Football Features

Five potential FA Cup giant-killings and banana skins to look out for this week

By James Amey

Published: 15:51, 4 January 2024

The FA Cup third round takes centre stage this week as Premier League sides enter the competition. 

It’s that time of year again when the top teams begin their FA Cup campaigns dreaming of a day out at Wembley in May and lifting the famous trophy aloft in front of their adoring fans. But for every success story, there also the sides that see their hopes dashed early on the competition, some by teams on their level and some by sides from the lower leagues.

These are the games that the lesser sides enter the competition for. The giant killing, the match that people talk about for years to come, the moment someone makes themselves a hero – the magic of the FA Cup. From Luton becoming the first non-league side to knock a top-flight opponent out of the FA Cup in 24 years with a 1-0 away win against Norwich in 2013 to Bradford coming from 2-0 down to win 4-2 at Stamford Bridge in 2015 and inflict a rare home defeat for Jose Mourinho, this is what the competition is famous for.

This year will be no different and with that in mind, we’ve taken a look at some possible giant killings and possible banana skins in the third round of the competition in 2024.

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Middlesbrough vs Aston Villa


*Odds correct as of 07:40 on January 4th

Despite an incredible start to life in the Midlands for Unai Emery, picking up more home points than any other Premier League side in 2023 and currently sitting second in the table just three points behind leaders Liverpool, it’s domestic cup competitions that have been his Achilles heal. The Spaniard has lost all three domestic cup games as Aston Villa manager, including last season’s FA Cup third-round tie against Stevenage and has carried on the curse that has seen the Villans lose nine of their last 10 FA Cup ties and exit in the third round in each of the past seven seasons.

They face a Middlesbrough side that have already booked their place in the EFL Cup semi-finals having not played a single match at home and a team that are no strangers to knocking the big boys out of the FA Cup. Just two seasons back, they reached the quarter-final stage, taking the scalps of ‘Big Six’ sides Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur along the way before eventually falling to Chelsea and will be hoping to do it all again this time around.

Gillingham vs Sheffield United

Having already been knocked out of the EFL Cup on penalties by League One side Lincoln City and Premier League safety the priority this season, you can forgive Sheffield United if they don’t give the FA Cup their full attention. They face a tricky away tie at a Gillingham side that have already knocked Southampton and Charlton out of cup competitions this season and pushed fellow Premier League new boys Luton all the way at Kenilworth Road.

The Blades are yet to win away from home so far this season, losing eight and drawing two of their 10 matches on the road, scoring fewer (5) and conceding more (25) than any other Premier League side during away matches this term. And with a full house, the home crowd may be able to get Gillingham over the line.

Sunderland vs Newcastle


*Odds correct as of 07:00 on January 4th

Sunderland and Newcastle fans must have thought that Christmas had come early when the draw for the third round was made, as they prepare to go head-to-head for the first time since March 2016 when they played out a 1-1 draw at St. James’ Park. Sunderland’s defeat in the play-off semi-finals to Luton last season looked set to end the chances of a Tyne-Wear derby in 2023/24, but the footballing gods decided it was about time this fixture returned.

Eddie Howe’s side travel to face their rivals in poor form having lost seven of their last eight games across all competitions and on the back of a 4-2 defeat to Liverpool where they conceded the highest xG in a Premier League game on record (7.27).  This is Sunderland’s chance to strike while confidence is low in the Newcastle camp and continue their impressive recent form against their rivals.

Even though this fixture hasn’t been played for nearly eight years, a win here would not only mean that Sunderland extend their unbeaten run against Newcastle to 10 games, but also be the fourth team in the last four seasons to knock them out of the competition in the third round.

Relishing playing this Newcastle defence that has been giving up chances for fun will be their top goalscorer Jack Clarke, who has scored 12 goals in his 26 league appearances so far this season, including two in his last three.

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Watford vs Chesterfield

The 2023/24 campaign has been hit and miss so far for Watford, winning nine, drawing nine and losing eight of their 26 league matches, not knowing what side you are going to get from one week to the next. At home they have also struggled recently, picking up just two points from a possible 12 at Vicarage Road in December.

They welcome a high-flying Chesterfield side this weekend, who currently sit on top of the National League table, seven points clear of their closest rivals Bromley in second and with two games in hand. Having already knocked out League One sides Leyton Orient and current league leaders Portsmouth in the earlier rounds, they will be looking to make it a hat-trick of scalps and make it into round four for just the second time in the last 26 years.

Wigan vs Man Utd


*Odds correct as of 07:00 on January 8

It’s been a season of ups and downs and unwanted records for Erik ten Hag and his Manchester United side and Wigan away has the markings of another. It’s been 10 years since the Red Devils were last knocked out at this stage of the competition (a 2-1 defeat to Swansea) and 14 years since Jermaine Beckford’s strike gave a then League One side Leeds United a famous 1-0 win at Old Trafford in round three, but that may all be about to change.

Having already provided one of the biggest upsets in FA Cup final history when they beat Man City back in 2013, they will be hoping for another scalp but this time with the red side of the city.