Now entering the final phases of the competition, the FA Cup’s Sixth Round has thrown up its usual dose of enticing fixtures ranging from Premier League pedigree to possibly still League One standard.
Although some Fifth Round winners are yet to be decided, that won’t stop us from using our powers of premonition to determine just who has the best chances of making their way to an FA Cup semifinal.
With that in mind, let’s discuss just who will see their tournament dream continue and whose hopes of silverware are set to come crashing down so close to the finish line.
The lowest positioned side left in the English competition, Oldham’s Fifth Round meeting with Everton over the weekend will have felt like a final in itself.
That said, it was a last gasp Matt Smith equaliser that ensured they’ve got to do it all again later on in February following their 2-2 result at Boundary Park, a replay the Daily Mail alleges will bring the club £500,000.
However, even if the Latics manage to make their way past David Moyes’ men, another Premier League opponent is waiting in the wings to ease them out of the running after Wigan booked their place in the Sixth Round.
Roberto Martinez’s men have treated their FA Cup campaign with decent respect but fielded a weakened side in their 4-1 victory over Championship outfit Huddersfield and clearly have one eye firmly fixed on their fight for Premier League survival.
With that being the case, there’s a lot to be said for the squad players that get these rare opportunities, and should it be Oldham that make their way to the next phase of the competition, it’s Wigan that can undoubtedly triumph as the superior Latics.
Conversely, if it’s Everton that proceed past Oldham and book a spot in the next round at home to Wigan, you can bet that superior league position will ensure the Toffees have the available resources to see off their Premier League opponents.
After seeing Leeds United out of the running in emphatic fashion this weekend, Manchester City certainly showed that while their league campaign isn’t going as desired, the allure of FA Cup success is proving an enjoyable distraction for the English champions.
Although Barnsley’s route to the Sixth Round hasn’t been an easy one, they’ll be meeting their first Premier League opposition in the coming phase of this season’s contest, and what a baptism through fire it will be.
With the squad resources their riches have built up over recent years, it’s highly likely that City will have more than enough to overcome their Championship rivals.
David Flitcroft’s men did well to outdo MK Dons 3-1 over the weekend, but with a battle for relegation on his hands, it will be interesting to see if the Barnsley boss fields a full-strength side against the Citizens rather than devoting assets elsewhere.
On paper, Roberto Mancini’s side are yet to meet a club positioned lower than Barnsley in the English ranks and considering their monumental gap in quality, Manchester City are sure to ease their way to an FA Cup semi-final spot.
Probably the most attractive fixtures of the FA Cup’s Sixth Round is also one that has neither participant decided as of yet with Manchester United, Reading, Middlesbrough and Chelsea all still embroiled in their Fifth Round encounters.
As far as the neutral fan goes, many will be hoping to see a Manchester United vs. Chelsea tie emerge, although it's disappointing that such a clash couldn’t happen later on.
Should that be the encounter that comes about, a Red Devils win would appear to be the smartest bet.
With 16 points separating the two teams in the English top flight, recent morale a relative symbol of the pair’s differing trajectories, and considering United already beat Chelsea once this season, you can bet that Sir Alex Ferguson’s record over Rafa Benitez will only continue.
What’s more, Middlesbrough would surely see a similar fate even if they were to stage a Fifth Round upset against Chelsea when they meet later on this month.
The Riverside outfit have the fifth worst defence in the Championship and will unfortunately be going up against the best attack in England, even if the likes of Javier Hernandez or Danny Welbeck were to be given increased responsibility.
In the off-chance that Reading pull off an underdog win over Manchester United, an improving Premier League record might just provide the Berkshire club with the means to continue their FA Cup journey.
Only recently did Brian McDermott’s side grab a 2-2 draw against Chelsea, and you can rest assured that the obstacle of Boro or the Blues will see the Hoops call upon their strongest squad.
If that’s the case, Chelsea’s inconsistent form might see them struggle against their domestic rivals and it’s unlikely that Middlesbrough will fare much better.
After a period of great managerial uncertainty, Michael Appleton’s role as the club’s boss looks to finally be bringing some stability to Blackburn Rovers as the former Blackpool continues to rake in the results.
The Lancashire club’s 1-0 FA Cup Fifth Round victory over Arsenal was the latest in a six-match unbeaten streak for the club, who seem far happier under their newest helmsman.
Alternatively, Kenny Jackett’s Millwall are in an entirely opposite vein of form and, while once challenging for a Championship playoff spot, are now simmering unhappily below mid-table.
In all honesty, the Lions’ run to the Sixth Round has come far more easily than Rovers’ and morale is undoubtedly running in Appleton’s favour.
Much like the FA Cup, England’s second tier has a constant sense of uncertainty about it, and despite Blackburn’s two-point advantage as far as the table goes, either side could win depending on just who turns up on the day.
However, the main concern for Millwall here is the downward slump they’re going through compared to Blackburn’s near meteoric rise, which will ultimately see them emerge from the Lions’ Den as victors.