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From the Halfway Line: Third Round Weekend Magic

Updated: Nov 26, 2020

The English FA Cup is the World's oldest knock out football competition, and in January the big boys come to the table. In an era where money talks and TV rules, has the FA Cup lost it's shine?

Third Round weekend has always held a special place in the hearts of English football fans. It marks the moment in the season when the smaller fish in the footballing pond have a chance to pit their wits against the multi millionaire superstars of the world stage. The moment that Biblical imagery is rolled out every year, when the question is asked; Can David beat Goliath? Is there a Giant Killing to be had?

The Cup used to be a significant competition but as money and TV have come to dominate the game, meaning more money is a t stake for finishing anywhere in the top league than winning the cup, the larger teams have played weakened sides or seen the competition as an inconvenience. Many cite the year 2000 when Manchester United opted out of the FA Cup to participate in the World Club Championship as the turning point in the fortunes of the FA Cup. Sir Alex Ferguson would later express regret over the decision which he insisted was forced upon them to help England's bid to host the World Cup.

The cup still means a great deal to ordinary football fans and can even ensure the existence of those smaller clubs that live off the potential pay day from playing one of the giants of the game, but it is the shot at glory, the chance for immortality, that can come from defeating a larger opponent that keeps the sparkle in the eyes. We take a look at some of the great cup third round shocks of the past and look at where such moments of madness could happen again this weekend:

Sutton 2-1 Coventry, 1989

Sutton were not even in the football league, but a non-league side in what was then called "The Conference". Coventry had only lifted the cup a mere 18 months previously, having beaten Tottenham in a shock final themselves.

Wrexham 2-1 Arsenal 1992

George Graham described this defeat as his lowest moment in football. His side had looked comfortable, leading from just before the break, but a Mickey Thomas free kick drew the Welsh side level in the 82nd minute and before anyone could comprehend what was happening, they scored a second and Arsenal tumbled out of the cup.

Stevenage 3-1 Newcastle Utd 2011

Newcastle Utd fans were in jubilant mood having seen the news from earlier that day that their bitter rivals Sunderland had been beaten by Notts county. Stevenage had met the North Eastern giants thirteen years previously in the cup, holding out for a replay before being beaten by a Shearer goal that did not cross the line. The drama all came in the second half and on the final whistle the minnows felt they had avenged the previous defeat. Boro had dominated the game with possession and shots on goal, it was a deserved victory

Shrewsbury 2-1 Everton 2003

The FA Cup threw together a clash of classic proportions. Kevin Radcliffe, had been Everton's most successful captain of all time, but on this cold January afternoon, he managed Shrewsbury to a defeat of his beloved Everton, a team that included a young Wayne Rooney. Nigel Jemson scored twice in the famous victory that saw Everton and not the Shrew tamed.

Hereford 2-1 Newcastle Utd 1972

This is often cited as the ultimate Giant Killing episode when Southern League Hereford scalped Newcastle Utd. Ronnie Radford scored an absolute belter of an equalizer which saw the fans invade the pitch in ecstatic celebrations. They then took the victory in extra time.

Bournemouth 2 0 Manchester Utd 1984

Harry Redknapp masterminded this shock against FA Cup holders, Ron Atkinson's United. The south coast side matched the giants for over an hour before scoring twice in the second half to seal a monumental win.

An entire web page is dedicated to the Giant Killers of the FA Cup that records all giant killing exploits in the history of the competition. Explore their amazing archive.

So to this weekend and the third round draw has provided some potential upsets to look out for:

Tranmere v Tottenham Friday 04 Jan 20.45

Tottenham have often been accused of being fragile, and having recently just stumbled in their push to keep up with the title race and a Champions League campaign to maintain, maybe they might rest some of their stars. Tranmere have only recently returned to the football league and would be looking for some big headlines. A Friday evening kick off will have the media glare fully focused before the rest of the ties get underway the next day. A tricky banana skin for sure.

Accrington v Ipswich Saturday 05 Jan 16:00

Accrington a team who are the epitome of English football underdogs will come up against Ipswich who have a terrible record in the cup, seemingly doomed to consistently lose in their third round outings. Ipswich a re struggling in the Championship and league survival will be a priority for them, this could have headlines and fairytales in abundance.

Blackpool v Arsenal Saturday 05 Jan 18.30

Blackpool almost completed a come back against Arsenal in the League cup this year so are no strangers. Arsenal have suddenly found themselves with an appalling defensive record and a period of self doubt. Blackpool have also been shipping goals so this encounter should at the very least have plenty on the scoresheet.

Woking v Watford Sunday 06 Jan 15.00

The lowest ranked team left in the competition against a Premier league side that will be tempted to rest players. This tie has Giant Killing potential and romance written all over it. Five leagues separate the teams and the assistant Manager at Woking is the Sky Sports commentator Martin Tyler to add a little extra media spice.

Newport v Leicester City Sunday 06 Jan 17.30

Newport pushed Tottenham to a replay last year in the is competition and must be rubbing their hands with anticipation of this fixture. Leicester have had a mixed run of form of late, but the BBC will be live a the ground and with the cameras on them in the cold conditions of south Wales maybe the cup can deliver a shock. Newport will have to up their game considerably, their recent form has been poor, but when has the form book ever mattered in FA Cup lore?

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