FA Cup Fifth Round Preview

We’ve reached that time of year where I have to split the posts between the League and the FA Cup.

The best scenario for both of the remaining League One clubs is earning a shot at the semi finals – a tall order, but at least they both have home ties this weekend.

AFC Wimbledon v Millwall (tomorrow, 3pm, no TV coverage)

Only other meeting in the FA Cup was just over nine years ago, when Millwall won 4-1 at the New Den and current Lions boss Neil Harris was on the scoresheet. AFC Wimbledon have never beaten Millwall in four previous attempts. Haven’t won at home in League One since Boxing Day and have scored just once in their last four home league games: it’s almost four hours since Joe Pigott scored against Barnsley. Having reached the Fourth Round or better in half of the last ten seasons, Millwall are no mugs when it comes to the FA Cup even though they’ve not won an away tie for almost six years and have recorded just one away win in the Championship this season.

Doncaster v Crystal Palace (Sunday, 4pm, BBC 1)

First meeting in the FA Cup, but the story here is how bad Palace have been at Doncaster over the years. The last time they beat Rovers in South Yorkshire was almost 60 years ago and even though it’s just over seven years since they last met, Doncaster have won four of the last six games against Palace when they’ve had home advantage. Rovers have had a four game home unbeaten streak and have had a relatively straightforward route to this round, although it’s the first time the hosts have played PL opposition since they lost 3-1 to Stoke three years ago.

Verdict: I wouldn’t be surprised of both of these games end all square, but I think there’s more chance of that happening at the Keepmoat Stadium. I also wouldn’t be surprised if Millwall win convincingly.

There are ten league games this weekend: Sky Sports are clearly feeling left out of the FA Cup because there are two televised League One games this weekend: Sunderland v Accrington Stanley this evening (7:45pm Sky Sports Football/Main Event) and Southend v Portsmouth (tomorrow, 12:30, Sky Sports Football/Main Event). None of the remaining matches would have been in the running for game of the week, but there are a couple of interesting ones: Charlton can put more pressure on Portsmouth and Sunderland by beating Blackpool at The Valley, I’ve got a feeling that Luton might not find Fleetwood in the mood to roll over and even though there are sixteen points dividing them, Oxford might fancy their chances against Peterborough.

Back next week, if there are any surprises I’ll update this post over the weekend. 

All Change At The Top

Isn’t it amazing how quickly things can turn round in a few weeks?

Liverpool and Leeds have both been caught from behind in the Premier League and the Championship, but arguably the biggest transformation has been at the top of League One.

Exactly a month ago Luton were five points behind Portsmouth with Barnsley in fifth place: now the Hatters are six points clear of the Tykes with Pompey now in the first of the playoff spots.

Portsmouth’s recent decline in form needn’t be fatal but considering something similar happened to them last season – they were in the playoffs in January but were mid-table in mid-March – it remains to be seen if Kenny Jackett’s team has learned from that experience. Having been knocked out of the FA Cup earlier this week, the only other competition they’re involved in is the EFL Trophy but with the semi finals at the end of the month, should Pompey be concentrating on the league?

Barnsley and Luton have been on fire recently – the Hatters unbeaten streak goes back to October when (ironically) they lost at Barnsley – and the Tykes haven’t lost since before Christmas and haven’t been beaten at Oakwell in the league since last March.

There aren’t any obvious candidates for the Game of the Week this weekend, but there are three where the outcome could change the landscape at the the bottom of the table. Bristol Rovers host Shrewsbury: the Gas have only lost twice since Darrell Clarke left in December but haven’t won at home since Graham Coughlan took over. Despite their recent FA Cup heroics, Shrewsbury haven’t won a game since beating Coventry before Christmas.

Barnsley travel to Gillingham, where they’ve only lost twice in seven visits since 1980 – knowing that both Portsmouth and Sunderland could overtake them with wins at Plymouth and Oxford respectively. Gillingham haven’t won a league match at Priestfield since  beating Portsmouth on Boxing Day – the only time so far this season that they’ve beaten any of the top six at home. Oxford are currently on a run of four games without defeat but are still paying for a poor start to the season and they haven’t beaten Sunderland at home since December 1991.

Following the FA Cup replays earlier this week, AFC Wimbledon and Doncaster will be the only clubs from League One left in the competition and although I’ll return to the competition in next weekend’s post, it’s fair to say that home ties in the Fifth Round would have been something that both sides would have probably been happy with when they entered the competition back in November.

Back next week!

Back To The Future For Posh

A lot to get through this week, so let’s start with an old fashioned FA Cup shock:

Wimbledon’s reward in the Fifth Round: a home tie against Millwall. Let’s not forget Doncaster, who beat Oldham and have been drawn against Crystal Palace in their first Fifth Round tie since 1956.

Next week’s replays should be interesting: Wolves v Shrewsbury (the winner will travel to Bristol City) and QPR v Portsmouth, with the prospect of a home tie against Watford.

Away from the FA Cup, the big news was that Steve Evans was replaced as manager of Peterborough by Darren Ferguson. Evans had been in the job for just under a year and although the timing was a surprise, it’s not hard to see why Darragh MacAnthony made the decision. As I mentioned a few weeks ago, I think the expectation at London Road was that Evans should have been pushing for automatic promotion at this point in the season but the fact that Posh don’t seem to have made any noticeable progress under Evans since he was appointed hadn’t gone unnoticed.

The decision to appoint Ferguson for the third time in the last dozen years seems to have been driven by nostalgia rather than ability. Fergie Junior left Peterborough almost exactly four years ago with the club in 15th place but only four points off the playoff spots; it’s been six years since Peterborough were relegated from the Championship and since then they’ve finished no higher than sixth. Added to that is his record at Doncaster, whom he left last summer: on his appointment there he was supposed to have turned Donny into ‘a sustainable Championship club’, which presumably didn’t include a spell in League Two.

Overall, this looks a lot like clutching at straws to me. I’ll give it until Christmas.

Just a couple of games to monitor this weekend: Shrewsbury host leaders Luton at the New Meadow. Under any other circumstances the Shrews could be forgiven for having one eye on their FA Cup replay at Wolves next week, but it’s only goal difference that’s keeping them out of the bottom four at the moment and with matches against Doncaster and Peterborough to come this month they really do need to concentrate on the league.

AFC Wimbledon’s win last weekend is even more remarkable when you consider that they’re eight points away from safety and hadn’t won at home since Boxing Day. The win at Wycombe just before Christmas snapped a seven consecutive game streak without an away victory, but they’ve lost three of their four away matches against the sides currently in the top six whilst Sunderland haven’t lost at home in the league this season.

FA Cup Fourth Round Preview

Another eventful game of the week last weekend – will red cards in Luton’s games become a theme:

That’s Peterborough’s third defeat in their last five games and currently leaves them in a kind of no-man’s land competing for the last playoff position with Doncaster. Portsmouth surprisingly lost at Oxford, which means Luton are just two points away from overtaking Pompey.

Due to participation by  League One clubs in games in two different competitions this weekend, I’ve split the post into two sections this week – starting with the FA Cup. The preview for Gillingham‘s game at Swansea will appear on Buzzin’ Championship Football: all games are 3pm kick offs on Saturday afternoon unless stated.

Accrington Stanley v Derby County (12:30pm, BT Sport 2)

Reaching this round equals Accrington’s best performance in the competition: Stanley have reached the Fourth Round twice before, most recently in 2017. The last time Derby played a competitive game in Accrington was against the previous version of Stanley in November 1956 – a goalless draw in the old Third Division South during the period where ‘The Owd Reds’ were arguably at their best, narrowly missing out on promotion to the old Second Division on a couple of occasions.

Unsurprisingly given the comparative records of the teams since then, this is their first meeting in any competition since then.

Shrewsbury v Wolves

First meeting at the Meadow in the FA Cup for 40 years, but the most recent game between the clubs in Shropshire was in September 2013 when Wolves won 1-0. Shrews reached the Fifth Round a couple of seasons ago, but before that you’ve got to go back to 1991 for a similar feat – they lost 1-0 at home to Arsenal – and I think they’ll have to be satisfied with a similar result in this one.

Doncaster Rovers v Oldham Athletic

This is probably Rovers’ best chance of reaching the Fifth Round since 1956! This game will be their sixth meeting in the FA Cup in the last 12 years, the last contest was in Yorkshire was in November 2007 when Oldham won a replay.

Portsmouth v QPR

This game suddenly represents a dilemma for the hosts: with their lead cut to a point, what should Kenny Jackett’s side concentrate on for the rest of the season? The last time Pompey got past this round they were beaten finalists, but it’s been over 20 years sine they last beat QPR in any competition at Fratton Park. I still think there’s a potential surprise here: QPR have only won one of their last six away games in the Championship and one of their last seven road trips in the FA Cup over the past decade.

AFC Wimbledon v West Ham (Saturday. 7:45pm BT Sport 1)

It’s the first ever appearance in the Fourth Round for the Wombles; The only previous meeting between the teams was last August in the League Cup. West Ham won 3-1 and that sort of result looks as if it could be repeated.

It’s probably just as well that this is an FA Cup weekend because otherwise Peterborough v Charlton would have been game of the week and that would have been the Peterbough’s fifth appearance in that category this season. I’m going to ignore the Posh angle this week as I’ve not mentioned The Addicks for a while: they’ve lost half of their last ten aways but they’re currently on a nine game unbeaten streak at the Valley that’s kept them in playoff contention. Over the last nine years the clubs have met four times in the league: both teams have won twice, but Charlton haven’t won at London Road since November 2010.

If anything surprising happens in the cup, I’ll update ASAP otherwise I’ll be back next Friday.

FA Cup Third Round Preview

Happy New Year!

Straight back into action with the Third Round of the FA Cup, which includes a number of tasty looking games – all of which are 3pm kick offs tomorrow unless stated.

Premier League Opposition:

Blackpool v Arsenal (BT Sport 2, 5:30pm Saturday)

Fifth meeting in the FA Cup – Arsenal have only won one of the previous four encounters, but it’s fair to say that Arsenal weren’t a global superpower when they last met in the competition. In 1969/70 both teams were in the First Division and Arsenal lost by the odd goal in five. This is  the first time they’ve met any competition for almost eight years – since Blackpool were in the Premier League.

Burnley v Barnsley (12:30pm, no TV coverage)

This is third encounter in the FA Cup although the last game at Turf Moor was February 1911. Tykes haven’t won at Turf Moor in over a decade. As you might expect, Barnsley’s record in FA Cup ties at Premier League teams isn’t that great, but a goalless draw at Luton on New Year’s Day indicates they won’t be pushovers, even though the Tykes haven’t won at Burnley for over a decade.

Also: Gillingham v Cardiff – Cardiff have other priorities than the FA Cup right now.

Championship Opposition:

I’ve covered the games featuring Accrington Stanley and Oxford on Buzzin’ Championship Football, but Luton v Sheffield Wednesday (12:30pm) and Middlesbrough v Peterborough  shouldn’t be ignored. The Hatters have never played Wednesday in the cup amd the last time The Owls won at Kenilworth Road was almost 30 years ago. It’s almost 44 years since Peterborough last played Middlesbrough in an FA Cup tie; following a goalless draw at London Road,  Posh lost the replay at Ayresome Park. The sides have met four times at Peterborough in the league since the turn of the century but the hosts haven’t won any of those contests.

Honourable mention: Norwich v Portsmouth.

All League One

Fleetwood v AFC Wimbledon

The sole guaranteed place in the Fourth Round and only the tenth meeting between these two, all of which have been since October 2012. Last August Fleetwood lost at home to Wimbledon for the first time in the series but since then the clubs have moved in opposite directions. Whoever wins will equal their best performance in the FA Cup – if you count AFC Wimbledon as a ‘new’ club, neither team has ever got past the third round of the competition.

Additionally, there’s one League game at the top of the table: Charlton v Sunderland would be a game of the week if it hadn’t been this weekend, but as I’ll be returning to EFL action next weekend I’ll take a look  at how that game impacts the top of the table at that point.

GOTW: Peterborough v Oxford

We return to League One action this weekend.

Surprisingly, there were no shocks to report in last weekend’s FA Cup Second Round.

The Third Round draw took place on Monday evening: although there were 15 clubs from League One in it, no less than ten sides will be playing against Championship opposition at the start of next month; Barnsley and Gillingham will play Premier League opposition (so will Blackpool if they beat Solihull Moors in next week’s replay), which leaves one all League one tie: Fleetwood v AFC Wimbledon.

This weekend, the bottom four will be unchanged no matter what happens but two news managers will start their task of salvaging their the seasons of their new clubs. Former Wrexham boss Sam Ricketts takes over at Shrewsbury and AFC Wimbledon appointed their former player Wally Downes.

Downes already looks like a far more savvy decision; Ricketts had only been at Wrexham since May and as the previous incumbent (John Askey) demonstrated, success in the National League isn’t any guarantee whatsoever that it can be repeated in League One.

There was also a highly significant off-field departure at Bradford City…we’ll see if there’s any change on the field following that decision.

Peterborough v Oxford

Posh have only won two home games since the start of September but their mini wobble appears to be behind them – uncharacteristically, they’ve not scored more than two goals in a league game at London Road since mid August. That may be due to the quality of the opposition they’ve faced at home so far this season: they’ve played five home games against sides that are currently in the top ten and only won one of those fixtures.

Oxford have only lost once since the start of October and although they’ve still not won on the road this season, they’d put together a four game unbeaten streak before losing at Bradford a couple of weeks ago. This game will a test of exactly how much they’ve improved recently – they’re sixth in the current eight game form table – and London Road has been a happy hunting ground for the Us: they’ve only lost one of their last six league games there.

Finally this week – and apologies for the pun – it’s hats off to Luton. This is the Hatters’ best season for over a decade (don’t forget that they were relegated at the end of 2007/08 following a points deduction) but they’re currently on a seven game unbeaten streak and between them Elliott Lee and Jamie Collins have scored more goals in the league this season than both Bradford and Wimbledon have as a team. Admittedly they’ve yet to beat any of the other teams in the top ten and they have a very nasty looking January schedule but if they’re still there or there abouts at the start of February they could well be challenging for an overdue return to the second tier.

Back next weekend…

FA Cup Second Round Preview

The draw for this round was a curate’s egg.

There are seven all League One ties, which guarantee that at least some clubs have a chance of drawing one of the big boys in early January

Having said that, the very best scenario is having just over half of teams will be taking part. Regardless, here are the selected highlights from each type of game…

All League One

Both ties are between teams that have longer term ambitions than an FA Cup run, including three that should be focused on avoiding relegation. Traditional 3:00pm kick offs unless stated.

Peterborough United v Bradford City

First meeting in the Cup. Apart from last season’s battering by Leicester, Posh have a very good home record in recent FA Cup ties: it’s been almost four years since Bradford won at Chelsea, which is the last time they won an away game in the competition. Posh have seem to have overcome their problems at home recently, but the recent draw between the sides at London Road indicates that they may not have it all their own way in this match.

Plymouth Argyle v Oxford United

Two previous meetings in the Cup – the most recent was 28 years ago – and both at Home Park with both teams winning once. Plymouth have only lost half of their last ten home league games and two of their last six FA Cup games at home so I’d give them a slight edge in this one, especially as Oxford have only won two away League One games in the last calendar year.

League One v Clubs Outside The EFL

Interesting that Sky Sports have no rights to televise the FA Cup as both of these games – which represent the toughest and easiest ties of the round in this category – are intriguing for different reasons:

Solihull Moors v Blackpool (This evening, 7:55pm, BBC 2)

As you might have expected, this is the first meeting in any competition. Don’t be too surprised if this one ends all square: Solihull have drawn their last three National League games at Damson Park whilst only Portsmouth have conceded fewer away goals than Blackpool this season. The trouble with the Tangerines is that only Oxford and Wimbledon have scored fewer goals on their travels in the league this season.

Guiseley v Fleetwood Town (Monday, 8pm, BT Sport 1)

First meeting in the Cup. The hosts’ best chance of making it to the Third Round for the first time ever is to beat the Cod Army at Nethermoor, but Fleetwood are an entirely different kettle of fish than Cambridge United were in the previous round. They’ve only lost one of their last seven away FA Cup ties and although their recent away form in the league has been poor, Joey Barton’s side is currently only seven points outside the playoffs. Don’t be too surprised if Fleetwood enjoy a cup run this season if they overcome Guiseley.

There’s one additional televised game: Halifax v Wimbledon (12:30 tomorrow, BT Sport 1). If there are any surprises I’ll update this post ASAP, but otherwise it’s back to normal next weekend.

FA Cup First Round Preview

The clocks have gone back.

It’s getting dark at lunchtime.

Time for the FA Cup!

The best thing about the early rounds is that they’re more fun because there are always a couple of genuine upsets, but to be honest the best that any club from League One can hope for is to get as far as possible: when the posh Sixth Form kids with rich uncles turn up in January the competition is as good as over.

In keeping with previous years, I’ve selected two games from each of the three categories involving League One sides, the most competitive match and the most one sided looking contest. Before I get started though, the televised games are as follows:

Haringey Borough v AFC Wimbledon (this evening BBC2, 7:55pm) and Maidenhead v Portsmouth (tomorrow, BT Sport 1, 12:30pm) – I can’t see either club having any problems with these ties.

All League One

Luton v Wycombe

Eight points and just under 40 miles separate these two, so you could argue this is a derby. Only previous meeting in the competition was in December 2004 at Wycombe, when Luton won 3-0; Wycombe have won three of the last five league games at Kenilworth Road but were beaten 4-1 when the sides last met in Berkshire in September 2016. Neither club has performed particularly well in the FA Cup recently: one fourth round appearance each over the last decade, but the Hatters are due a cup run…

Scunthorpe v Burton

Never played each other in the FA Cup and Burton have never beaten Scunthorpe in any of their five league encounters, but that might change tomorrow. The Iron are on a terrible run of form at the moment (one point from the last eighteen, only one home win since the end of September) whilst although Burton seem to have recovered from an indifferent start to their league campaign, they’ve not won an away FA Cup for almost five years.

League 1 v League 2

Barnsley v Notts County

Considering both clubs have been members of the Football League since the 19th Century, I was actually really surprised to discover that they’ve never played each other in the FA Cup. Even more surprising is that you’ve got to go back to April 1991 to find the last time Barnsley beat Notts at Oakwell, despite having played them six times in the league since then. The Tykes are unbeaten at home this season whilst County are trying to avoid relegation to the National League: this could be over by half time.

Mansfield v Charlton (Sunday 12:45pm)

Another rarity: the clubs have only ever met three times, the most recent game was at Field Mill almost 40 years ago! Mansfield have never beaten Charlton, but they’re currently the draw specialists in League Two and are currently on a ten game home unbeaten run; Charlton reached the sixth round five seasons ago but are another club with a poor away record in the competition, having lost their last four FA Cup ties on the road. I’m expecting a replay.

League 1  v Non League

Aldershot Town v Bradford City

I was beginning to think I’d picked all the rarities, but the sides have met in the cup comparatively recently – Bradford won a replay at Valley Parade after being held at Aldershot in a First Round tie four years ago. I’m not sure that’ll be the case this time round: having lost six straight in the league, the Bantams are in meltdown at the moment and would be advised to concentrate on avoiding relegation. Aldershot have only lost one of their last eight home FA Cup ties and will fancy their chances.

Alfreton Town v Fleetwood (Sunday 12:45pm)

First meeting in any competition; Alfreton reached the first round a couple of seasons ago when they were beaten by Newport following a replay, but Fleetwood might be a different kettle of fish. Or so you’d think – until you realise that the Cod Army have failed to score in four of their last five away league games and as a result have dropped back into mid table over the last couple of months after a promising start. A comfortable win for the visitors might kick start their league campaign, but it might not be that comfortable.

I’ll update this post if there are any surprises, otherwise I’ll be back next Friday when League One won’t have any competition from the Championship due to another international break.

GOTW: Gillingham v Bradford

Peterborough’s poor form continued last weekend, although there were a few more people watching the game than it appears:

However, Posh snapped their five game spell without a win after a Rhys Bennett goal earned all three points against Fleetwood at London Road on Tuesday.

Suffice to say, Portsmouth have exploited the poor form by their immediate rivals for promotion and have now established a four point lead at the top: they cannot be overtaken this weekend, even if they lose at Accrington tomorrow.

There were a few candidates for game of the week this weekend – the obvious choice was Accrington v Portsmouth – but as the bottom of the table is more likely to change than the top I thought I’d pick…

Gillingham v Bradford

With both Wimbledon and Bristol Rovers facing clubs in the top six, the game at Priestfield is a crucial one for the chances of survival for both teams. Gillingham have lost four of their last five home games and haven’t won anywhere since their surprise victory at Portsmouth at the start of the month. Bradford – who dropped into last place when Plymouth beat Gillingham earlier this week – have lost four consecutive games, three of those defeats by at least two goals , conceding three penalties and earning two red cards during that period.

Head to head: all you need to know is that since their first meeting in Kent in October 1961, Bradford have never won consecutive away games at Gillingham. The Bantams won last season’s encounter at Priestfield.

Verdict: more or less the only thing to go on is the ten games that have already happened between the teams currently in the bottom six, in which case it might be bad news for Bradford. So far there have only been two away wins in this mini league, although one of those was Bradford’s win at Wimbledon at the start of this month. Taking the head to head stat into account, Bradford’s best hope seems to be a draw.

AFC Wimbledon v Luton and Barnsley v Bristol Rovers are the other games to watch out for at tea time on Saturday afternoon. Barnsley – along with Luton and Sunderland – are the only teams yet to lose at home.

Monday’s FA Cup draw produced only three all League One ties (two of which could be described as derbies), and although ten League One clubs face non-league teams, all but three have been drawn away to opponents outside the EFL. I’ll expand on that in the next post, which will be in a fortnight as I’m away over the next week – father in law’s 80th birthday in the South of France don’t you know 🙂

Can Rochdale Ride FA Cup Success To Stay In League One?

“Nike Soccer Ball” by Jarrett Campbell (CC BY 2.0)

Rochdale were expected to have their doors blown off by Premier League side Tottenham in the 5th round of the FA Cup.

But the squad shocked just about everyone when they managed to snag a home draw against Spurs to secure a replay. And while they ended up getting demolished in that replay by a 6-1 margin, there were a lot of positives to take away from the two matches against Spurs.

Can Rochdale take those positives and use them to get out of the League One drop zone?

Perhaps the most positive thing about what Rochdale were able to do in the two Spurs matches came on the attack. They scored three goals over the course of those two matches, exceeding their average of less than one goal per game during the League One season. While scoring a goal and a half per game against a Premier League side is by no means an Earth-shattering quantity, any improvement from an attack that has put Rochdale at the bottom of the League One table would be welcome.

What is interesting about Rochdale is the fact that their defence is not terrible. They allow under a goal and a half per match during the League One season, and have conceded fewer goals than plenty of more successful teams in League One. The attack has been the issue for Rochdale, and getting two goals at home against one of the top teams in the Premier League has to be something that propels them to better things before it is too late.

Working in Rochdale’s favour is the fact that the team comes into the final third of their season with some games in hand against their fellow League One competitors. This is especially true of the teams that sit with them at or near the relegation zone. While this does not alleviate the responsibility that sits on the team’s shoulders to win games, it should lessen the pressure somewhat on a team that is in danger of falling into League Two for next season.

As a result of their performances against Spurs, expect to see the football betting odds of 4/7 for Rochdale to be relegated to change. Whether these performances against one of the best teams in the country are a flash in the pan or not is yet to be seen, but they will definitely give the Rochdale faithful hope for their battle against the drop.

“Wembley stadium” by John Cooper (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Also important to the success of Rochdale is the fact that their supporters should be invigorated by the job that they were able to do in the FA Cup. During a season where the team sits at the bottom of the table, it can be difficult for a crowd to remain enthusiastic. The team should be able to rely on a better energy during home matches, which could very well lead to better results.