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

Barry Glendenning, Nick Ames, Simon Burnton and Michael Butler

1) Shrewsbury dream of a miracle

Shrewsbury are not averse to a flush of FA Cup romance. In January 2003 they were at the foot of the fourth tier when Everton visited and the wily old hands, Ian Woan and Nigel Jemson, combined to confirm one of this millennium’s more famous shocks. Wind back a couple of decades and they enjoyed two quarter-final appearances under Graham Turner. Between the two, in 1996, there was a fourth-round tie against Roy Evans’ Liverpool, who came away comfortable 4-0 winners. The local newspaper worked out that it was a meeting of teams worth £195,000 and £29.6m respectively. Back then it was an eye-watering disparity but nowadays the latter figure would not even buy you Sadio Mané’s weaker left foot. The Shrews are comfortable enough in League One’s midfield these days but Liverpool’s modern-day visit is arguably the toughest assignment they have ever faced. The beauty of the cup, though, is that it still manages to create heroes nobody would ever have foreseen. Perhaps Shrewsbury could be the team that finally shatter the Premier League leaders’ veneer of invincibility. NA

  • Shrewsbury v Liverpool, Sunday 5pm (all times GMT)

2) Saints hope to repeat ancient history

This game will be played on the 118th anniversary of the first-ever FA Cup match between these teams. It took three matches to separate them in 1902, eventual finalists Saints seeing off the holders in the second replay, played in a blizzard at Reading. “The snow had played sad havoc with the ground, and the ‘going’ was extremely bad,” complained Sporting Life. The great sporting polymath CB Fry, most famous now for his cricket but who also got one England cap at football, was in the Southampton team for all three matches and his performances earned particular praise: “The harder the match and the more work he has to accomplish, the better Fry seems to acquit himself,” wrote the Sportsman. Fry’s side won 2-1, with all three goals down to individual errors: first Fry’s miskick presented the ball to Gilhooly, who crossed for Kirwan to score; then a calamity from the Spurs goalkeeper, Griffiths, as he attempted to save Arthur Turner’s shot “but tripped up just as he got his hands down to the ball”. With three minutes remaining Tait, a Spurs defender, panicked under the Saints’ high press and underhit a backpass, which Brown tapped in. Something similarly entertaining would be welcome this weekend, though snow is not forecast.. SB

  • Southampton v Tottenham, Saturday 3pm

3) Newcastle seeking the glorious fifth round

Having failed to advance beyond the fourth round of the FA Cup in their past 13 attempts, Newcastle will fancy their chances of doing so after being given a home tie against opponents who sit 35 rungs below them on the league ladder. Steve Bruce’s side are leading a charmed life at the moment, having pulled off remarkable late smash-and-grabs despite being outplayed in their most recent matches against Chelsea and Everton, but will be expected to adopt a more aggressive approach against Oxford United. With the League One side’s manager, Karl Robinson, being renowned as a thoughtful and innovative advocate of intricate attacking football, there is potential for an upset against fatigued hosts in what could be one of the ties of the round. BG

  • Newcastle v Oxford United, Saturday 3pm

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4) Wilder’s Blades back to where it all began

Chris Wilder returns this weekend to the scene of this first ever match in charge of Sheffield United: The Den. It was August 2016, and after a deflating 2-1 defeat courtesy of a late Steve Morison penalty, Wilder’s side got back on the coach for a long journey back to Yorkshire. Four days after a 3-0 home loss to Southend, bottom of League One with one point from four games, United were at a particularly low ebb. “We’d had a difficult afternoon,” remembered Wilder this week. “So we stopped the bus and I told Billy [Sharp] to go and get some cans in. I paid for it. We eased the long journey back with some Stella.” Four hours later, the player and coaches had talked it out and committed to playing three at the back. It was the watershed moment. United finished that season as champions with 100 points, and their rise since has been remarkable – especially with Wilder, Sharp, Jack O’Connell and Chris Basham still at the club. Even against an in-form Millwall, the drinks on the bus back from south London this time might be raised in celebration. MB

  • Millwall v Sheffield United, Saturday 3pm

Chris Wilder and Billy Sharp have hazy memories of their first trip back together from Millwall. Photograph: Paul Childs/Action Images via Reuters

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5) Robins to further his FA Cup legend?

Lodgers turn landlords for the day as Coventry host Birmingham, the team whose ground they occupy every other weekend as tenants. Coventry will change in the home dressing-room as Birmingham play the role of visitors to their own stadium. Coventry manager Mark Robins is synonymous with the FA Cup, as the substitute whose third-round goal against Nottingham Forest may well have kept Sir Alex Ferguson from losing the Manchester United job 30 years ago. Robins is looking forward to testing his team against Championship opposition in front of a sell-out crowd on an occasion he concedes will be “weird” for both teams. Despite their exile from the Ricoh Arena and a shoestring budget, Robins has steered Coventry to within threepoints of the League One summit. More frequent tests against second-tier opposition could be on the horizon. BG

  • Coventry v Birmingham, Saturday 3pm

6) Arteta may give Nketiah his chance to shine

Arsenal’s battling point at Stamford Bridge did the world of good for their spirits but did not quite set them up for a concerted tilt at the top four, much as Mikel Arteta believes one is still achievable. They are definitely in no position to shun the FA Cup, a competition whose benefits Arteta knows from personal experience. The manager is likely to select as strong a line-up as possible at Bournemouth in a bid to reach the last 16 and maintain momentum. He may be tempted to give Eddie Nketiah a first look from the start since the young striker’s return from Leeds. That loan did not quite work out, despite a strong first few weeks from the 20-year-old, but Arteta was impressed enough to rule that he would not be sent out elsewhere. Gabriel Martinelli has stood up to outstanding effect during Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s suspension and this, in the captain’s final match out, could be a perfect opportunity to see whether Nketiah is similarly capable. NA

  • Bournemouth v Arsenal, Monday 8pm

7) Some unexpected Friday night entertainment

Precisely half of this weekend’s Cup ties will be televised in the UK, but on the face of it, this meeting of the sides 14th and 10th in the Championship is not among the obvious choices. However, QPR are without a goalless draw all season, and have developed a habit of producing wild scorelines. This month, they have beaten Cardiff 6-1 and Swansea 5-1 (in the third round). Their 10 games since the start of December have featured, on average, 3.8 goals each, and only Luton have fewer than their three clean sheets. Wednesday will be taking this game extremely seriously, as they look to find form after losing four of their last five league games, including a 5-0 thrashing at home by Blackburn. “It’s a game we want and we need to win,” says their manager, Garry Monk. ” SB

  • QPR v Sheffield Wednesday, Friday 8pm

8) Bilic visits former friends at the London Stadium

Last weekend West Ham contested the David Moyes Derby against Everton and now, hot on its heels, comes another meeting dominated by one of the managers. Slaven Bilic is now in charge at West Brom, and still on course to lead them back to the Premier League despite rocky recent form and a home defeat to Stoke on Monday. Bilic was sacked by the Hammers in November 2017 after almost two-and-a-half years in charge. The accompanying statement – “West Ham United believe a change is now necessary in order for the club to move forward positively and in line with their ambition” – has certainly not aged well. West Ham may not have been going anywhere especially fast under Bilic and there is no point in making revisionist claims about the wisdom behind his dismissal. But everything since reinforces the point that their real problems lie higher up the chain. The Croatian might see Saturday’s tie as an opportunity to show which party is now heading in the right direction. NA

  • West Ham v West Brom, Saturday 3pm

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9) Pompey seek vengeance against Barnsley

Having been pipped to promotion by Barnsley last season, Portsmouth get the opportunity to exact a modicum of revenge when they entertain the Championship strugglers at Fratton Park this weekend. One of several fourth-round fixtures guaranteed to sell out in a competition increasingly renowned for dwindling attendances in its early rounds, it promises to be one of the weekend’s more raucous affairs, even if both managers have bigger fish to fry. “It’s not as important as the league – none of the competitions are,” said Pompey manager Kenny Jackett, hardly doing his bit to ensure the turnstiles click with their usual fervour. “But when they come around you want to do well.” Jackett has form there, leading his holders back to the EFL Trophy semi-finals this week. BG

  • Portsmouth v Barnsley, Saturday 3pm

10) A farewell to Griffin Park?

Griffin Park could well host the final FA Cup match of its 116-year history this weekend, with Brentford set to move to their new Community Stadium from next season. But with a pub on all four corners, a standing section for away supporters and with fans close enough to the pitch that they can be splattered with mud from nearby tackles, Griffin Park remains a special place. It is a ground from another era, even if it is probably not befitting of a club with serious Premier League ambitions . It should serve as a timely reminder to Leicester fans – who regularly frequented these sort of grounds in the lower leagues not too long ago – just how far they have come, even with the anomaly of 2016 in their memories. With two teams in rip-roaring form, playing free-flowing football, it should be a fine day for those lucky enough to go. Drink it in. MB

The Griffin Pub with Griffin Park in the background. Photograph: Simon Dack/Alamy Stock Photo
  • Brentford v Leicester, 12.45pm Saturday 12.45pm