All the clichés about the romance of the FA Cup will be out in force on Sunday when Mansfield Town of the Conference host the mighty Liverpool in the genuine David versus Goliath tie of the third round.
The team placed ninth in the first tier of non-league football will try to cause the mother of all upsets against the seven-times winners of the competition, who will travel to the One Call Stadium wary that Mansfield have been enjoying their week in the spotlight and go into the game with absolutely nothing to lose and the potential to write themselves into football history.
You have probably noticed eccentric owner John Radford and his 30-year-old wife and club chief executive Carolyn lapping up the attention in the build-up (and if you haven’t, you might want to go and have a look at why Carolyn is getting so much attention) and the pair are doing a great job of building the profile of a club which has been in the doldrums for some years now.
With a new stadium planned and a great FA Cup run – even manager Paul Cox got married on Friday – things are looking up for Town and the Stags have been known to cause a giant killing or two in their time. But their most recent victory over a top-flight club was 44 years ago when as a Third Division side they beat West Ham 3-0 at Field Mill, and there seems to be very little chance of a repeat on Sunday.
Mansfield are 21/2 to progress and 19/4 to get a money-spinning replay at Anfield, while Liverpool are understandably strong 11/50 favourites and it is just a case of getting the value on an away win.
Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers will make wholesale changes to his side, with neither captain Steven Gerrard nor Luis Suarez likely to feature, but whatever side the Reds put out should be enough to see off a side 93 places below them in the football pyramid.
Rodgers will play a side akin to those chosen for many Europa League ties this season, and Liverpool have picked up results against opposition plenty better than Mansfield and as such an upset is inconceivable. Though in some decent form – taking nine points form their last 12 – the Stags are six points adrift of the Blue Square play-offs and every inch a mid-table side.
So even a much-changed Liverpool – which may include new £12 million signing Daniel Sturridge – will have no troubles beating such lowly opposition. The pitch at the One Call Stadium is in poor condition which is a leveller, so it may not be a landslide victory for Liverpool, but with five clean sheets in their last eight matches they should not be conceding a goal. As such, the 37/20 the Premier League side win 1-0, 2-0 or 3-0, as they have done in four of their last eight games, looks like a decent bet to me.