Football; Midlands in higher lands

Norman Fox speaks to a region's managers about the impact of a Cup run

IN 30 YEARS the Midlands have provided just two FA Cup final winners, Coventry City and West Bromwich Albion. This season a quarter of the teams left in next weekend's fourth round come from that area of historic under- achievement. And with Aston Villa playing West Bromwich Albion there will even be a local final several months before the real thing. But does all of this point to something stirring in the area where William McGregor formulated league football in the last century?

Pure coincidence, luck of the draw and the chance of one weekend in the limelight seem to be the more likely answers, but the attention is welcome none the less, especially in the city of Birmingham where all three of the big sides have survived the famously perilous third round.Then there is Walsall, across the other side of the M6, who have not only survived but who have also been rewarded the most envied and lucrative tie of the round, against Manchester United at Old Trafford. The heartland has rarely had it so good.

There is an irony, though, inthat although the majority of Midlands clubs are safely or promisingly placed in their various divisions (only Coventry and Port Vale are already in serious relegation difficulties), several of them confess to having been flattered by their progress through the third round.

Wolves seem the notable example - their 4-0 win over Darlington looked fine on paper. In reality, though, they struggled against a team near the bottom of the Third Division, but Mark McGhee is taking his satisfaction from the club's move closer to the promotion zone. His positive attitude to talk of a Midlands surge has less to do with the Cup than the First Division, in which his team plus West Bromwich and Birmingham City are so close together that "we could all be fighting each other come the end of the season".

Elsewhere, Aston Villa were booed off the pitch after their anxious victory against Portsmouth. Walsall found Peterborough difficult to crack, and West Bromwich had to fight hard to overcome Stoke, who only a few days before had lost 7-0 to Birmingham City.

Albion's reward, that mini- final at Villa Park, comes at a time when their early season aspirations have dimmed. The new manager, Denis Smith, was relieved to see Richard Sneekes score two fine goals from midfield against Stoke because they secured the first win since he took over. Albion's shining promise of the autumn weeks has been dulled by a string of less impressive performances.

Leicester City's manager, Martin O'Neill, says it is far too early to talk about some common Midlands resurgence and is far from happy about his own club's recent achievements. "Our results are simply not reflecting the quality of our performances", he said. Last season they could count on sheer effort and persistence to get victories; less so this term.

Villa's manager, Brian Little, says that because of the club's European success in the early 1980s he realises that huge numbers of fans will look to them to lead the way in any Midlands uprising and consequently could become even more impatient if they fail to beat their old rivals, West Bromwich. He says that while the Midlands as a whole can be pleased to be so well represented next weekend, he would have preferred a tie holding less pressure.

"Cup ties at this stage are always tough", he said. "But coming up against a local team means that the atmosphere will be that much stronger. There was some criticism after we beat Portsmouth by only 1-0, but I'd be happy to win next weekend's game by the same score."

That should be made a little more likely by the fact that Dwight Yorke will be available, having managed to get out of playing for Trinidad and Tobago in the Gold Cup tournament in the United States.

With four sides drawn against each other in the fourth round, the impact of the Midlands in the later stages is inevitably going to be diminished, but at least for one weekend no other part of the country will be so up for the Cup.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
Arts and Entertainment
Southern charm: Nicolas Cage and Tye Sheridan in ‘Joe’
filmReview: Actor delivers astonishing performance in low budget drama
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'
Arts and Entertainment
Up my street: The residents of the elegant Moray Place in Edinburgh's Georgian New Town
tvBBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past
Albus Dumbledore, the headmaster of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry has been the teaching profession's favourite teacher
Luis Suarez looks towards the crowd during the 2-1 victory over England
Life and Style
Cheesecake frozen yoghurt by Constance and Mathilde Lorenzi
food + drinkThink outside the cool box for this summer’s frozen treats
John Barrowman kisses his male “bride” at a mock Gretna Green during the Commonwealth Games opening ceremony
peopleBarrowman's opening ceremony message to Commonwealth countries where he would be sent to prison for being gay
Sir Bradley Wiggins removes his silver medal after the podium ceremony for the men’s 4,000m team pursuit in Glasgow yesterday
Commonwealth games Disappointment for Sir Bradley in team pursuit final as England are forced to settle for silver
Alistair Brownlee (right) celebrates with his gold medal after winning the men’s triathlon alongside brother Jonny (left), who got silver
England's Jodie Stimpson won the women’s triathlon in the morning
Caption competition
Caption competition
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SQL Report Analyst (SSRS, CA, SQL 2012)

£30000 - £38500 Per Annum + 25 days holiday, pension, subsidised restaurant: C...

Application Support Analyst (SQL, Incident Management, SLAs)

£34000 - £37000 Per Annum + excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Lt...

Embedded Software / Firmware Engineer

£40000 - £45000 per annum + Pension, Holiday, Flexi-time: Progressive Recruitm...

Developer - WinForms, C#

£280 - £320 per day: Progressive Recruitment: C#, WinForms, Desktop Developmen...

Day In a Page

Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
10 best reed diffusers

Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little
Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

Screwing your way to the top?

Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

Meet the US Army's shooting star

Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform