Paul Smith

With the quarter-final ties of the FA Cup upon us, and many big names out of the competition, it’s time to take a look at this weekend’s matches:

Portsmouth vs Birmingham City
(Saturday 6th March, 12:30 GMT)

With the financial crisis engulfing Portsmouth continuing at pace off the pitch, on the pitch the FA Cup represents some silver lining amongst other wise grey, cloudy skies.  Despite the recent turmoil at the south coast club, the 2008 winners are just 90 minutes from another appearance at the national stadium. Pompey have defeated Coventry City, Sunderland and bitter rivals Southampton to reach the quarter-finals.

Birmingham City, beaten FA Cup finalists on two occasions, are closing in on a third final appearance. The Blues’ superb league form has also transferred itself to the FA Cup as they have negotiated the hurdles of Nottingham Forest, Everton and Derby County to reach this stage. Unluckily for the Midlands club they have been drawn away in every single round, with a replay against Nottingham Forest their only home appearance so far.

The Pompey faithful will be desperate to see their team progress to another Wembley appearance as their club’s inevitable relegation to the Championship looms ever closer. Alex McLeish will need to prepare his side for a hostile atmosphere; defeat for the Hampshire outfit will leave the Portsmouth supporters with very little to look forward to between now and the end of the season. Neither side has impressed in front of goal this campaign but Birmingham’s defensive record is second to none and this could prove to be the difference between the two sides.


Fulham vs Tottenham Hotspur

(Saturday 6th March, 17:20 GMT)

Fulham’s fixture with Tottenham Hotspur represents the first time the Cottagers have faced Premier League opposition in this season’s competition. Previously the Londoners have knocked out Swindon Town, Accrington Stanley and Notts County. The one time FA Cup finalists reached the quarter-final stage last season but were defeated 4-0 by a rampant Manchester United side, so they will hope to go one better this year and book a semi-final appearance at Wembley.

Tottenham Hotspur have a proud FA Cup tradition having been crowned winners on eight occasions, their last triumph coming in 1991 when they beat Nottingham Forest. En-route to this year’s quarter-finals they have seen off the challenge of Peterborough United, Leeds United and Bolton Wanderers.

Roy Hodgson will be wary of Roman Pavlyuchenko’s recent goal scoring form, but Fulham have their own in-form striker in Bobby Zamora playing against his former club. Fulham should be able to take confidence from some superb home results this season, the most recent being their 2-1 victory over UEFA Cup holders Shaktar Donetsk. On the other hand Tottenham have been playing brilliantly as they look to secure that lucrative fourth spot in the Premier League. Harry Redknapp will be confident he has the players and experience to replicate this 2008 triumph with Portsmouth. This one is too close to call.


Reading vs Aston Villa
(Sunday 7th March, 13:45 GMT)

The Berkshire side now stand on the brink of history. Since their formation in 1871, Reading have only ever reached the FA Cup semi-finals once, back in 1927 where they lost to eventual winners Cardiff City. During this current FA Cup run the Royals have already disposed of Premier League sides Liverpool and Burnley as well as top Championship side West Bromwich Albion, and they will hope to make Aston Villa their third top flight scalp.

Villa will be looking to bounce back from their Carling Cup final defeat to Manchester United by booking another trip to Wembley. This is the Villain’s first appearance in the FA Cup quarter-finals since their last run to the final in 2000 where they were defeated by Chelsea, so an FA Cup triumph is long overdue for the West Midlands side, with their last success coming all the way back in 1957. The Premier League side’s journey to the quarter-finals has seen them overcome Blackburn Rovers, Brighton and Hove Albion and Crystal Palace.

After visiting Anfield and knocking Liverpool out of the FA Cup Reading should have no fear in playing an Aston Villa side chasing Champions League qualification. Likewise after requiring a replay to overcome Crystal Palace in the last round the Villains will pay the Championship side the respect they deserve. Reading are likely to attack as the home side, but this could play into Villa’s hands due to their counter attacking style. The Royals have performed admirably in this season’s FA Cup and have arguably been the team of the competition so far, but Villa’s experience should see the side from the second city progress to another Wembley appearance.


Chelsea vs Stoke City
(Sunday 7th March, 16:00 GMT)

The FA Cup may lie third in priority behind the Premier League and the Champions League as the Blues continue to compete on three fronts, but it is certain the London outfit will do everything they can to retain their FA Cup crown. The holders have defeated three Championship sides so far, Watford, Preston North End and Cardiff City, and now face Premier League opposition.

Stoke City have never won the FA Cup and have only reached the semi-final on one occasion back in 1899 when they were defeated by Midlands rivals Derby County. In this season’s FA Cup run the Potters have knocked out Arsenal and Manchester City and they now have another of the Premier League’s big boys in their sights. Stoke City’s physical, direct style of play will be certain to ask testing questions of a Chelsea defence that has shown moments of fragility this season. Backed by raucous away support in the Shed End Stoke will be confident they can cause another shock.

The Stamford Bridge outfit require their captain John Terry to be on top of his game in this fixture. Recent allegations about his private life have led to momentary lapses of concentration on the pitch and Terry will need to be at this commanding best in order to thwart Stoke’s direct style. The Staffordshire side will need to take any clear cut chances they create but they have struggled to score goals on a regular basis this season, their record in the Premier League is 27 goals in 27 games and this could prove to be their downfall against a more clinical Chelsea side.

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