The FA Cup 3rd round returns for this season with plenty of clubs looking to go on a run in the famous cup competition.
A fair few sides – particularly in League Two – have been knocked out already, though, and so there are some games to look forward to in the fourth tier – as well as a handful in League One.
Here, then, for the first time in 2019 we catch up with James Richards of D3D4 football to talk all things in the third and fourth divisions…
There’s a depleted fixture list thanks to the FA Cup 3rd round but one big game sees Charlton host Sunderland, how do you see that one going?
Charlton have been exceptional at home winning six of their last seven and remaining undefeated during this run. They have two of the most clinical strikers in the division in Lyle Taylor and Karlan Grant who are ably backed up by a host of young talent including the likes of Joe Aribo and George Lapslie. Lee Bowyer is doing a tremendous job on a shoestring budget and the fact that they come into this only five points behind the Black Cats is a credit to them.
Sunderland may not have been at their best in recent performances but they do have players that are a cut above this level. Lynden Gooch, who recently signed a contract extension and Aiden McGeady are just a couple in the away side’s line-up that can change a game.
Josh Maja is the most clinical player in League One and he will be looking to continue his impressive strike rate, currently at 16, so it will be an enthralling encounter.
I think Sunderland have the advantage in terms of squad depth and overall quality so would expect them to win this but with Charlton’s home form so good it may be one of the Black Cats toughest tests on the road this season.
In League Two, the two form sides meet as Carlisle host Mansfield – how entertaining could this one be and can you call it?
Mansfield all the way for me. Carlisle are on a fantastic run but the Stags are a side with quality, form and strength in depth on their side which is something the Cumbrians lack.
The loss of Jerry Yates, who returned to Rotherham after the Championship club recalled him from his loan spell, is a big loss. Carlisle will be dangerous on the break and have played some of the best counter-attacking football in League Two over the Christmas period so it will not all be Mansfield’s way.
However, David Flitcroft has turned his side into one that just does not lose and in fact Mansfield are the only side not to have lost on the road in all the 92 league clubs this season, after Liverpool’s loss at Man City.
Crewe’s woeful away form continues to be an issue – can you see them getting anything at Morecambe this weekend?
Yes, there is no denying that the away result have to improve. Just the solitary victory has left them bogged in mid-table yet recent wins over both Lincoln and Stevenage show that they are capable of mixing it up with some of the division’s better sides.
Morecambe rely on home form to keep them in League Two and they have only lost once at the Globe in the last five games. The problem for Jim Bentley is that he can never be sure which side will turn up. The one that despatched Cambridge 3-0 or the one that lost to Carlisle.
Morecambe will be out for revenge after their 6-0 humiliation at Gresty Road on the opening day of the season so I see the Shrimps coming out on top in this one but League Two is predictably hard to predict.
Crawley Town won a game at long last on New Year’s Day against Colchester, but how much pressure is Gabriele Cioffi still under?
It can’t be particularly comfortable being Mr Cioffi right now but I don’t see the club hierarchy panicking or making a rash decision to remove the Italian.
It is true that things have not been good recently with only one win in the last six games and it is the away form that is a particular problem. Only Notts County and the aforementioned Crewe have a worse record on the road in League Two this season which has contributed to the club falling quickly down the table.
It will be a difficult afternoon for them against an inform Cheltenham side but there are other managers in the division that will probably be feeling the pressure slightly more than the Crawley boss.
Macclesfield Town have shown some promising signs under Sol Campbell – what have you seen that’s given the Silkmen a bit of hope?
A defensive resolve boosted by the experience of Nathan Cameron has been a big help to the previously leaky Silkmen back line. They have only conceded five goals in the last eight games compared to 18 in the eight prior to this run.
That has given the front players a chance with the odd goal being enough to win them three of the last eight and pick up points in six of them.
The return from injury of Elliot Durrell and the goals of Scott Wilson have also helped improve the form of a club with one of the smallest budgets in the league.
They will need to do more if they are to get out of trouble and Sol Campbell will have some decent contacts to get players in on loan you feel. If Macclesfield stay up it should be considered a major achievement considering the constraints they face and will vindicate the owners of their decision to give Campbell his shot at management.
Finally, Notts County face Colchester as their issues rumble on. Bottom of the league but far from adrift, can Neal Ardley get them turned around?
If anyone can then it is going to be Ardley. He has a mammoth task though and there are some worrying parallels between the Magpies form and that of Chesterfield last season.
Reinforcements, particularly at the back and in defensive midfield, are needed but there are already signs of improvement. They bossed the game against the high flying Shakers according to Bury writer Peter Taylor and they will take encouragement from that but until their inability to defend is sorted this Notts County team are going to continue to have problems.
I am backing them to stay up as I am a big believer in Neal Ardley’s ability but I expect it to be a close run thing.