Top clubs face FA Cup jeopardy

January 25, 2008

LONDON, Jan 25 (Reuters) - Despite all the talk of the Premier League being vastly superior to the divisions beneath it, just three of England's elite clubs could be left standing in the FA Cup after this weekend's fourth round ties.

With nine of the 20 Premier League sides already eliminated after falling in the third round earlier this month, the stage is set for lower division clubs to cause some more upsets.

Only three top flight clubs are guaranteed to survive as they are playing in all-Premier League ties.

Arsenal meet Newcastle United at the Emirates Stadium, Wigan Athletic host FA Cup holders Chelsea while either 11-times record FA Cup winners Manchester United or Tottenham Hotspur will also represent the top flight in the last 16.

Five others face lower division opposition although Havant & Waterlooville, from the sixth tier of the English League pyramid, would have to produce the greatest shock in the history of the competition if they were to knock out Liverpool at Anfield.

However, Derby County, the bottom side in the top flight, could struggle at home to Championship side Preston North End, while Middlesbrough could be embarrassed at lowly League Two (fourth division) Mansfield Town.

Portsmouth should beat Championship side Plymouth Argyle at home, but Sheffield United, who were relegated from the top flight last season and won 1-0 at Bolton Wanderers in the third round, could claim their second Premier League victim if they beat Manchester City at Bramall Lane.

Chelsea travel to Wigan, where they have already won 2-0 this season, in high spirits after winning their seventh successive match in all competitions - a 1-0 win at Everton in the second leg of their League Cup semi-final on Wednesday to reach the final against Spurs.

Manchester United, beaten by Chelsea in last year's final, are likely to prove too strong for Spurs at Old Trafford on Sunday, although Tottenham will still be on a high after crushing Arsenal 5-1 on Tuesday to reach next month's League Cup final.

Arsenal will be determined to bounce back from their humiliating loss at White Hart Lane and should account for a Newcastle United side who began life afresh under new manager Kevin Keegan last week with an uninspiring 0-0 draw with Bolton.

Liverpool are also unlikely to slip up against Havant & Waterlooville, who knocked out League One (third division) leaders Swnasea City in the last round.

Eight other ties are taking place without the involvement of a Premier League team with League Two Hereford United, famous giant-killers of Newcastle in 1972, dreaming of reaching the fifth round at the expense of Championship side Cardiff City.