In my previous article, 11 v 11, I wrote about red cards. I mentioned that some of our recent red cards have been rescinded after the event. What I didn’t say was that of our last five red cards, 4 have been wiped off by the FA commission that adjudicates on the appeals. That is a ridiculously high percentage of games where the referee has got an important decision totally wrong.
For this BBC televised game we have Michael Oliver, who at 31 is by far the youngest referee at the top level, and in my opinion is one of the best. He doesn’t issue red cards lightly; in fact his sending off of the Bournemouth captain in the 3-3 draw against Arsenal this week was his only dismissal this season, and few argued with it. I hope I haven’t jinxed his performance with this praise, and hope that there are no dismissals in this game.
This is the first time he has officiated in one of our games this season, but Liverpool seem to like him. He has refereed four of their games this season, and they have won all four scoring 16 goals in the process! He hasn’t been our luckiest referee in the past. We’ve only won three of the eleven games when he has been in charge.
For anyone who is superstitious with dates I am happy to relate that in the past twenty years we have played five FA Cup ties on January 6, and haven’t lost any of them. In 1996, Michael Hughes and John Moncur scored in a 2-0 victory over Southend. In 2001, we knocked out Walsall 3-2 with two goals from Kanoute and one from Lampard. Fifteen years ago, in 2002, Macclesfield were safely despatched 3-0 with two goals from Jermaine Defoe (where have I come across that name lately??) and one from Joe Cole. And ten years ago in 2007, another comfortable victory against Brighton (3-0), with goals from Carlton Cole, Mullins and Mark Noble.
Two years ago in 2015, we drew 1-1 at Everton, before drawing 2-2 in the replay at Upton Park which was decided 9-8 on penalties, with the winning kick being scored by Adrian, famously throwing off his gloves before blasting home the decisive penalty. Of course that is not the only goal Adrian scored at Upton Park; many will remember the great fun of the Mark Noble testimonial game last season, when Adrian ran the length of the pitch (ably minded by Pedro Obiang) to score past David James.
I haven’t gone back beyond 20 years when looking at FA Cup ties, because before then we did have some ignominious defeats on January 6, being knocked out by Torquay and Plymouth, and drawing against Wrexham before losing in a second replay (no penalty shoot outs in the distant past). But recent history is good.
We seem to be drawn against some teams frequently in the FA Cup, but Manchester City is not one of them. We have only met them three times in the competition before this season. In the fourth round in 1998 we won 2-1 at Maine Road with goals from Berkovich and (ex-City player) Steve Lomas. In 2006 we were drawn away to them in the sixth round, and two Dean Ashton goals helped to secure a 2-1 victory on our way to the final. In 2008, we met them in the third round at Upton Park, drawing 0-0, before losing the replay eleven days later to the only goal of the game.
The bookmakers are quoting odds of 4/6 for City to win this game, a ridiculously short price considering their recent form, and the lack of knowledge regarding the strength of the team they will put out. It’s hard to predict who Bilic will select as well, but I believe he will ensure we have a strong side out, especially as our next league game (at home to Palace) is more than a week away. Of course we haven’t pulled up many trees either this season, but as always I am confident of a victory, and wearing my optimistic hat once again, predict 4-1.
What are the chances? The bookmakers will give you around 125/1! Enjoy the game.