The FA Cup returns this week for its much-maligned round of midweek fixtures – but at least we can be excited about a lower league presence.
Seven Football League clubs make up the 16-team fifth round, and while just one draw is a full EFL clash, don’t bet against some shocks.
So, from Harry Haddock’s inflatables to the ‘Guernsey Grealish’, here we give you the details of every Football League club to record a giant kill…
STOKE v Brighton, Tuesday 7.15pm, ITV4
IN their day, Stoke are the sort of team you might envision for a Championship play-off place. The problem is, those days are few and far between.
Alex Neil’s Stoke City, with their inconsistent record, hoping for cup glory at home to Brighton
Captain Lewis Baker is the star of the Potters after joining the team permanently in 2022
Alex Neil dramatically departed from Sunderland to join the Potters in August and some Black Cats fans laughed that the grass isn’t always greener.
The Scottish manager holds an inconsistent record for the Staffordshire club – 11 wins, six draws and 13 defeats in his first 30 games.
Stoke’s star is Lewis Baker, who spent 17 years on Chelsea’s books and had seven loan spells in four countries before joining the Potters permanently last year.
Now club captain, the 27-year-old midfielder scored 16 goals for the club, nine of them coming from outside the penalty area – more than any player in England’s top four divisions at that time.
SHOCK CHANCE 2/5
Leicester v BLACKBURN, Tuesday 7.30pm, BBC iPlayer/red button
BLACKBURN are fourth in the league, and despite many predicting Jon Dahl Tomasson’s men will end up losing, they have been undefeated for nine.
The Danish coach has a record of 17 wins and 13 defeats in the league, with an odd goal difference of 0, noting that they are in the play-off spots.
Tomasson’s side are tough to beat – keeping more clean sheets than all but the top two and Coventry in this span – and it won’t roll over to Leicester.
SHOCK CHANCE 2/5
Jon Dahl Tomasson’s Blackburn expected to fade away but could trouble Leicester
Nigel Pearson has secured his job at Bristol City, and they host Manchester City on Tuesday
BRISTOL CITY v Manchester City, 8pm Tuesday, ITV1
PEP’s chief scout GUARDIOLA compiled a dossier on Bristol City last week which, in a nutshell, warned the Premier League champions that if they take their second-tier opponents for granted, they could fall victim to a giant slaughter.
Nigel Pearson’s work at Bristol City looked to be on the line with fans calling for his head on Boxing Day. But the Robins are 12 unbeaten since then and come here in good shape.
A sell-out crowd is expected to pack Ashton Gate for the visit of Guardiola’s star-studded squad. In a thrilling Carabao Cup semi-final in 2018, the Robins gave the winners a big scare.
The star of the Robins is midfielder Alex Scott, who is just 19 years old and is nicknamed the ‘Guernsey Grealish’.
With a chance to impress against the real Jack Grealish, this is a chance for Scott to put his name on the national stage and perhaps add a few million pounds to his burgeoning market value, with Premier League clubs sniffing around him.
Bristol City’s Alex Scott nicknamed the ‘Guernsey Grealish’ takes on the real thing
Elsewhere on the pitch, veteran striker Nakhi Wells is in fine form, scoring two goals in his last two games. City ended a 469-day wait for a penalty a fortnight ago – since then they’ve scored two!
With Ashton Gate slaying and a team in fine form, don’t bet against a memorable cup comeback.
SHOCK CHANCE 3/5
Southampton v GRIMSBY, Wednesday 7.15pm, ITV4
A victory for the little ones last week when Southampton overturned a decision to ban Grimsby fans from taking their iconic inflatable fish mascots to St Mary’s.
About 5,000 Mariners fans are making the journey to the South Shore with their Harry Haddock inflatables after the Saints reneged on a fishing ban.
It is Grimsby’s first fifth round draw since 1996 and manager Paul Hurst is developing an identity that is hard to beat with them unbeaten in three.
‘You know how important the football club is to the area,’ Hurst said in an interview with The Times. ‘Every club says that. But it really has its place in the heart of the city. It’s a big part of people’s lives.
‘Using the football club as a vehicle to reach out to the community is very important to them.’
With 5,000 fans cheering them on alongside Ruben Selles, who is at rock bottom in the Premier League, why shouldn’t Harry Haddock’s army take advantage of their chances to catch a big fish?
SHOCK CHANCE 4/5
Harry the Haddock will be proudly displayed amongst traveling Grimsby fans in Southampton
BURNLEY v FLEETWOOD, Wednesdays 7.30pm, BBC iPlayer/Red Button
YOU WILL NEED two pieces of equipment to discuss Vincent Kompany’s Burnley team: a calculator and a thesaurus.
The promotion equation is simple: with 12 games to go, the Clarets are 19 points clear and an instant return to the Premier League is all but certain.
You should do a bit of number crunching to find out if they can statistically become the all-time greatest team in the second division.
Ten wins out of 12 will see them equal Reading’s points record, set in 2005-06. Whether they do or not, it will not change the belief and domination that Kompany instilled.
Vincent Kompany’s Burnley may see the FA Cup as a distraction from Championship duty
The Clarets face Scott Brown’s Fleetwood, who are unbeaten in the last six
Burnley have lost just once since 12 August and superlatives have run out to describe their firepower.
The FA Cup is a distraction and Kompany are unlikely to pivot their package heavily towards visiting Fleetwood.
Managed by former Celtic captain Scott Brown – now with a full head of hair! – The Fishermen come here in fine form, winning five of their last six and drawing the other at Plymouth, just one of two teams to pick up points at Home Park this season. They are now 11th in the table.
SHOCK CHANCE 2/5
SHEFFIELD UNITED v Tottenham, Wednesday 7.55pm, BBC One
THIS has the feel of a classic FA Cup tie: the champions of the Championship to hatch one of the big boys.
Paul Heckingbottom’s side overcame a brief hurdle on their way to promotion with a convincing victory over Watford on Saturday.
That puts them seven points clear of third-placed Middlesbrough with a game in hand, and while Michael Carrick’s Boro are able to catch up, it looks like a big challenge.
Iliman Ndiaye stars as Sheffield United host Tottenham Hotspur on Wednesday
The Blades’ talents are spread across the pitch, but Iliman Ndiaye is the star. The Senegalese star has scored 17 league goals this season, trailing only Chuba Akpom and Viktor Gyokeres.
Two Manchester City loanees, Tommy Doyle and James McAtee, are also flourishing in the South Yorkshire side.
Nearly 30,000 crammed into Bramall Lane for Saturday’s win and a big crowd is expected again, with the Blades ready to scare the Spurs away.
SHOCK CHANCE 3/5