Cup draws and Giant killing glory

A week apart we see Cup dynamics and draws take shape. Last week it was the FA Cup Third round draw, that brought dreams of giant killing for several clubs together with moneys pinning tv opportunities. Then yesterday it was the Champions League and Europa League draws. Another road to glory as well as fallout for those finishing third in their respective Champions League groups and then thrown into the Europa League.

On a personal note, even though it now gives qualification to the following seasons Champions League, I have never understood why the teams that finish third in their Champions League group find themselves parachuted into the Europa League. Surely if a team isn’t good enough to finish in the top two and qualify for the knockout stages, why should it be rewarded with another opportunity of glory, especially as now the winners of the Europa League will qualify for the following seasons Champions League

Back to the FA Cup though and last Monday we saw the draw for the third round and the big boys enter the draw. I would imagine like most Premier League club fans, the thought of being drawn against another Premier League rival so early in the competition would bring brief sighs and the shaking of heads. Then of course for some teams the idea of being on the other end of a giant killing would be something far from wanted.

The draw though did produce some plum ties for giant killing. AFC Wimbledon not only got a home draw against Liverpool, but their tie was selected for live BBC coverage. Conference side Dover Athletic found themselves in a great position for a chance to knock out a Premier League team. They were drawn at home to Crystal Palace. For them on top of Premier League opposition, they will be on a BT sport.

Blyth Spartans, who overcame Hartlepool United, were rewarded with a home tie against Birmingham City. Having showed no fear in their visit to Hartlepool, they will no doubt be rubbing their hands with glee at the chance of another FA Cup upset.

Conference side Southport face a tougher challenge in their bid to make the fourth round. They will have to overcome Derby County, who are doing well in the Championship. Of course though it’s a whole different mindset when it comes to the Cup. If you dont win or get a replay, there are no second chances, there’s no bounce back next week etc.

The full FA Cup fixture list can be found at

The FA Cup wasn’t the only draw to take place, yesterday saw the Champions League and Europa League knockout stage draws take place. The remaining English sides had mixed draws. Premier League Champions Manchester City found themselves with the toughest draw after being paired with Barcelona. Barcelona are not the invincible team they once were although I would imagine that City would have to go real far to knock the Spaniards out. Chelsea find themselves with a tricky draw against high-flying Paris Saint Germain. The French wont be pushovers and they will be coming face to face with David Luiz for the first time since he left Chelsea back in the Summer. The London club have only lost once so far this season and PSG will be looking to increase the number of defeats suffered.

The remaining English club in the Champions League, were Arsenal. Their fans might well be thinking that they could make the final if the draw continues in this manner. Monaco who are currently sixth in the French League will be hoping themselves that they can progress to the next round after avoiding the big guns as well. Arsenal will consider themselves the favourites having had the more trickier group to get through.

The Europa League sees a contingent of English teams together with Celtic representing Scotland in the first knock out stage. Celtic will play Inter Milan in what will be a repeat of the 1967 European Cup final. The final of course which saw the first British club to win the European competition. The Italians will be hoping to have improved in the league by the time they face Celtic. The team managed by Roberto Mancini find themselves lying in twelfth and sixteen points from the top spot, may find this as their only route to European football next season if things don’t pick up. Another two sides facing each other in European competition once more are Liverpool and Besiktas. The Turkish team will be hoping that they avoid a repeat of their last visit to Anfield, when they were on the receiving end of an 8-0 thrashing. Given Liverpool’s season so far and that of Besiktas, it is very unlikely that history will be repeating itself in such grand scale. The other English representatives, Everton and Tottenham, find themselves facing opposition for the first time in their history (competitive that is). The blue half of Merseyside face Swiss club FC Young Boys and Tottenham taking on Fiorentina, who are eighth in Serie A. Given that a top four finish for either Everton, Spurs or Liverpool would be unlikely, the much maligned Europa League would be the best opportunity for the English trio to qualify for next seasons Champions League.

The full Europa League draw can be found here


The FA Cup: Where dreams can come true.

So the FA Cup first round kicked off again on Friday 7th November and what a way to kick off with a cup upset. Warrington Town of the Northern Premier League played host to League Two Exeter City. Whilst many might have dreamed before kick off of a place in round two, the huge gap between them and the visitors could only mean one thing for the part timers. Of course though the FA Cup is all about living the dream. There would be many a time when down the park we’d play out our own versions of the FA Cup dreaming that one day we’d walk those famous steps to lift the trophy. It would remain a dream, but a dream never dies.

It was a solitary goal after seven minutes from Craig Robinson, whose day job is a plasterer. Exeter threw all they could at the minnows, but they just couldn’t break the hosts down. The League Two side even had a shot cleared off the line as they searched for a goal to at least take the game to a replay, but it wasnt to be and a famous upset was complete.

Warrington Town would certainly not be the only club looking to upset the odds, it would seem that many clubs would be hoping for a home tie against some of the remaining lower league sides in round two.

Kent side Dover Athletic who had been recently struggling in the Conference, faced visitors in the form of League Two side Morecambe who are tenth in their league. On paper it should have been an away win the north-west club in the bag for the second round draw. Of course we all know that football isnt played on paper and usual rules of results, don’t always go the way they should. Like in the Warrington game it was a solitary goal that came between the two sides, albeit this time just before the end of the first half. Dover now make their third appearance in five years in the second round.

Chester were not ones to miss out on the fun either. The Conference side travelled to Southend United. The team that featured John Rooney, the younger brother of Manchester United’s Wayne Rooney, were certainly not frightened to go forward and attack. The North West side went a goal up after five minutes,  but this time it would not be the only goal. Southend levelled later on in the first half with a penalty. The visitors wanted more and although they would only manage nine shots on goal, five of those would be on target and a second one would hit the back of the net. Had it not been for some efforts cleared off the line, it could have been much worse for the home side. The end result would be a 2-1 win for the conference side.

As if the Saturday shocks were not enough, there were more on the Sunday. Northern Premier League side Blyth Spartans knocked out Conference side Altrincham with a thumping 4-1 win. An early goal seemed to be the key once more and having gone 2-0 up after an hour and the slim hopes that the visitors had following a 72nd minute goal, were soon to be dashe as Blyth netted two more in the last 6 minutes of the game.

Not to be outdone on the Cup upset stage, were Worcester City, Having knocked out Liverpool in the third round of the 1958-59 FA Cup, they would be adding yet another scalp. This time in the form of Coventry City, who themselves had been famously knocked out by Sutton United years back. The home side it seemed, were in no mood to help themselves and in the first half saw them down to ten men. The City goalkeeper Lee Burge, was sent packing after an incident with a Worcester striker. Coventry City, who won the Cup in 1987, will be hoping their season can turn around as they are three points off the relegation zone.

Non league Aldershot Town will go to a replay after almost scoring a victory at Portsmouth. The visitors who were not afraid to go forward, had a total of seventeen shots on goal. Maybe a bit more luck and they may have not needed a replay. Aldershot will no doubt be looking to cause a Cup upset on home soil against another former FA Cup winner.

Kent’s county town club Maidstone United will see an FA Cup first after they drew 0-0 away to league two Stevenage. The Replay at Maidstone will take place on a 3G pitch. United will look to try and get some advantage from that. With the Football League voting against it, the FA Cup will be the only place you will get to see a 3G pitch this season.

When we see some of the Premier League sides put out weaker sides in the FA Cup, some people say has the cup lost its charm? Well Im sure that the players of Warrington, Blyth Spartans and the other cup giantkillers will all have something to say about that.