The FA Cup’s pre-eminence may have been killed by the desperation to get in, then stay in, the Premier League, but every now and again the corpse twitches. It did this week when West Bromwich Albion were overwhelmed by the demand for tickets for today’s derby match at Birmingham City.
While Aston Villa stagger on under Paul Lambert, their local rivals have both been invigorated by new managers. St Andrew’s is sold out for the first time since City’s Championship play-off tie against Blackpool in May 2012. The 28,000-plus gate will be 12,000 above their league average. This, said manager Gary Rowett, means he will make fewer changes than he had planned.
Ten squad players featured in the third round at Blyth Spartans, where Birmingham came back from a two-goal deficit, but, said the manager: “We won’t be making wholesale changes. It’s such a big tie. It has captured the imagination of all the fans.
“It’s going to be a really big crowd and a great afternoon and therefore we’ll treat it as seriously as we can.”
Injuries and international commitments limit Tony Pulis’s options but he, too, will look to field a strong team. Five-times FA Cup winners – most recently in 1968 – West Brom have not gone past the fourth round in five seasons. This reflects a focus in the Premier League era on staying up. The last time they went beyond the fourth round while in the top flight was in 1982, when the goals of Cyrille Regis led them to the semi-finals.
However Pulis, who took Stoke City to the final in 2011, said: “Confidence is built on results; if you can put yourself through a run of games unbeaten and carry on to the next game – whether it’s an FA Cup or Premier League game – keeping the momentum is important.”
Albion are unbeaten under Pulis after three matches. Birmingham have lost twice in Rowett’s 13 games.
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