By Rob Atkinson
It's interesting to note that this game, described accurately by Rochdale chairman Chris Dunphy as "the perfect cup tie", will not be broadcast live to a TV audience hungry for upsets, thrills and spills, the whole "Romance of the Cup" thing. Why? Well, for one thing, room had to be made to continue a run of live TV FA Cup appearances for a certain Man U as they face a routine home tie against Swansea City, just before meeting the same opponents at home in the league - which will also be televised. The TV moguls appear to be convinced that all we want is their darlings in red and, however routine and run-of-the-mill a cup tie involving them may seem, it WILL be shown. This is the latest in a consecutive series of Man U games in the FA Cup on TV going back to 2005. It's a quite incredible and utterly bizarre - some will say scandalous - statistic. But I digress.
Going back to the likeable Mr Dunphy, he mentions that he can remember another cup tie at home to Leeds almost 37 years ago, when United won 3-0 at Spotland on the way to a League Cup semi-final. Dunphy sponsored the match ball that night, costing him £30, which he remembers as being "well worth it", as he got to keep the ball. Not discouraged by that mauling (the United scorers were Jordan, Cherry and Harris, internationals all), Chris Dunphy looks upon this weekend's meeting of the two clubs as a possible classic. “If you talk about the romance of the FA Cup, this is the perfect cup tie,” he said. “A bottom tier team at home to Leeds United, it has all the makings of an upset." Given our recent patchy form, and our history of finding Cup banana skins upon which to slip up, the man could well be right.
There are likely to be changes in the Leeds team that has laboured ponderously without achieving much in the last few league games. It would be no great surprise to see Ross McCormack rested, at least to the bench, while some of the striking options from the shadowy fringes of the squad could emerge into the daylight with a chance to show they can do it. There may well be other changes, too. It's hard to see that the Leeds fans could complain too much about such enlightened selection policy - we all know where our priorities truly are.
Rochdale manager Keith Hill has some Leeds United blood on his hands from his previous incarnation as manager of Whites' nemesis Barnsley, so he knows what it takes to overturn a nominally superior squad. Naturally, he concedes that his group of players will have their work cut out, from a position on the league ladder 45 places below United's relatively lofty Championship status - but you get the feeling he's relishing the challenge.
It's really very difficult to predict team line-ups with any degree of accuracy, save to say that there should be some "freshening up" of the Leeds side while a few weary battlers get a rest. Rochdale, impressive at home this season, are off the back of a heavy New Years Day defeat to Scunthorpe and face higher class opposition - so perhaps as far as possible those players who lost 0-3 at Scunny will be given the chance to redeem themselves. Leeds will certainly not be able to take this tie lightly - it most definitely does have the whiff of an upset about it, and the FA Cup is the most reliable competition around for producing those shocks - as we all remember from 4 years ago this January 3rd.
I will hazard a long-range forecast and predict that Rochdale may earn themselves a replay at Elland Road. I will also be keeping my fingers crossed that it's not worse than that - although the Cup hardly figures high on the Leeds list while we continue to struggle for elevation to our rightful top-flight level. I still remember the curious lack of pain at defeat by Newcastle in the League Cup earlier this term and, while going out to a League 2 side wouldn't be nice, we've experienced worse at Histon.
I'm sticking by my forecast of a draw, probably 1-1. We could even have a massively unlikely goalscorer - anyone remember Noel Hunt??