Manchester United’s meeting with Tottenham Hotspur will attract the biggest crowd, while Liverpool’s derby clash is arguably the most enticing of this weekend’s FA Cup fourth-round ties.
But it is at Kettering Town’s Rockingham Road ground that the authentic spirit of the world’s oldest knockout tournament will be in residence today as the last non-league survivors attempt to emulate one of the greatest ever Cup shocks.
It was at this stage in 1949 that tiny Yeovil Town knocked out then-mighty Sunderland on their famous sloping pitch.
Sixty years on, Kettering, who play in the fifth-tier Conference, will aim to pull off a similar upset against Fulham, whose players have spent the week listening to manager Roy Hodgson’s warnings of the dangers of under-estimating opponents who are 92 places below them in English soccer’s league hierarchy.
“He’s telling us in training that if we go there thinking we’re going to have an easy time, we couldn’t be further from the truth,” Cottagers’ Wales midfielder Simon Davies said.
Fulham could be vulnerable to an upset after seeing a nine-match unbeaten league run ended with a lackluster display in Sunday’s 3-1 defeat at West Ham United and Davies admitted: “If we play like that, we’re going to be in for a shock.”
Upsets could also be on the cards at Hartlepool United, who entertain West Ham, and Doncaster Rovers, who take on what will be a weakened Aston Villa.
Martin O’Neill, the Villa manager, plans to rest a number of his first team because he regards a top four finish in the Premier League as his main goal this season.
“We will treat the game in the right manner, but there might be a point in prioritizing,” O’Neill said.
Cardiff City will also fancy their chances of overturning the established order by overcoming Arsenal tomorrow as they bid to emulate last season’s run to the final.
Chelsea boss Luiz Felipe Scolari has left Didier Drogba out of his squad for their last two games, but the Ivorian striker may be in line for a recall to face Ipswich Town in a match that could also see the return of injured skipper John Terry.
“Didier is training very well and starting to build his condition again, not only his fitness but his technique too,” Scolari said.
Sir Alex Ferguson could be without as many as 11 first-team players for Manchester United’s meeting with Tottenham, including three members of his first-choice back four.
Spurs have their own injury worries and United will have taken heart from the way the Londoners almost threw away a three-goal first-leg advantage in their League Cup semi-final with Burnley in midweek.
But Spurs boss Harry Redknapp does have form when it comes to getting the better of United in Cup contests, dating back to Bournemouth’s third round win over the Red Devils back in 1984.
Now under the leadership of Tony Adams, who took over from Redknapp, the holders Portsmouth will be confident of taking another step toward retaining the trophy by overcoming Swansea City at Fratton Park.