Who knows what team Steve Bruce will pick? Who knows how seriously he and the players will take this game? Who knows whether we’ll make the fifth round of the FA Cup? Who knows if we will actually deserve to do so?
Bruce knows the answer to the first one, or at least, he probably will, at the time of writing. As for the rest of it, well your guess is as good as anybody’s.
That the Tigers are still in the FA Cup is a bit fortunate, given that twice we needed to score goals of a lateness bordering on the cruel in order to stop Leyton Orient a) winning and then b) getting a penalty shoot out on their turf. City lumbered and wobbled through 210 minutes of uninspiring football before finally dispensing with the side from a division below who should, if anyone involved had been even remotely bothered, have been dispatched with a clap across the forehead at the KC back on January 5th.
It’s not as if the draw for the fourth round gave Bruce or his players anything great to look forward to; but it did us. Barnsley at home, a fixture we’ve already had this season in the Championship, won’t inspire every season pass holder to part with an extra tenner this weekend but at least the Tiger Nation maintain some excitement and romance for the competition, and the prospect of a right good draw in the the last 16 is real thanks to this fixture. For the players, however, it’s a meagre game and they should only need professionalism to win it.
Bruce played in three FA Cup finals for Manchester United, winning two of them and getting crocked early on in the other, which ultimately ended in defeat. Watch the footage of his successes at Wembley in 1990 and 1994 and you’ll see real joy on his face at being a victor. You’d like to think he’d want his current crop of players, and the fans that follow the club that pays him good money, to have a bit of that. It sounds daft, but a win over Barnsley leaves City a minimum of three games away from the final, and Bradford City are waving at us and other Yorkshire clubs from the middle of the M62 as they continue to take orders for replica shirts with ‘Wembley 2013′ writ thereon. Improbable, implausible. Not impossible.
City did the bare minimum to beat the Tykes 1-0 back in November with a goal from Sone Aluko, who is now unavailable with an Achilles tendon injury, and won’t return until March. Bruce otherwise can pick from all other recent participants barring Paul McKenna, who today joined Fleetwood Town on loan for the rest of the season and won’t be seen in a City shirt again. His unfussy, calm contribution to last season will ensure he is remembered most fondly, though it was evident that a holding midfielder with time not on his side was of little use to a manager using a fluid 3-5-2 formation. Eldin Jakupović is back in goal as David Stockdale is cup-tied, but the eccentric custodian’s place is the only one we can confidently predict.
Barnsley, who beat Burnley in the third round at Oakwell, are without midfielder Stephen Dawson, who suffered an ankle injury last week, but will welcome back Jim O’Brien and Bobby Hassell.
These two, as we mentioned yesterday, have only met once before in the FA Cup, when City drew 1-1 in the third round of 1957/58 against a Barnsley side who were one division higher, prior to winning the replay at Oakwell. A replay at Oakwell this time would be most unwelcome but, well, that depends on whether the players and manager have it in them to take this game at the Circle seriously. It’s the FA Cup – we like it, despite it being unnecessarily cruel to us many times in living memory, so we’d quite like the club and team to do the same.
The last time we made the fifth round was as a Premier League club in 2009, when eventually we were robbed by Mike Riley at Arsenal in the quarter finals; but the last time we made the fifth round as a club outside the top flight was in 1989 and the famous day when Liverpool came to Boothferry Park and received a monumental scare, before winning. So a fifth round place in this situation is a rare beast for a large chunk of City fans.
The bookies have City at 7/10 to win, with the Tykes at 4/1 and the dreaded stalemate at 11/4. We have the talent within the squad to win this one, perhaps even with some comfort, but it’s the FA Cup, so will we do it?