It is 20 years since a minor league club overcame top-flight opposition in the FA Cup but Blyth Spartans and Barrow have the chance to follow in Sutton's giant-killing footsteps in the third round this weekend. In January 1989 Sutton beat Coventry City, FA Cup winners 18 months earlier and flying high in the old First Division, 2-1 in one of the greatest Cup shocks. The world's oldest knockout competition may have lost some of its lustre since then but Barrow, voted out of the league in 1972, will be hoping to roll back the years when they take on Premier League strugglers Middlesbrough at the Riverside on Saturday. And the Barrow squad look to be playing for more than just a place in the Cup record books as co-manager Dave Bayliss has warned that some of them could be kicked out within days after going almost two months without a league win. "I feel disgusted, sick to the stomach, about that showing," Bayliss said of their latest defeat at Forest Green. "That showing is nothing, and most of those lads will not be here within the next two weeks." Boro too have lost that winning feeling, going eight matches without success to slide one place above the relegation zone and though they could probably do without this weekend's "distraction" a victory would at least lift the gloom temporarily. Blyth (pictured), who reached the fifth round in 1978, complete the third round action when they host Blackburn Rovers on Monday night. Blyth attracted 42,000 fans to Newcastle United's St James' Park ground to see them lose their 1978 replay to Wrexham and miss out on a sixth-round tie with Arsenal. Their Croft Park ground will hold about a tenth of that number on Monday when, in a tie screened live on TV, they will be buoyed by Blackburn boss Sam Allardyce seemingly set to continue his Bolton Wanderers policy of fielding a weakened team for the Cup. PROVING GROUND Arsene Wenger is another who has tended to treat the Cup as proving ground for his young and fringe players and, off the pace in the league, he is likely to continue that approach for Arsenal's home game against Plymouth. Liverpool visit Championship side Preston North End and manager Rafael Benitez will also probably be grateful for the chance to rest Steven Gerrard after his captain was charged with assault and spent a night in police cells following an incident in a nightclub this week. Manchester United, Cup winners a record 11 times, visit Championship strugglers Southampton, while Chelsea host League One Southend. Portsmouth begin their defence of the trophy at home to Championship Bristol City. Other Premier League clubs with awkward-looking games include Everton, who visit League Two Macclesfield, Aston Villa, at League Two Gillingham and West Bromwich Albion, at home to League One Scunthorpe. At least minor league club is certain to reach the fourth round as Kettering and Eastwood meet on Saturday. Three others have home advantage against Championship opposition as Histon, who humbled Leeds United in the second round, play Swansea City, Forest Green host Derby County and Torquay play Blackpool.
31 December 2008
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