The 2011/12 FA Cup has reached the fourth round stage and several big clubs could find themselves on the wrong end of the headlines this weekend.
QPR v Chelsea
The first of five all-Premier League ties in the fourth round gets the action underway on Saturday and, after all the off-field shenanigans in the build up to the game, expect a fiery encounter at Loftus Road.
The Rs managed a 1-0 win in the infamous league game between the two and Mark Hughes’ men can match that feat and cause a minor shock (QPR 9/2, Chelsea 4/6, draw 13/5 @ Betfred
Much of the focus will be on John Terry and Anton Ferdinand but afterwards all the talk could be about another disappointing day for Blues boss Andre Villas-Boas and an early FA Cup exit for his side.
Derby County v Stoke City
The Potters survived a banana skin in the third round when they overcame Gillingham but they are sure to be tested once again when they head to Derby on Saturday (Derby 5/2, Stoke 11/10, draw 9/4).
The Rams made a fine start to the season in the Championship but have been inconsistent of late as their play-off bid has faltered. But in Nigel Clough they have one of the most respected young managers in the game and he will have his side well prepared to take on last season’s beaten finalists.
Derby have been difficult to beat since the turn of the year and have kept four consecutive clean sheets so a narrow 1-0 home win, on offer at 17/2, looks tasty in this one.
Sheffield United v Birmingham City
The Blades host the Blues at Bramall Lane with the League One club good value at 13/8 to cause an upset and dump out the Championship side.
United are well in touch in the League One promotion race and have lost just twice at home all season ahead of this fourth-round tie.
Boss Danny Wilson is scenting a shock and this week described Saturday’s game as a “fantastic clash” between two in-form sides.
Blues (13/8) will fancy their chances too, and have risen up the Championship table in recent weeks and could yet mount an automatic promotion bid in the second half of the season.
But a passionate home crowd can inspire Wilson’s men in this one and a narrow home win is well worth backing.
Brighton v Newcastle United
The evening game on the south coast has been picked for live TV because of the very real prospect that another Premier League side could going tumbling out (Brighton 11/4, Newcastle Evens, draw 12/5).
The Magpies have exceeded expectations so far this season and remain in the hunt for a top-six finish in the Premier League but will face a stiff examination against Gus Poyet’s side.
The Seagulls have been good at their new Amex Arena home this season, losing just three times in the league, and expect another packed stadium to make things difficult for Toon, who are likely to make changes for the tie.
Without top-scorer Demba Ba, Pardew’s men may struggle to penetrate the Brighton defence so the Championship side could easily spring a shock.
Arsenal v Aston Villa
Another of the all-top flight games rounds off the action on Sunday with Villa, buoyed by a 3-2 win at Wolves last weekend, eyeing the Gunners’ scalp and brave punters can be rewarded by backing Alex McLeish’s side at 5/1.
Arsenal (4/7) have hit another sticky patch in recent weeks, losing against Fulham, Swansea and Manchester United to scupper their top-four hopes.
Arsene Wenger usually rotates his squad for the FA Cup and while that could mean a first start since his return for Thierry Henry, several inexperienced youngsters may also get the chance to impress.
That could play into Villa’s hands, however, and they can take advantage of the current gloom at the Emirates and come away with a hard-fought away win.