Once upon a time

By Jonathan White Source:Global Times Published: 2016-1-8 5:03:03

Lower-league clubs looking to write their fairy tales in FA Cup 3rd round

Liverpool's Roberto Firmino runs with the ball during their English League Cup semifinal first-leg match against Stoke City at Britannia Stadium in Stoke-on-Trent on Tuesday. Photo: AFP

As sure as broken New Year's resolutions, the first weekend of January always brings with it the FA Cup third round and the chance of an upset. This is the point where Premier League clubs join the oldest cup competition in the world and the lower-league sides left in the pot start to dream of taking a big scalp and making a trip to Wembley in May.

Much has changed with the FA Cup over the years - Friday night's tie between Exeter and Liverpool being a case in point - but the constant is the chance for those sides representing the lower tiers of the English game to take it to the nation's giants and the public waiting to see which team will be the fall guys this year.

For the romantics, Liverpool's visit to St. James Park is prime opportunity for a famous upset. The Grecians are managed by the dandyish Paul Tisdale, a man who gives his counterpart Jurgen Klopp a run for his money in the style stakes, and the facilities in Devon are nowhere near what the struggling five-time European Cup winners are used to, which only adds up to a recipe for a triumph against the odds under the floodlights. That's certainly the narrative that the broadcasters are looking for when they televise the game on Friday night, but even if the result goes on form rather than fantasy all is not lost: There are plenty of other ties over the weekend where the top flight could be left with egg on its face.

Wycombe Wanderers v Aston Villa

Fifteen years ago the Chairboys reached the semifinals, beating Premier League side Leicester City in the quarter­finals. ­Currently in the League Two playoff spots, their form this campaign is in stark contrast to Aston Villa, who sit rooted to the foot of the Premier League and have not won under new manager Remi Garde.

The Villains will be hoping to kick-start their season but with their luck it'll be another ­miserable Saturday teatime.

Doncaster Rovers v Stoke City

Donny, as the fans call them, are comfortably mid-table in League One but they'll dream of knocking the newly flamboyant Potters out at the Keepmoat Stadium on Saturday. Manager Darren Ferguson will need striker Andy Willliams to be on song if his side are to have a hope of doing one over his former Manchester United teammate Mark Hughes.

Birmingham City v Bournemouth

Blues are the highest-placed of the non-Premier League sides taking on top-flight opposition and the side that are eighth in the Championship will look to take the game to the Cherries. They will have to do this without their recently departed starlet Demarai Gray who has signed for Leicester City but have motivation to win having been beaten 8-0 by ­Bournemouth last season.

Everton v Dagenham & Redbridge

The Daggers are in danger of dropping out of the Football League if they can't turn their season around. There's no ­better place to start than a packed Goodison Park.

In their favor, they have players who have experience playing there - Justin Hoyte, Nyron Nosworthy and Zavon Hines have Premier League pedigree - and will be turning to them to inspire a victory against all odds.

West Ham United v Wolverhampton Wanderers

The hosts are in fine fettle under Slaven Bilic but Wolves are a sleeping giant and could come away with the spoils in this very old-fashioned cup tie. The ­visitors are ­mid-table in the Championship but Benik Afobe has impressed up front and with Derby County rumored to want to sign the 22-year-old to fire them into the Premier League, he will be looking to impress against a top-flight rear guard.

West Bromwich Albion v Bristol City

The Baggies have looked comfortable under Tony Pulis this time out but they have been plagued by inconsistency and it is unlikely the manager will be prioritizing a cup run when maintaining the club's Premier League status is top priority. The Robins are focused on staying in the Championship and getting out of the relegation zone but a big scalp at the weekend could do wonders for the team's confidence. Much will depend on their top scorer Jonathan Kodjia.

Manchester United v Sheffield United

For all of their former glory in the competition, Manchester United historians can also point to plenty of games where they have been knocked out of the tournament by lower-league sides. The parallel to this tie with would be the 1-0 loss to Leeds United in 2010 when Jermaine Beckford notched the winner at Old ­Trafford. Sheffield United - eighth in League One - are the Yorkshire club looking to defy the odds this time and Billy Sharp, a player who has always threatened to player higher-level football, is the dangerman that Louis van Gaal's ­stuttering side need to worry about.

Oxford United v Swansea City

Oxford are on a great run of form, sitting third in League Two, and they have the goals of Liam Sercombe and Kemar Roofe to thank for their promotion push. That strikeforce should strike fear into a Swans team that is still without a full-time manager after Garry Monk was let go last month. The Welsh side have struggled for form and goals and an away day at the Kassam ­Stadium may provide little of either.

Chelsea v Scunthorpe United

Beaten at Stamford Bridge by Bradford City at this stage last year, and that was a team that cantered to the Premier League title, Chelsea can take nothing for granted when they host the Iron. Patrick Madden will shoulder the hopes of the visitors, who are 15th in League Two, and while the home side are clear favorites after picking up form since Guus Hiddink replaced Jose Mourinho it would not be unexpected if Chelsea's bizarre season included crashing out of the FA Cup.

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