Manchester City and Chelsea are both out of the competition, so too are Southampton, Tottenham and Swansea. With Manchester United and Liverpool both needing to negotiate replays before their place in the next round is certain, the highest Premier League team assured of their FA Cup place is Crystal Palace in 13th.
So, for teams like Stoke, who travel to Rochdale for their fifth round tie, the possibility of reaching the tournament’s final, and perhaps glory, is all of a sudden a very real one.
Of course it wasn’t so long ago that Potters fans had the excitement of an FA Cup trip to Wembley to look forward to, reaching the showpiece match in the 2010/11 season and narrowly losing out to the odd goal to City.
Before Stoke supporters can get too carried away on another fairytale ride though, their side must ensure they are not the latest topflight team to succumb in what has been an epic giant-killing weekend in the competition.
In order to do that Mark Hughes’ men must look to strike first, and early, in order to settle any nerves and remind their League One opponents how tough the task that faces them is.
Flag bearer of the first goal is likely to be Peter Crouch, despite a relatively modest goal return from the beanpole striker this season.
The former Liverpool man has five strikes in 24 all-competitions this season and has been boosted to score the first goal of the game at Spotland Stadium by Ladbrokes, from 4/1 to 11/2.
Crouch has netted the first goal of the game twice so far this season, both time in the Premier League, but will be encouraged in his bid to grab another in the fact that Rochdale have shipped the game’s opener in over half of their 25 outings in League One.
All Odds and Markets are correct as of the date of publishing.
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