Fourth-tier Bradford City’s remarkable run to the Capital One (League) Cup final, a feat all the more astonishing in the all-consuming Premier League era, should provide an extra spring in the step of clubs dreaming of an FA Cup giantkilling.
While Bradford’s achievements are unlikely to be emulated in the sport’s most famous domestic cup competition, with just two all-Premier League fourth round ties, the potential for upsets abound this weekend.
Holders Chelsea, FA Cup winners in four of the last six seasons, make the short trip across the capital on Sunday to take on third-tier Brentford, looking to quickly bounce back from missing out on another Wembley appearance on Wednesday.
Rafael Benitez’s side failed to overturn a 2-0 first-leg home defeat to suffer an aggregate Capital One Cup semi-final defeat by Swansea City.
Brentford are savouring their glamour tie with manager Uwe Rosler having moulded the West London outfit, chasing promotion to the Championship, into an eye-pleasing, slick passing side.
The scent of a cup upset will be firmly in the nostrils of minor league sides Luton Town and Macclesfield Town, both rewarded for third round wins over Championship clubs by being paired with Premier League opponents.
Luton, who like Macclesfield play in the Blue Square Premier, one tier below the Football League, visit Norwich City. Macclesfield, who lost their league status last season, host top-flight strugglers Wigan Athletic.
Desperate for a return to the Football League after financial problems hastened their exit in 2009, Luton boast plenty of cup heritage.
In happier days, the Bedfordshire side won the 1988 League Cup at Wembley – beating Arsenal – and lost to Nottingham Forest in the final a year later.
They also reached the 1959 FA Cup final – beaten by Forest – having overcome Saturday’s opponents Norwich in a semi-final replay.
Bradford set the example for all lower-division clubs when they completed a 4-3 semi-final aggregate success against Aston Villa on Tuesday – becoming the first fourth tier side to reach a major English domestic cup final for 51 years.
Villa, embroiled in a battle for top-flight survival, have little time to lick their wounds. Paul Lambert’s side face a tricky tie on Friday at Championship team Millwall, who reached the final as a second-tier side in 2004.
Stoke City manager Tony Pulis is plotting another cup run but his side must get past Manchester City at home in a repeat of the 2011 final which City won 1-0 with a 74th-minute Yaya Toure goal.
“I’m still very much in love with the FA Cup and I know our supporters are too after what has happened over the past three seasons,” Pulis, referring to Stoke having reached the last eight for the last three seasons, told the club’s website.
“We are proud of our record in the competition which has seen us lose only three times in 18 cup ties over the past four seasons – to Chelsea, Manchester City and Liverpool – which shows how seriously we have taken it. We want that to continue.”
Eleven-times winners Manchester United take on Fulham at Old Trafford on Saturday having spent this week on a mid-season training break in Qatar.
Fulham have an unenviable task – they have met 13 times in the competition but last celebrated an FA Cup victory over United in 1908.
On Sunday, Championship outfit Leeds United welcome Tottenham Hotspur to Elland Road. Leeds and Spurs met in the fourth round three years ago, drawing 2-2 at White Hart Lane before Spurs won the replay 3-1 thanks to a Jermain Defoe hat-trick.
Third-tier Oldham Athletic host seven-times winners Liverpool in the final match of the weekend. The Latics will hope to do better than last season when they were crushed 5-1 at Anfield in the third round.