FA Cup third round: 10 things to look out for this weekend

Barry Glendenning, Simon Burnton and Nick Ames on 8 January 2021

1) Should the third round be played at all this weekend?

Chorley’s home tie against Derby always looked ripe for an upset and still does, albeit with the Championship side now in the role of underdogs against hosts from four divisions below. An outbreak of Covid-19 means Wayne Rooney and his senior Derby players will be watching from home as a team of youngsters deputise in order to fulfil the fixture. A similar scenario may unfold on Friday evening with Aston Villa fielding youth players at home to Liverpool. Chorley’s chances of reaching the fourth round have hugely increased, but manager Jamie Vermiglio has been left deflated by the fixture’s reduction in status to little more than a box-ticking exercise. At least, unlike Southampton’s game against Shrewsbury, it’s still going ahead. At a time when the virus looks likely to wreak havoc on fixture lists in all four divisions, there is little wriggle-room even without these added headaches. Whether or not Covid-hit games should be played this weekend is open to serious question, much like the wisdom of even attempting to carry on with this season’s FA Cup. BG

  • Chorley v Derby, Saturday 12.15pm (all times GMT)

2) Boreham Wood’s Rhead seeks more Cup romance

In recent times Boreham Wood have come within a whisker of unlikely promotion to the Football League, reaching the National League play-off final in 2017-18 and falling at the semi-final stage last July. An FA Cup third-round tie behind closed doors feels like meagre consolation but Luke Garrard’s side, who have already beaten EFL opposition this season in the form of Southend, have it in them to make life tough for Millwall. A face from FA Cup giant-killings past will be attempting to ensure they do: Matt Rhead was the hulking focal point of Lincoln’s attack when they reached the quarter-finals as a non-league side in 2017, leading the line in famous wins over Ipswich, Brighton and Burnley. Now 36, Rhead scored in the win at Canvey Island that took Boreham Wood into the third round for the first time. Rhead did not play professionally until he turned 28. Four years ago, his story was perfect for FA Cup romantics; perhaps there is another chapter left to be written. NA

Boreham Wood v Millwall, Saturday 12pm

Boreham Wood’s Matt Rhead talks to BT Sport after their Cup win over Canvey Island in November 2020.
Boreham Wood’s Matt Rhead is in the mood for another Cup run. Photograph: Joe Toth/BPI/Shutterstock

3) Arteta can show Balogun he belongs at Arsenal

You do not need to speak to many people who have worked with Folarin Balogun to be convinced the forward has a huge future. Arsenal’s problem is it may not be with them, despite Mikel Arteta’s best intentions. Arteta said pointedly on Thursday he was “not sure” whether Balogun’s agent is committed to tying the 19-year-old down to a new contract. Clubs all over Europe would love to sign him when his current deal expires this summer, with some in the process of conducting extensive diligence. Balogun’s camp might contend he is yet to start a game for Arsenal and no clear route to a regular spot has been outlined. First-team appearances must be earned, of course, but Balogun has shown in his substitute cameos – which have brought two Europa League goals –he possesses the all-round attributes to make it at the top. Although Arteta will not want to tinker too much against Newcastle, an outing for Balogun might help convince the striker and his entourage that he is loved. NA

Arsenal v Newcastle, Saturday 5.30pm

4) Watford seek repeat upset at Old Trafford

Manchester United’s pursuit of yet another competition they can exit in the semi-finals begins at home to Watford, whose still-new manager Xisco Muñoz continues a nightmare introductory run having taken on the Championship’s top two, Norwich and Swansea, so far. United have only lost in the third round three times since 1982, and won a major trophy anyway in each of those seasons. The last time they were knocked out of the FA Cup at their first hurdle and ended the season without silverware was 39 years ago, when the team that dumped them out was Watford. The Hornets’ 1-0 home win in 1982 could have been more emphatic, with United’s manager, Ron Atkinson, raging post-match that “Bryan Robson was a joke and Ray Wilkins was back to his worst old ways again” meaning that his team were “second best in every department”. Clearly not a believer in the modern managerial maxim of not criticising players in public, then. SB

Manchester United v Watford, Saturday 8pm

Watford’s Jan Lohman shoots past Gary Bailey to score the winner at Vicarage Road in 1982.
Watford’s Jan Lohman shoots past Gary Bailey to score the winner at Vicarage Road in 1982. Photograph: Colorsport/Shutterstock

5) An unhappy return to Blackpool for Allardyce

Sam Allardyce returns to the first league club he managed, back when “Bloomfield Road was falling to bits and the training ground was an abomination”, as he wrote in his autobiography. In his second and final season at the club, Blackpool finished a point off automatic promotion to the second tier, inspired by Allardyce and a lucky mascot – a replica pig stolen from a hotel by the centre-back Andy Morrison. The Tangerines lost to Bradford in the play-off semi-finals and Allardyce was promptly sacked. Those are not the only unhappy memories that might be provoked by this game: Allardyce’s first experience of senior first-team coaching had come under Brian Talbot at West Brom, a job that ended precisely 30 years ago on Friday when Talbot was sacked after a humiliating FA Cup defeat to non-league Woking. SB

  • Blackpool v West Brom, Saturday 3pm

6) Newport and Brighton may have eyes elsewhere

Rodney Parade has been an extremely happy FA Cup hunting ground for Newport County in recent years, the scene of wins over Leicester, Leeds and Middlesbrough, as well as a stirring draw against Tottenham. Against what is likely to be a second-string Brighton side, Michael Flynn’s players ought to fancy their chances even without the backing of a raucous 7,850-strong crowd but might happily forego another upset if it helps them focus on winning promotion from League Two. Courting relegation from the Premier League, Brighton are also unlikely to be overly concerned with winning this game. The rather depressing upshot? A tie between two sides separated by 53 league places, which both would almost certainly be quite content to lose. BG

  • Newport County v Brighton, Sunday 7.45pm

BBC pundits Gary Lineker, Ian Wright and Alan Shearer watch Newport's third-round win over Leicester back in 2019.
BBC pundits Gary Lineker, Ian Wright and Alan Shearer watch Newport’s third-round win over Leicester back in 2019. Photograph: Nick Potts/PA

7) Morecambe mean more problems for Lampard

Frank Lampard will be on a hiding to nothing when Morecambe visit. Defeat is unthinkable for Chelsea but whichever XI their manager selects, their performance needs to be on point. On the one hand, this presents the perfect opportunity to arrest a chastening run of four defeats from six games; on the other there will be little glory in doing so. Lampard will be relieved if the occasion passes without the pressure on him ratcheting up. Morecambe, seventh in League Two, lost 7-0 at home to Newcastle in the Carabao Cup but have picked up considerably since then. Derek Adams’ side have not played since Boxing Day after a Covid-19 outbreak so bring an element of the unknown. Whether the Shrimps are refreshed or rusty, Lampard will require his players to be fighting fit. NA

Chelsea v Morecambe, Sunday 1.30pm

8) Expect big numbers as Leeds visit Crawley

The average Leeds league game this season has featured 3.71 goals, making them the most goal-friendly side in the top four divisions. Away from home their games are running at 4.11 goals per game. Crawley’s average is a relatively sane 2.82, but they are yet to play a goalless game this season and are on an eight-match unbeaten run. The Red Devils have also already been involved in one of the most bizarre FA Cup games of this or any season. Away at Torquay in the first round, they were 2-0 down with seven minutes to play. It was 3-3 after 90 minutes, with three goals in the 22 minutes of stoppage time played after an injury to Crawley’s goalkeeper. The visitors then conceded two extra-time penalties, only to come back again with three goals in nine minutes to win 6-5. “These games come around once, maybe twice, in a lifetime and we just need to cherish it and hopefully get a good result,” says Ashley Nadesan, who scored the winner in that game. His manager, John Yems, is looking forward to this tie “150 million percent” – which is a lot, even in these days of rampant percentage inflation. SB

Crawley v Leeds, Sunday 1.30pm

Crawley Town’s Ashley Nadesan scores the winner in their first-round goalfest against Torquay United.
Crawley Town’s Ashley Nadesan scores the winner in their first-round goalfest against Torquay United. Photograph: James Boardman/TPI/Shutterstock

9) No fans but a feelgood factor at Marine

Among all these ill-timed third-round fixtures, nothing will be more jarring than the sight of Marine hosting Spurs in front of just a few interested onlookers. This should be everything the FA Cup is about, their tiny Rossett Park stadium rejoicing in a once-in-a-lifetime visit by José Mourinho and his players. Instead the occasion will be significantly diluted, although that has not stopped well-wishers from far and wide ensuring the eighth-tier outfit receive maximum benefit. Marine had sold 5,750 “virtual match tickets” to the game by Thursday evening, putting them 250 shy of their record attendance; meanwhile, neighbours Liverpool and Everton both stepped in with offers of training facilities when their usual venue was made unavailable. Romance and feelgood factor remains; even if they cannot all be present, the fans and staff to whom Marine mean so much can still take pride at their club’s place in the spotlight. NA

Marine v Tottenham, Sunday 5pm

10) Stockport on the rise as West Ham come to town

Robbie Savage conducted the third-round draw and was beside himself with delight as he earned all four non-league sides home ties against Premier League or Championship opposition. Stockport’s new owner, Mark Stott, has cleared the club’s debts and invested in a training ground and their Edgeley Park home, renewing optimism after 10 seasons in non-league. Playing West Ham behind closed doors is not a priority for a club harbouring serious notions of a return to the Football League. However, the fixture will remind those outside Greater Manchester that although Stockport remain in the shadow of far wealthier neighbours, they are at least still here. BG

  • Stockport v West Ham, Monday 8pm

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