Which other small clubs could spring a big surprise?
With a winding-up order looming, Notts County have nothing to lose against Wigan
Cahal Milmo is the chief reporter of The Independent and has been with the paper since 2000. He was born in London and previously worked at the Press Association news agency. He has reported on assignment at home and abroad, including Rwanda, Sudan and Burkina Faso, the phone hacking scandal and the London Olympics. In his spare time he is a keen runner and cyclist, and keeps an allotment.
Saturday 23 January 2010
Sven's County go for broke
Every penny and every second counts at Meadow Lane. On Wednesday Notts County face a winding-up order in the High Court, potentially the coup de grace for the much-heralded "project" improbably designed to elevate them to the Premier League within five years. By then Sven Goran Eriksson may already have departed, and by then they may be in the fifth round of the FA Cup for the first time in nearly 20 years with the prospect of the financial rewards that could bring.
Wigan's visit this afternoon brings a little taste of the top flight, and more importantly a match-day income in the region of £100,000. But with still no sign of the extra investment required to keep the club afloat, and Eriksson in tow, it may well prove the last game of the Swede's curious sojourn on the banks of the Trent.
Eriksson is one of football's great survivors – reports persist that he will soon take the helm of one of the World Cup finalists – and how County, one of the world's oldest clubs, could do with a bit of that survival skill rubbing off before he heads for the exit. Peter Trembling, the club's chief executive who led a buyout of Munto Finance, the instigators of the ill-fated project, has spent the last few weeks in a frantic search for new investment which has, as yet, yielded nothing. "Life goes on," said Eriksson recently, but for how much longer for a club who played their first league game 90 years before today's opponents?
Home form, despite defeat by Accrington in their last league outing, combined with a goalscoring threat – the wily Lee Hughes has 19 this season – gives County a chance against a Wigan side who have been poor on the road where they have shipped goals at the rate of three a game. "Any away tie in the Cup at a lower-division side is a great leveller," said Roberto Martinez, Wigan's manager.
Martinez has first-hand experience of just that; during his time in charge of Swansea they were knocked out by Havant & Waterlooville. "Notts County are too good for the level they are playing in," said Martinez. "The magic of the FA Cup is all about upsets. It is a difficult role when you are expected to win but a great challenge."
Keegan backs Iron will
A trip to Scunthorpe will be a novel challenge for Roberto Mancini. "I have seen them on video," pointed out the City manager. His players though have first-hand experience of their opponents, having beaten them 5-1 in the Carling Cup at Eastlands earlier this season.
It is 47 years since Manchester City last journeyed to north Lincolnshire. Not that Carlos Tevez will be on the team bus tomorrow with the Argentine being given a break ahead of next week's second leg of the Carling Cup semi-final. Neither will Patrick Vieira or Emmanuel Adebayor – both are expected to be in contention for Wednesday's derby – but Kevin Keegan, Scunthorpe's greatest ever player, will be at Glanford Park along with the television cameras and the sniff of an upset. "I'm sure that's what all the neutrals want," said Keegan, who began his career with the club in 1968 and later managed City for four years.
To complete the requisite ingredients for a shock, Nigel Adkins is expected to field Josh Lillis, a boyhood City fan and son of their former player, Mark, in goal for a club who have punched above their weight over recent years. Back in the Championship, Scunthorpe may be struggling this season, but they have run into recent form, a 4-1 win at Derby and a draw with Cardiff, to earn some breathing space above the bottom three.
Adkins, formerly the club's physio, replaced Brian Laws in the Scunthorpe dugout and it was Laws' record in charge of financially-challenged sides, first at Glanford Park then Sheffield Wednesday, that earned him the job at Burnley. For once, Laws will not be filling the underdog's role as he takes his side to Reading today.
McDermott's job application
Alongside Leeds, Reading took pride of place in round three and, having won at Anfield so impressively, a home tie with Burnley offers another welcome respite from an increasingly troubled league season, and one (like many) beset by increasing off-field concerns.
Whether Burnley prove appealing enough to put bums on seats and badly-needed cash in the register at the Madejski Stadium remains to be seen, but on the pitch their dire away record – one point in the Premier League – will raise hopes of a place in the fifth round. That would improve the chance of Brian McDermott, who oversaw the triumph at Liverpool, being rewarded with the managerial role full time, even though he has yet to conjure a league win in five attempts.
Best of the rest
Aston Villa, against Brighton, and Wolves, against Crystal Palace, have home advantage to ease their path. While Martin O'Neill is to make wholesale changes, Mick McCarthy will take no such risks. "If we win the cup tie," said McCarthy, "we will feel a whole lot better about ourselves."
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