It`s that magical time of year again when the unconventional, the sensational and sometimes absurd are all brought together on a weekend that serves as a belated Christmas present for all sports journalists. That`s right it`s the first Saturday of the New Year which can only mean it`s F.A. Cup weekend.
It`s a wonderful weekend of football that serves as an excellent demonstration of what the English game is all about.
Rovers have been given an awkward and challenging tie away at Goodison Park against Everton.
Everton have been in steady form of late and sit in 8th place. After a storming start to the season their form was dwindled at times, largely through a lack of goals.
Rovers approach the game on the back of their best run of results this season. Confidence is high at Ewood again and the doctor`s room is beginning to look empty after resembling a Geordie surgery in recent weeks. Hughes has more players to choose from and a group high on confidence.
This could be Lucas Neill`s last game for Rovers after intense interest in him since the transfer window re-opened. He is likely to captain the side against his future bitter rivals.
Both sides will view the competition as another route into Europe and an opportunity to win some silverware and for that reason both teams will be eager to win.
Mark Hughes on form: “We’ve had a very good Christmas period once again, similar to last year and we are hoping obviously to keep it going now.“
Mark Hughes on Everton: “They have a good solid defensive base this year, Yobo, Valente at left back, Phil Neville gives them great experience and Lescott has come in and done well in his first season, so they look nice and solid at the back, difficult to break down and they’ve got threats up front as well with Johnson and Beattie or whichever permutation they go with.“
Everton Team News:
David Moyes welcomes back a number of players into his squad, which will come as a major boost as three other first team players are struggling. James Beattie (calf), Mikel Arteta (ankle) and Nuno Valente (hamstring) are all struggling.
He has been boosted by the return to action of Alan Stubbs and more crucially Tim Cahill. Victor Anichebe is likely to start after being dropped last time out.
Everton from: Howard, Neville, Yobo, Stubbs, Lescott, Weir, Naysmith, Valente, Osman, Carsley, Davies, Arteta, Van der Meyde, McFadden, Johnson, Beattie, Vaughan, Wright, Stubbs, Anichebe.
Player to watch: Tim Cahill
There are a number of dangermen that Rovers need to look out for but Cahill will be the biggest threat if he is deemed to be fit.
He won Everton a point at Ewood earlier in the season with a late poachers goal. He has an incredible knack of being in the right place at the right time and has exceptional ability that allows him to make the most of such opportunities. With the likely absence of Arteta Everton will look to Cahill to provide their creative edge.
Blackburn Rovers Team News:
Mark Hughes has no fresh injury concerns and is expected to make a couple of changes. Tugay is likely to replace Aaron Mokoena in the midfield and with Shabani Nonda struggling Matt Derbyshire could start up front after an impressive second half display against Wigan.
Ryan Nelsen, Steven Reid and Jason Roberts are all nearing a return to full fitness.
Rovers from: Friedel, Brown, Todd, Ooijer, Gray, Emerton, Savage, Tugay, Pedersen, Bentley, Nonda, McCarthy, Brown, Derbyshire, Mokoena, Henchoz, Peter, Khizanishvili.
Player to watch: Matt Derbyshire
This could be a big chance for the young Rovers fan. Nonda is struggling so Derbyshire may start alongside Benni McCarthy. Derbyshire has demonstrated he has a predatory instinct and pace, which could be useful for exposing the Everton defence. Derbyshire opened his account for the season against Wigan and his confidence will be high.
Match Facts & Stats
Between them, Rovers and Everton have lifted the prestigious F. A. Cup 11 times.
Rovers and Everton have met nine times in this competition with Everton coming out on top in seven of those encounters.
Rovers have only been knocked at the third round stage once in the last ten years.
The last time Everton were knocked out at this hurdle they were humbled by lowly Shrewsbury. That was back in 2003.
The last time Rovers reached the F. A. Cup final was in 1960, losing to Wolves 3-0.
The last time that Everton reached the final was twenty-one years ago when they were beaten 3-1 by Liverpool.
Alan Wiley will referee this game.
This will be a closely fought contest that could go either way. Both teams will be eager to ensure a reply doesn`t ensue, particularly Rovers who have a pressing fixture list in 2007.
For that reason both sides should play an aggressive game, which could produce plentiful goals. From a Rovers perspective it will be important to catch Everton on the break but to achieve this Benni McCarthy will have to buck a trend and stay onside. He has been given offside more times than any other player in the Premiership this season.
At the other end the pace of Andy Johnson and Victor Anichebe will cause Rovers` slow defence problems.
If Rovers can open the scoring then they will have every chance of progressing to the fourth round. It`ll be a big day for Matt Derbyshire. 2-1 Rovers.
Arsenal are next up for Rovers. They travel to Ewood Park on the 13th January 2007 for a 15:00 kick off.