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Jeff Stelling blogs on the tough FA Cup choice facing bosses of the Premier League's struggling teams.

Features - Jeff Stelling Posted 3rd January 2013 view comments

Inevitably there will be some miss-matches as well as giant-killings in the third round of the FA Cup this Saturday.

Four non-league sides remain in the competition - Hastings, Luton, Macclesfield and Mansfield - and looking down the fixture list as a whole there should be plenty of goals to report on Soccer Saturday.

Paul Lambert: will play the kids, says Jeff - the question is 'which ones?'!

Paul Lambert: will play the kids, says Jeff - the question is 'which ones?'!

It can be chaotic in the studio as a potential shock could happen at pretty much any game (particularly if the top teams field weakened sides) but there will also be some great stories flying around.

Blow

Newcastle face a tough test in Saturday's early kick-off, away at Brighton - the team who knocked them out of the competition at the fourth round stage nigh on a year ago.

To be frank the very last thing Villa need is a cup run - particularly when they've also got Bradford next week in the semi-final of the League Cup. That's enough of a distraction as it is

Jeff Stelling
Quotes of the week

Twelve months on the clubs meet again with Newcastle two points off the Premier League relegation zone and Brighton one win away from the Championship play-off places.

I've no doubt that a sizeable Toon Army will travel to the Amex and I think Alan Pardew will feel obliged to play a pretty strong side.

After all, Newcastle are not 'a wee club'; they're a huge, huge one even if they haven't won anything for so long.

It's a pretty difficult balancing act for Pardew because Premier League survival is a must but fans have had to wait for silverware for far too long.

While Newcastle are still in the Europa League, the FA Cup represents their best chance of winning a trophy.

If they are to achieve that, they'll have to do so without Demba Ba, whose imminent move to Chelsea is a desperate blow for Newcastle.

However, they knew what they were getting when they agreed a deal with him. If they'd believed that Ba would be the success he has become, I'm sure Newcastle would have ensured that the sell-on clause made it more difficult - and costly - for him to move on.

Ba has done them proud since he signed so his departure leaves them desperately short up front. Although I thought Shola Ameobi did pretty well up front against Everton with Papiss Cisse pushed more into a midfield role, he's not a prolific goal-scorer.

There are a few priorities for Newcastle in the transfer window but finding someone who can score a goal or two is certainly one of them.

Incidentally, I remember Brighton boss Gus Poyet scoring twice against Newcastle to send Chelsea through to the 2000 FA Cup final. After guiding Brighton to that fourth round FA Cup victory last season, I just wonder if Poyet has the Indian sign over Newcastle...?

Distraction

Another team with it all to do is fellow Premier League strugglers Aston Villa, who welcome Ipswich.

To be frank the very last thing Villa need is a cup run - particularly when they've also got Bradford next week in the semi-final of the League Cup. That's enough of a distraction as it is!

Villa could have been comfortably 5-0 down in the first 20 minutes at Swansea so people shouldn't be deceived by the fact that they got a point in the end. They could easily have conceded another glut of goals but for some good fortune on their part and some poor finishing on Swansea's.

There's no point asking if Paul Lambert will play the kids, because he has to every week! It's just a case of which kids he plays...

If Villa do win on Saturday they may well pick up a bit of momentum in the league but, with all due respect to the FA Cup and the League Cup, it's more important that they win their next Premier League game, which is at home to Southampton.

In contrast, Ipswich are on something of a roll at the moment even allowing for that 3-0 home defeat to Brighton on New Year's Day.

Mick McCarthy has done a fantastic job there and the club has really enjoyed such a revival under him that it wouldn't surprise me one jot to see Ipswich go to Villa Park and win.

With that said, of course, the striker who scored got most of Ipswich's goals - DJ Campbell - has gone back to QPR, leaving them with a big gap to fill.

Maybe this match will be a case of 'step forward Michael Chopra'...

Powerful

I don't see an upset at the King Power Stadium, even though Burton Albion did beat Leicester 4-2 in the League Cup in August.

Leicester have got a really powerful squad now - especially going forward. David Nugent is fit again and they've bought Chris Wood.

They've done their business straight away at the start of the transfer window, which I really admire because they are already getting the benefits from it; Wood scored twice on his debut in the 6-1 win over Huddersfield.

I like Leicester boss Nigel Pearson a lot; he's a big, strong character who manages in a similar way to how he played, in as much as he's pretty uncompromising.

His priority has to be to guide his team to promotion but there's no reason why Leicester shouldn't be able to see off Burton this time around, even though Albion - whose manager Gary Rowett used to play for Leicester - are having a decent season in League Two.

They are strong at home but struggle to replicate that form on the road where not only do they find it tough to win, but to be brutally honest they find it tough to score a goal.

Achievement

I notice that Sky Bet currently have Hastings United at 16/1 to beat Middlesbrough away, which gives you an indication of just how big an achievement it is for them to get this far given they're in the seventh tier of English football.

Their players are on an average wage of £90 per week, while all the backroom work are unpaid. They can barely seem to win a game in the Premier Division of the Isthmian League; they've had three victories all season long and are precariously-placed in 17th spot.

Middlesbrough aren't just any Championship side, they're a top Championship side that hasn't lost against a non-league club in 101 years; that stark fact suggests that Hastings have it all to do.

For the record their goalkeeper, Matt Armstrong-Ford, used to earn his living as 'a naked butler' at hen-dos and the like. Let's hope he keeps his kit on on this occasion.

Jeff's Gem of the Week

As well as QPR did to beat Chelsea, I'm going for Hartlepool's 3-2 away win over Sheffield United! The match pitted the team with the last remaining unbeaten home record in any division against one of the two sides in any division without a win.

So it was something else for Hartlepool, who were also on a club-record run of games without a victory, to go there and play exceptionally well. They had more possession and more chances and even Blades boss Danny Wilson, who, of course, is from Hartlepool, said we thoroughly deserved to win.

It was great that the old warhorse, Steven Howard, who has been getting a lot of stick recently bagged a couple of goals. He'd scored two in his previous 62 games so it's fair to say he was due!

Ritchie Humphreys, who is a Sheffield boy, got the other one so all in all it was a fantastic ending to what has been a pretty miserable 2012 as far as Hartlepool supporters are concerned. I'm sad to say that 2013 did not get off to the start we hoped for as we lost 1-0 at home to Preston on New Year's Day, but at least there's a little light at the end of the tunnel.

As any football fan knows, it's the hope that kills you... and the hope is still there because all of the teams directly above us lost on New Year's Day too, so we are still remotely in touch at the bottom of League One...

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