ll be ok, but I suspect if it’s a couple of weakened sides, then Fulham’s strength in depth will make things tough for the Robins.
19) West Brom
On the evidence of the Baggies’ Carabao Cup showing, a reserve team losing 0-6 to Arsenal, I suspect Big Val might not be too worried about Brighton coming to the Hawthorns either.
I think we might get two first XIs in a spicy derby match between Millwall and Palace, if that’s the case then those Premier League resources will make things very tough for the Lions.
Southampton have Premier League calibre and a point to prove after one win in their last eight games. Swansea have lost three on the bounce and I’m not smelling an upset.
I think we may get fringe line-ups from both Huddersfield and Burnley up at Turf Moor. The Terriers are looking good and wouldn’t want to disrupt their unlikely play-off surge by risking too many key players.
23) Sheffield United
I think Wolves might fancy the FA Cup for a bit of a run this season. Bruno Lage’s stock is high after their Old Trafford win and the fact they own and can exempt the Blades’ best player this season (Morgan Gibbs-White) from playing against them is also a help.
Hull’s home game to Everton feels like the perfect chance for a bit of Rafa Benitez reputation management. The Spaniard is struggling as Toffees boss and I suspect will probably take this game fairly seriously to Hull’s cost.
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