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League One

Andy Ritchie's Blog 23

23 January 2013

Cup fever has swept through my home town of Oldham this week and it has been wonderful to see the fans getting so excited. Liverpool are the visitors to Boundary Park on Sunday of course, and after seeing hundreds of Latics supporters queuing around the stadium (some from 4.30am) the other day, it's no surprise to learn that the game is an absolute sell-out.

Do my former club stand a chance? Stranger things have happened before, and Brendan Rodgers might give them a helping hand if he rests a few of his star men, but it's going to be extremely tough for Paul Dickov's men to pull off a shock result.

When I was a player in these parts during the 80's we enjoyed some amazing cup runs and experiences, and it's lovely to see the fuel being added to the fire again, but the cold, hard, bottom line is that a draw would be the best result for Oldham.

Thanks to the added gate receipts and TV revenue, the club would bring in much-needed cash at a time when everyone's still reeling from the recent redundancies of the backroom staff. Brentford possibly feel the same way ahead of their West London derby with Chelsea a couple of hours earlier on Sunday. Yes, a win would be amazing but the draw is the plum result for them.

Both matches are classic looking FA Cup ties, and it's great that the two npower League 1 boys are at home, too.

It's pretty snowy in this part of the world right now, but hopefully the match itself won't be in doubt. The club has already issued a plea for supporters to help out clearing the snow if need be, and I know they won't be short of willing volunteers.

The feature of last weekend's football for me was seeing fans and club officials mixing in to clear snow and get matches on - it was brilliant.

Paolo Di Canio excelled himself by shovelling snow off the pitch himself on Friday night and then buying pizza for everyone that helped, while at Notts County we also saw their chairman Ray Trew out there getting his hands dirty alongside the fans who had offered to help clear the pitch. That's really unusual so I take my hat off to you Ray!

It was fitting that both teams picked up excellent results too, with County holding high flying Sheffield United, and Swindon Town beating Shrewsbury Town.

Elsewhere, we saw this season's most comical moment at Walsall, when Bournemouth player Eunan O'Kane provided another of those viral videos we love to laugh at.

Eunan thought he'd heard a whistle and assumed Bournemouth had been given a free-kick, but there was no such whistle, so after coolly flicking the ball into his hands, the referee had no option but to give the Saddlers a spot kick. It made me chuckle but the expression on Eunan O'Kane's face was a picture.

Walsall's victory ended Bournemouth's 15-match unbeaten run in the league, and when you look at the other scalps Dean Smith's side have taken recently it perhaps isn't as big a shock as we first thought. Since beating Milton Keynes Dons on Boxing Day, Walsall have also despatched Stevenage, Portsmouth, Preston North End, and now Bournemouth. That's a tremendous run.

I know Dean Smith and he's a great coach. He's blooding a lot of younger players this season and together they're punching above expectations, currently sitting in a healthy 10th spot. The work that's being done behind the scenes there must be very good, because Walsall are not competing on the same financial levels as a lot of the clubs they face.

Basement boys Hartlepool United are another club that's relying on youth to get them through this season, and manager John Hughes admits he's had to tread delicately with them.

Darren Holden, Jack Baldwin, Jordan Richards and Luke James are all teenagers who have reached double figures in terms of appearances this season, but in a side that's struggling, it can sometimes do more harm than good to expose them to the first team every week. I'm sure John will handle it as he sees fit, in what's proving to be a nightmare campaign for the club.

Last word goes to ex-Crawley Town midfielder Hope Akpan, who made his debut for Reading last weekend following a transfer from the Sussex club.

It's a huge jump for him, but Brian McDermott has a fine eye for a player and must have a lot of belief in Akpan's potential. It's not often you see a player leap from npower League 1 to the top flight these days, but having got off to a winning start at St James' Park, I wish him lots of continued success.

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