The FA Cup returns this week for its much-criticized round of midweek fixtures, but at least we can get excited about the lower leagues showing up.
Seven Football League clubs make up the 16-team fifth round and while only a draw is an all-EFL clash, don’t bet against some clashes.
So, from Harry Haddock’s inflatables to the ‘Guernsey Grealish’, here’s the inside scoop on every Football League club to record a killing of giants…
STOKE v Brighton, 7:15pm Tuesday, ITV4
In their day, Stoke are the kind of team you’d want for a place in the Championship play-offs. The problem is, those days are few and far between.
Alex Neil’s Stoke City, with their inconsistent record, will be hoping for cup glory hosting Brighton
Captain Lewis Baker is the star man for the Potters after joining the team permanently in 2022
Alex Neil made a dramatic departure from Sunderland to join the Potters in August and some Black Cats fans have laughed that the grass isn’t always greener.
The Scottish manager has an inconsistent record at the Staffordshire club: 11 wins, six draws and 13 losses in his first 30 games.
Stoke’s star man is Lewis Baker, who spent 17 years on the Chelsea books and had seven loans in four countries before joining the Potters permanently last year.
Now club captain, the 27-year-old midfielder has scored 16 goals for the club, nine of them from outside the box, more than any player in England’s top four tiers at that time.
SHOCK CHANCE 2/5
Leicester v BLACKBURN, Tuesday 7.30pm, BBC iPlayer/Red Button
BLACKBURN is fourth in the Championship and despite many predicting that Jon Dahl Tomasson’s men would eventually go down, they are unbeaten in nine.
The Danish coach has overseen 17 wins and 13 losses in the league, with an odd goal difference of 0, noting that they are in the play-off places.
Tomasson’s side are tough to beat, keeping more clean sheets than all but the top two and Coventry this term, and they won’t turn around for Leicester.
SHOCK CHANCE 2/5
Jon Dahl Tomasson’s Blackburn was expected to fade but may cause problems for Leicester
Nigel Pearson has secured his job at Bristol City, and they host Manchester City on Tuesday.
BRISTOL CITY vs Manchester City, 20:00 Tuesday, ITV1
PEP GUARDIOLA’s chief scout compiled a dossier on Bristol City last week that, in a nutshell, warned the Premier League champions that if they took their second-tier rival for granted, they could be the victims of a giant massacre. .
Nigel Pearson’s job at Bristol City seemed to be on the line with fans calling for his head on Boxing Day. But the Robins have been unbeaten for 12 years since then and come here in good shape.
A sellout crowd is ready to fill Ashton Gate for the visit of Guardiola’s star-studded side. In a thrilling Carabao Cup semi-final in 2018, the Robins gave the eventual winners quite the scare.
The Robins’ star man 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 a national stage and perhaps add a few million pounds to his ever-growing market value, with Premier League clubs sniffing him out. .
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 twice in his last two games. City ended a 469-day wait for a penalty a fortnight ago. Since then he has scored two!
With Ashton Gate in top form and a team in top form, don’t bet against a memorable cup defeat.
SHOCK CHANCE 3/5
Southampton v GRIMSBY, 7:15pm Wednesday, ITV4
A win for the little ones last week when Southampton overturned a decision to ban Grimsby fans from bringing their iconic inflatable fish mascots to St Mary’s.
About 5,000 Mariners fans are making the trip to the South Shore in their Harry Haddock inflatables, after the Saints broke their fishing ban.
It is Grimsby’s first fifth round draw since 1996 and manager Paul Hurst is developing a tough identity 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. All the clubs say that. But it really has its place in the heart of the city. It is 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 for them alongside Ruben Selles, who is bottom of the Premier League, why shouldn’t Harry Haddock’s army imagine their chances of nabbing a big fish?
SHOCK CHANCE 4/5
Harry the Haddock to be proudly displayed to traveling Grimsby fans in Southampton
BURNLEY v FLEETWOOD, Wednesday 7.30pm, BBC iPlayer/Red Button
You WILL NEED two pieces of equipment to talk about 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 almost a certainty.
You have to do a bit of number crunching to determine if they can statistically become the best 2nd tier team ever.
Ten wins out of 12 will see them equal Reading’s points record, set in 2005-06. Whether they do or not will not change the belief and domination that Kompany has 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 their last six
Burnley have lost just once since August 12 and they have run out of superlatives to describe their firepower.
The FA Cup is a distraction and Kompany is unlikely to rotate his team much for the visit of Fleetwood.
Led by former Celtic captain Scott Brown, now with a head full 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 score points at Home Park this season. They are now in 11th place in the table.
SHOCK CHANCE 2/5
SHEFFIELD UNITED v Tottenham, 7:55pm Wednesday, BBC One
THIS has the feel of a classic FA Cup tie – great Championship midfielders shocking one of the greats.
Paul Heckingbottom’s side overcame a brief bump in their promotion run with a convincing win over Watford on Saturday.
It puts them seven points clear of third place Middlesbrough with a game down and while Michael Carrick’s Boro are capable of catching up with them, it feels like a huge demand.
Iliman Ndiaye is the star for Sheffield United when they host Tottenham Hotspur on Wednesday
Blades’ talents are spread across the pitch, but Iliman Ndiaye is the star man. The Senegalese star has 17 Championship goal contributions this season, trailing only Chuba Akpom and Viktor Gyokeres.
Two on loan from Manchester City, Tommy Doyle and James McAtee, are also flourishing for the South Yorkshire outfit.
Just under 30,000 packed Bramall Lane for Saturday’s win and a huge crowd is expected again, with Blades set to scare Spurs away.
SHOCK CHANCE 3/5