Watching Spurs end Chelsea’s ridiculous winning run mid-week, surprisingly, did not fill me with dread before our FA Cup fixture. For me, it just confirmed that it is a perfect opportunity to start some young, fringe players and not play a full strength side.
One thing is for sure: we will not be lining up against a full strength Tottenham Hotspur side. Most, if not all, of those who we saw against Chelsea will be rested. Rather than trying to use this as a gateway to the fourth round, I believe it is best to give players on the outside looking in some minutes at White Hart Lane.
One man I expect to see playing is our new goalkeeper, Sam Johnstone. It will be very interesting to see how he fares between the sticks and whether or not he is now our best option in goal. I know a few fans will agree with me when I say that I think Gollini has been treated harshly by the club recently so I will look for consistency and confidence from Johnstone if he starts against Spurs.
This game would be perfect for someone such as Rushian Hepburn Murphy. However, the confusion surrounding his contract makes me doubt whether Bruce will use him. I would love to see him finally sign that contract, which sounds quite lucrative for such a young player according to reports, but I’m sure his agent will ensure that this saga drags on. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Gabby Agbonlahor play, even if he comes off the bench.
I am hoping that our players exploit the fans’ relatively low expectations and play with a bit of freedom. No-one expects us to get anything, least of all the fans, and that can be good for players who are often weighed down by such expectation. At this stage, we should focus on the league, as clichéd as that is, because our form is improving and the play-offs are still within our reach. Steve Bruce will know this and I hope he will be sensible and rest some players after the busy festive period.
As good as our FA Cup run a couple of years ago was, I doubt whether this year is the right time to put all of our resources into this competition. A tough first round draw, forty-six league games to play and tired legs all suggest that youth may be the way forward.
Whatever our line-up, let’s hope for a good performance and maybe even a bit of cup magic.