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Blackpool v Nottingham Forest
Forest to win
Blackpool have boosted their chances of an improved second half of the season by signing Morgan Rogers, on loan from Manchester City.
Rogers thrived under Michael Appleton at Lincoln, when they reached the League One Play-Off Final in 2020-21, so the strong, technical forward’s arrival suggests CEO Ben Mansford is keen to stick with the manager, despite some pressure from supporters.
‘Pool have also loaned in Josh Bowler back from Nottingham Forest, after the winger thrived at Bloomfield Road last season: the 23-year-old will be ineligible for this one, but could make a huge difference to their Championship survival prospects.
Bowler was one of 26 players who joined Forest in the summer, 23 billed as first-team signings, leaving them a senior squad of 32.
Of course, part of the reason the Reds felt they needed so many additions was because 12 players were released, five were sold and a further five were on loan in last season’s promotion.
It may be that the club wanted to give themselves significant strength in depth, so that if their first Premier League season in 23 years went to plan, then great, if not, they’d be in a fantastic position to win promotion over a different type of schedule in the Championship the following season.
Either way, this level of depth makes them very well equipped to navigate cup ties with second-tier opposition, because Steve Cooper could make wholesale changes from the side that won at Southampton last time out and still name a far better match-day squad than their hosts can put out.
“Nottingham Forest have assembled a huge squad, after signing as many as 26 players in the summer! I think they’ll be well-equipped to rotate and still have enough quality to defeat Championship opposition.”Gab Sutton
Boreham Wood v Accrington Stanley
Stanley to win
Since John Coleman took charge in 1999, Accrington Stanley have made many wonderful memories across the Liverpudlian’s two spells in charge.
They’ve won a whopping six trophies including four league titles and promotions, consistently defying the odds in the process, with a minimum of 18 seasons (and counting) as an EFL club, and at least five in League One on a minimal budget.
And yet, through all this, it seems extraordinary that they’ve not yet had a real FA Cup adventure, even though they’re so naturally associated with the underdog tag in league terms.
The biggest FA Cup memory for Accy was Andy Gouck’s goal against then-Third Division Huddersfield in 2003, when they were a non-league club, but they’ve never played a big-hitter when few clubs or managers in English football’s pyramid would be more deserving.
Stanley lost a replay at Yeovil in 2014-15 when they would’ve gone on to host Manchester United, having peppered the Glovers in the initial home tie, so the prospect of a glamorous Fourth Round game will be a big source of motivation for Coleman.
The management team have completed the loan signing of Aaron Pressley, who may not have gained rave reviews from his previous League One stint at AFC Wimbledon last season, but could fare better this time around if he’s since bulked up.
Pressley is still at a Premier League club in Brentford by the age of 21, which suggests he has ability and could benefit from the management of Coley, a former centre-forward himself who has worked wonders with Paul Mullin, Billy Kee, Kayden Jackson, Dion Charles and Colby Bishop over the years.
If Stanley can get Pressley firing, they’ve got a great chance of seeing off National League side Boreham Wood, who have seen their Play-Off hopes take a hit with one win in 10.
“Huddersfield may have seemed like a glamorous FA Cup tie to Accy back in 2003, but truthfully they haven’t really had one in either of John Coleman’s reigns, which is incredible when you think what they’ve achieved in league terms. Perhaps 2023 may be the year that changes…”Gab Sutton
Bournemouth v Burnley
Burnley to win
Vincent Kompany has won the FA Cup twice as a player, with Manchester City, and is out to make more memories in the competition as a manager with Burnley.
The Belgian can bring left-sided defender Charlie Taylor, midfielder Samuel Bastien, withdrawn forward Scott Twine and industrious front-man Ashley Barnes into his starting XI to keep a few of the squad players for this season fit and fresh, without dropping the level of quality his side have displayed in the Championship too much.
The Clarets have won 16 of their 26 league games this season, including each of their last six, and have displayed a clear playing identity right from the get-go.
The East Lancashire outfit are patient with the ball at the back, and are prepared to wait at times to invite the press in their defensive third, but then when gaps open up they can accelerate things quickly, whether it’s through Jack Cork turning an opponent to change the picture of the game, or Ian Maatsen flying down the left flank.
Bournemouth, meanwhile, are just one point above the drop zone in the Premier League, after seven defeats in eight.
It was a decent start for Gary O’Neil, who was tasked with steadying the ship after Scott Parker’s acrimonious exit following the fallout from August’s 9-0 loss at Liverpool, and initially his side were unbeaten in six.
More recent results and performances, though, suggest it was a mistake to give O’Neil an 18-month contract back in November.
“Vincent Kompany has got his ideas across at Burnley remarkably quickly, and some of the young talents from across the Championship have adapted to the demands of English football straight away. If the Clarets won at Bournemouth, I don’t think you’d class it as an upset.”Gab Sutton
Chesterfield v West Bromwich Albion
West Brom -1 handicap
West Brom have won eight of Carlos Corberan’s first nine games in charge, and are hoping to take that sensational league form into the FA Cup.
The Baggies look an incredibly well-coached side under Corberan, and the only goal of the game against Reading last time out was the classic example.
Albion operate with a 4-2-3-1 but there was a rotating right-sided square between centre-back Dara O’Shea, right-back Darnell Furlong, midfielder Jayson Molumby and winger Jed Wallace, which was so crucial to creating the chance that Daryl Dike put away.
There was a pattern of movement which saw O’Shea and Molumby move into the flank despite being central operators by trade, with Furlong and Wallace drifting infield.
Under Steve Bruce, we would never have seen that kind of idea come to fruition, it would have just been a case of giving the ball to Wallace, hoping he can beat two players and put a cross in or have a shot at goal.
Because Wallace made an inside run off the ball, however, it meant oceans of space opened up for O’Shea to veer into the channel and feed Molumby to put in a pinpoint cross which Dike finished with aplomb.
Of course, West Brom may not play exactly their best XI at Chesterfield, but even a rotated team would pit Semi Ajayi, Taylor Gardner-Hickman, Tom Rogic, Grady Diangana and Brandon Asante against National League opposition.
Chesterfield boss Paul Cook has masterminded bigger FA Cup upsets before, joining Jurgen Klopp, Jose Mourinho and Paulo Fonseca as the only managers to outwit Pep Guardiola in 2017-18, when the Liverpudlian’s Wigan side beat almost all-conquering Manchester City.
“Carlos Corberan is one of the best emerging coaches in English football and I just love the impact he’s had at West Brom, both in terms of substance and style. Had National League promotion contenders Chesterfield faced the Baggies under the previous regime, they may have had a shot.”Gab Sutton
Fleetwood Town v Queens Park Rangers
Double Chance: Fleetwood/Draw
Despite having been an EFL club for 12 years, Fleetwood haven’t yet got past the Third Round of the FA Cup, but November victories over Oxford City and Ebbsfleet give them the chance to tick that accomplishment off their bucket list.
Scott Brown’s side have drawn 11 of their 24 league games, having scored fewer (28) than 21st-placed Burton Albion, and conceded fewer than leaders Plymouth Argyle.
The Trawlermen boast a sturdy defence, with right-back Shaun Rooney and centre-back Josh Earl having fantastic seasons, but have at times been raw in the final third and perhaps miss a clinical finisher.
Nonetheless, the Fylde Coast outfit can offer lots of energy against the ball, provided by the front-three of Promise Omochere, Admiral Muskwe and Cian Hayes, which could be handy against higher league opposition.
QPR were hit by a killer equalizer against Sheffield United last time out, which means the out-of-form Rs are three points off the Play-Offs rather than one, six places shy rather than four.
The visitors have a strong first XI, but if Critchley chooses to rest the likes of Chris Willock and Ilias Chair for his side’s Championship exploits, or leaves them either or both on the bench, they could struggle for alternative quality.
“Scott Brown is building a young, energetic and tenacious side at Fleetwood, and I suspect they might have the minerals to cause a shock. QPR aren’t tearing up trees in the Championship, despite sitting in the top half – it’s just 1 win in 10 for the West Londoners.”Gab Sutton
Hull City v Fulham
Double Chance: Hull/Draw
Liam Rosenior has made a positive start as Hull boss, seeing his side climb steadily up the Championship table, and now he faces the club at which he spent five years as a player, making 79 Premier League appearances.
Rosenior’s side, now with some room to breathe in league terms in 16th, have been able to stabilize with a steady back-four: full-backs Cyrus Christie and Jacob Greaves progress the ball well, but won’t rampage forward before time, so there is always protection for Alfie Jones and Sean McLoughlin.
Jean Michaël-Seri, a title-winner with Fulham last season, recycles the ball as well as one might expect from a 45-capped Ivory Coast international, but then it’s about combination play out wide.
Greaves supports Regan Slater and Allahyar Sayyadmanesh from behind on the left, while Christie does the same for Greg Docherty and Ryan Longman on the right.
Hull have got much better at the simple things under Rosenior, they have a plan, a style of play, the passing is crisper and sharper, they’re much better organized and players know what to do and where to be.
With that in mind, the Tigers may want to continue that momentum with a full-strength side against Fulham, who are themselves in form in the Premier League: three straight wins for the Whites, since Christmas.
Marco Silva, who also faces his former club, has a side that will carry a real threat – they won 1-0 at Leicester last time out without Issa Diop, Layvin Kurzawa, Dan James or ex-Tiger Harry Wilson in their starting XI – but if Hull play at their best, they might be able to make something of this tie.
“Liam Rosenior has made a real impression since taking charge of Hull, who look on their way to recovering from a sticky first few months to securing a steady top half finish in the Championship. I feel the 2014 finallists can make an impression in the FA Cup, too.”Gab Sutton