A Christmas party meant I missed the FA Cup third round draw and ‘the big reveal’ as to who ball 7 (seven), Brentford, would be up against. A subsequent, and furtive, check of the Internet revealed a somewhat low-key headline on the BBC website: Arsenal host Sunderland. It was a title that suggested a tepid draw and, after seeing we’d been given a home time against the winner of the Chesterfield / Walsall tie, the phone went back into the pocket until this morning.
That was then. This is now. Having slept on it and reviewed the draw with fresh eyes, I have to say it looks somewhat more exciting than on first glance. Exeter City v Liverpool, Eastleigh v Bolton and Chelsea v Leyton Orient or Scunthorpe all seem made for TV and a potential ‘upset’. They have those classic FA Cup ingredients of an unfancied side hosting a ‘bigger’ team that, on paper or current form, are the candidates for the proverbial giant killing.
Hopefully we’ll be served up one of these rather than the tedium of an Arsenal v Sunderland or Norwich City v Manchester City. The sort of game we get week in, week out on Sky and BT but which the BBC, given their dearth of live games, will be itching to show. Anybody that wants to see that will be there – us ‘regular’ fans will be much more interested in seeing whether the likes of Chelsea or Exeter City can cause an upset and reach the fourth round.
And then, as ever, we have the subplot at Griffin Park. With Dean Smith having left Walsall to takeover at Brentford last week, the chance to renew acquaintances so soon is the sort of opportunity that only this oldest of cup competitions can throw up. A tie that, at the start of the campaign wouldn’t have got the fans overly excited, suddenly has an additional layer of intrigue.
Who’d have thought two weeks ago that a second round replay between The Saddlers and Chesterfield would have so much interest from all at Griffin Park? If nothing else, it may send our one decent twitter hashtag, #BeeTheDJ, into meltdown. Certainly if this early contender from the weekend is anything to go by.
On a more practical note, this does mean we’ll have three home games over a six day period with the visits of Middlesbrough (Tuesday) and Burnley (Friday) immediately afterwards. And if the cup was to go to a replay it raises the prospect of four games in the space of just over a week.
For that reason alone, I’d expect Dean Smith to shuffle his FA Cup pack – regardless of the opposition. But when you have the likes of Sam Saunders, Andy Gogia, Josh McEachran and Jota currently on the bench, that’s no bad thing. Hey, we might even get a chance to see Lewis Macleod by that point (subject to leaf fall).
That said, one can only hope that the lessons from the earlier season debacle in the Capital One Cup have been learned. Marinus Dijkhuizen put together such an inexperienced and rejigged team that we were lucky to escape with just a 0-4 thrashing. From League 2 Oxford United. Three goals down within twelve minutes meant Brentford were, at one point, staring down the barrel of a bracketing.
Using the squad is one thing but this, on a pitch that was very much looking like the Somme despite having hosted less than two hour’s competitive football, was the polar opposite. In retrospect, it’s a miracle Marinus lasted beyond the end of that first week.
Still, that’s all in the past. Things have only moved onwards and upwards. We’ve got a home tie and that, for me, is all you can ask for in the Cup.
The rest is down to Dean and the eleven players he picks to start this one.