FA Cup 5th Round: SHEFFIELD Wednesday manager Gary Megson wants to help keep the magic of the FA Cup alive by steering the club into the quarter-finals for the first time in 14 years.
The Owls, who are Yorkshire’s last remaining representatives in the competition, visit Premier League side Birmingham City today with Megson under no illusions about the size of the task.
Wthout a victory in nine league games, the Owls have been sliding towards the League One relegation zone. Birmingham, in stark contrast, have won four out of their last six games and reached the final of next weekend’s Carling Cup.
The odds are undoubtedly stacked against Megson’s men but Birmingham manager Alex McLeish is planning to rest several players, which could offer a ray of hope.
Megson, whose father Don led the Owls in the 1966 FA Cup final against Everton, feels his side are under ‘no pressure’ this afternoon and says a shock victory would bring a massive boost to morale
“If we could get a result at St Andrews, it would be huge in terms of confidence,” Megson told the Yorkshire Post. “We have to use this game as an opportunity to get a good result, establish a bit of momentum, and to put into practice the things we are trying to instill in the players.
“This will probably be the only time this season when the expectation isn’t on us to win,” he said. “It will be a lot harder because it’s a Premiershp team but we have got to forget about that and try to take the game to them.
“The FA Cup has lost a bit of its magic because the top four or five clubs now have the Champions League but, as you get nearer to the semi-finals and the final, it seems just as magical as before.”
The Owls last played at Wembley 18 years ago and are in the fifth round for the first time since 2000 when they lost to Gillingham. Today will be Megson’s fourth game in charge after he was chosen by chairman Milan Mandaric to replace sacked manager Alan Irvine.
McLeish will not be risking defenders Martin Jiranek and Liam Ridgewell who both picked up knocks in a midweek defeat by Newcastle United.
Megson, however, refuses to accept that McLeish will field a ‘weakened side’ despite the Midland club’s imminent date at Wembley against Arsenal which offers a passport to European football next season.
“I don’t think Alex will rest players, I think he will put a strong side out in the hope of getting a decent lead and then rest his players,” said Megson.
“Whatever team he picks, we can’t afford to relax. Up front, they have a choice of Obafemi Martins, Nikola Zigic and Cameron Jerome.
“They have good players all over the show – Matt Derbyshire, Lee Bowyer, Barry Ferguson, Craig Gardner – quality all the way through.
“If we sit back, we will get done but, hopefully, we can catch them on a day when it is not going for them.”
Birmingham have lost just five league games at home in the last two seasons and the atmosphere at St Andrews is a major asset to the club.
Megson, however, is one of the few managers who has tasted victory there – enjoying a 2-1 victory with Bolton Wanderers in September 2009.
“It can be done but you have got to play well and you have really got to go for it,” he said. “Grounds like St Andrews are great but they are not as good as the one we play on at Hillsborough.
“The Blues also have terrific support but, if we were in the same position, we would double it.”
Blues manager McLeish wants any fringe players who do come into his side today to push their case for inclusion at Wembley.
“I’ve got to pick a team I think will win the cup and it’s up for grabs, places are up for grabs,” he said. “That will provide an edge for players coming into the side but there is great pride in this squad, regardless of the fact the Carling Cup final is being played next week.”
McLeish made nine changes from his first-choice line-up for the fourth-round victory over Coventry and admits that recent fixtures have drained his players of energy.
“Some of them the other night against Newcastle were sluggish and a bit flat,” he said.
“Mentally and physically we’ve been through a lot in the last month. We’ve had tough away games. But we still take the FA Cup very seriously. It is a home game. We are obliged to do it for our fans.
“They are paying good money to come to St Andrews and you couldn’t ask for better, getting a home tie in the FA Cup, and we want to take advantage of that.
“It is against a huge club in Sheffield Wednesday, Gary Megson has taken over, and they will be looking for a scalp.
“It is what the romance of the FA Cup is all about – but we don’t want to spoil the fact we’ve got home advantage. We want to go through and we will be putting out quality players.”
The Owls entered this season’s FA Cup at the first-round stage and have beaten Southport, Northampton, Bristol City and Hereford to get to this stage.