Who’ll pull off a third round FA Cupset?

FA Cup 3rd round highlights are now available at ITV.

The FA Cup gets serious this weekend as Premiership and Championship teams enter the competition. While the draw may not have any immediately obvious classic ties, there’s more than enough matches that could lead to an early exit for some of the competition’s bigger names.

There are eight non-league teams in the third round plus a few tricky trips for top flight teams, who’ll be looking to improve on this stage last year where Premiership teams were falling over themselves NOT to get through to the fourth round.

So, let Soccerlens guide you through the pick of potential cup upsets this weekend as the road to Wembley continues.

Middlesbrough v Barrow

Barrow have little to fear going into this tie. Joint bosses Dave Bayliss and Dave Sheridan have turned around the Cumbrian side, who looked certs for relegation this time last year, into Blue Square North promotion winners. The club are holding their own in the Blue Square Premier this season, even if they’re not entirely safe from a relegation scrap. But this side have nothing to lose – or prove – and Gareth Southgate’s men would do well not to underestimate their non-league opponents.

Middlesbrough themselves are going through something of a rotten time and are bottom of the form guide in the Premiership. With potential bids coming in for stars Tuncay and Stewart Downing, the last thing the club wants is to lose their only realistic chance of silverware this season, especially not to a non-league side. Middlesbrough can veer from the sublime to the ridiculous and it wouldn’t be a huge surprise if Barrow give them a scare.

Upset potential: 3/5
Middlesbrough’s form is poor and they’ll be thankful this tie is at the Riverside and not Holker Street.

Blyth Spartans v Blackburn Rovers

Blyth made headlines for all the right reasons when they knocked out League Two Bournemouth with a last-minute winner from an 18-year-old substitute and, in the process, reminded us why we all love the cup. But their cup run belies an awful season for the Blue Square North club who’ve taken just one point from the last 30 and sit one place from bottom in the table.

This tie has probably come two weeks later than Blyth would have wanted as Rovers look a much more confident side under new boss Sam Allardyce. The former Bolton manager is far too canny an operator to underestimate the non-league side. Even though Blackburn are struggling in the Premiership, a cup run could be just the tonic to kick-start their season.

In a way, Blyth have already won as the prize money and gate receipts can pay off the £100,000 worth of debt the club has accumulated and give them much-needed funds to boost their relegation battle.

Upset potential: 2/5
Rovers should have enough to see off Blyth, but the home side will give as good as they get.

Forest Green Rovers v Derby County

Two clubs that were expecting so much more from their season meet at the New Lawn in a game Derby will hope won’t heap more embarrassment onto them. Chris Hutchings takes temporary control of the Rams as they look to put a miserable 2008 behind them. The side sit dangerously close to the relegation zone in the Championship and don’t appear to have found the confidence that was so badly lacking last season.

Forest Green also find themselves in a relegation battle they didn’t expect to be in after a top half finish last season. Rovers were tipped as dark horses for the playoffs this season, but it’s been another village team – Histon – that have stolen their thunder as Forest Green have struggled on the field thanks to the loss of key players through injury.

But their manager, Jim Harvey, is a wiley old soul who knows how to get the best out of a team that’s less than the sum of its parts and with a good Christmas under their belt and home advantage, Forest Green could pull off one of the shocks of the round.

Upset potential: 4/5
Derby may be giant-killing in the Carling Cup but they’re dangerously vulnerable to an upset from a smaller club at this point in time.

Gillingham v Aston Villa

Gillingham are a bit of an enigma. On paper, they have a very strong squad yet they’re frustratingly inconsistent and have been very poor on the road. Chairman Paul Scally has kept faith with manager Mark Stimson, who built his reputation with Grays and Stevenage but hasn’t quite delivered in Kent yet. Nonetheless, their home record is impressive with just one loss at Priestfields all season, and in Simeon Jackson they have a very dangerous striker capable of moving up a level.

Villa, meanwhile, are chasing that elusive fourth Champions League spot and may find the cup more of a distraction than anything else at this point in the season. Martin O’Neill’s side have proved they have what it takes to rattle the big four, especially after a fantastic comeback against Arsenal, but their performance against Hull was indifferent. Much may depend on which players are rested.

Upset potential: 1/5
The Gills may have a good home record but Stimson is talking down their chances and Villa should be too good for the League Two side.

Macclesfield v Everton

Macclesfield, for so long perennial strugglers at the bottom of League Two, have stepped up a gear under Keith Alexander this season and are treading water nicely in mid-table, which is a great improvement on relegation battles of the past. They’ve also shown they can grind out a result where needed. However, they also have a very porous defence, regularly conceding three or more goals. Their goal difference of -18 is the third worse in the division – only struggling Grimsby and Barnet have let in more.

Everton, on the other hand, don’t have a problem scoring despite not having any fit strikers. Except another 4-6-0 line-up as David Moyes looks to continue the Toffees good run of form. However, Everton have previous when it comes to being dumped out of the cup by lower league opposition, and supporters will be hoping the Silkmen don’t do a Shrewsbury or Oldham on them.

Upset potential: 1/5
Everton aren’t beyond doing their bit for cup shocks but they should have too much quality for a poor Macclesfield defence.

Histon v Swansea City

After seeing off Leeds at the Glassworld, Histon were hoping for a big name Premier League side. Instead they got Swansea away, but the disappointed faces on TV when the draw was made belies the fact that this is a very winnable tie for the Cambridgeshire village team. Steve Fallon’s side positively revel in their underdog status and while there’s nothing pretty about their style of play, Histon are far more than just the long-ball merchants some categorise them as.

Swansea, meanwhile, have adjusted nicely to life in the Championship and a play-off charge isn’t out of the question. Roberto Martinez is an intelligent young boss who has his side playing some very stylish football. On paper, this should be an easy win for the Swans, but we’ve been here before. Last year Havant & Waterlooville undid Swansea, who were top of League 1. The Welsh team may be a division higher, but so are this year’s opponents.

Upset potential: 4/5
Histon have no fear and home advantage. Swansea won’t find the Glassworld an easy place to visit.

Torquay United v Blackpool

Torquay have overcome an abysmal start to the season that saw the Blue Square Premier title favourites nearer to the relegation zone than top of the table. But Paul Buckle has turned this around and the Gulls are now one of the teams to beat in the Conference. Burton may be running away with the lead, but Torquay are just as dangerous and have skill, pace and strength in abundance.

Blackpool are in somewhat of a state of limbo at the moment with the departure of manager Simon Grayson to Leeds. They’re capable of grinding out decent results against quality opposition – witness their performance in their 2-2 draw with Wolves this week – but can also slip up in games they should be winning. ‘Pool play some pretty football, but it remains to be seen if the off-the-pitch movements distract the side.

Upset potential: 3/5
Torquay are a formidable proposition at Plainmoor and, with a long journey to the Westcountry, Blackpool will have to keep their wits about them.

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