Football

Published: Thursday January 23, 2014 MYT 10:37:02 AM
Updated: Thursday January 23, 2014 MYT 10:37:02 AM

Watford next to challenge City's quadruple quest

LONDON (Reuters) - Manchester City will launch their imposing strike force against Watford in the FA Cup on Saturday and challenge the struggling Championship club to end their dreams of an unprecedented quadruple.

City have scored 106 goals this season to advance on four fronts, and their latest test arrives in the fourth round of the game's oldest cup competition.

Premier League giants Arsenal, Chelsea and Liverpool are also in action this weekend, when Bournemouth will be aiming to replicate their 1984 FA Cup heroics, holders Wigan Athletic host Crystal Palace and Kidderminster Harriers - the only non-league club in the last 32 - travel to 1973 winners Sunderland.

City have generated ominous momentum this season, shrugging off early defeats by Bayern Munich in the Champions League and Chelsea in the league to put together a run of 18 games unbeaten - 16 of them victories.

They are second in the Premier League, one point behind Arsenal, into the knockout phase of the Champions League - where they face Barcelona - and can look forward to one Wembley occasion, the League Cup final.

Watford's credentials are not as impressive.

They have won three of their last 18 games, the latest a 2-0 victory over third-tier Bristol City at home which set up their trip to Manchester.

In that spell they have scored 19 times and lost seven games and one manager in Gianfranco Zola who guided them to a Championship playoff final defeat last season but who resigned in December.

His successor, Italian Giuseppe Sannino, in his 15th managerial appointment from 14 clubs has hardly revived the Hornets. Watford, 15th in the division, are two places lower than when Zola departed.

As such, their sights will be set low - perhaps only to better the result when the teams met in the FA Cup third round 12 months ago, when City won 3-0. That day, 6,000 Watford fans made the journey to Manchester; this time the figure is likely to be no more than 2,500.

UNITED SHOCK

Bournemouth, one place below Watford in the Championship, at least have a home tie to relish - a televised match on Saturday against seven-times winners Liverpool.

The south-coast club will need to evoke the spirit of '84, when as a third-tier side managed by Harry Redknapp they beat holders Manchester United 2-0 in one of the biggest shocks in the competition's history.

The opening goal at Dean Court that day was scored by Milton Graham, now a supervisor for an energy management company near Leicester. He told the Bournemouth Echo newspaper on Wednesday: "People still talk to me about the United game, and it was more than 30 years ago. That tells you how much of a shock it was.

"My advice to the (current) Bournemouth players would be to make sure they enjoy the day and don't go on to the pitch with any fear. It will fly by and they need to make the most of it."

Liverpool will be without Brazilian midfielder Lucas, who damaged knee ligaments during last Saturday's 2-2 draw with Aston Villa.

Kidderminster, of the Conference, meet Sunderland at the Stadium of Light on Saturday with dreams of a previous giant-killing run on their minds, when they reached the fifth round in 1994 with wins over Birmingham City and Preston North End.

The Harriers had an average attendance of 2,200 last season but are set to take at least 4,000 fans to the north-east, and hope to earn approximately 250,000 pounds from gate receipts, a critical sum for a club that was in financial peril in 2011.

"This has been a team effort," said chairman Mark Serrell. "The players and management have done very well to get us this far (in the competition), but everyone has rallied to help us."

Arsenal host third-tier Coventry on Friday and Nottingham Forest play Preston - the two clubs first met in the FA Cup in 1892, when Forest won 2-0.

Stevenage Borough, bottom of League One, welcome Everton to Broadhall Way on Saturday hoping to produce the sort of performance that claimed the scalp of Newcastle United in the third round three years ago.

Chelsea's match with Stoke at Stamford Bridge on Sunday is the last of the fourth-round fixtures, when Jose Mourinho will expect his treble-chasing team to avoid a repeat of their 3-2 defeat by Mark Hughes's side in the Premier League in December.

(Editing by Ed Osmond) nL5N0KW3RY

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