It might just be me, but this feeling of excitement we’ve all harnessed around the FA Cup has seriously crept up on me. Even while watching this weekend’s game against Bristol City, there was no real jumping for joy at the scoring of a goal or even a nervousness as City flooded our box for the second half. Until it came to the draw last night.
It’s difficult to work out when we all started to believe that we could go the distance. It sure as hell wasn’t after the 3rd round dtaw. I’d argue it wasn’t even at the final whistle of that game, having knocked out the Premier League leaders in the process. It can’t have been at 2-0 down versus Shrewsbury and there must have been plenty of doubts throughout hat two-legged affair. Many a team almost stumble their way through the FA Cup these days without ever really entertaining the notion of winning it. Think Wigan, back in 2013, relegated the same season. As much as they went on to lift the trophy, nobody’s telling me that on 3rd round day, Roberto Martinez put together a Powerpoint presentation on Wigan’s future march to victory under the Wembley Arch.
But this has always been Nuno’s way – game-by-game, performance-by-performance, victory-by-victory. Ultimately, with the falling on swords of some of the titans of English football, we find ourselves in a most opportune position. Being the 7th best team in the country should naturally place us among the favourites anyway, but we’re officially the third highest ranking team left now. This is the funny thing about cup competitions – you don’t actually have to beat the best to be the best. Luck of the draw goes along way and this is why any league triumph would always trump victory in other competitions. Real Madrid’s victories in recent Champions League campaigns, whilst dwindling their domination of La Liga, has always proved a sticking point for a true measure of their success in my eyes. England’s semi-final appearance at the World Cup – wonderful on paper, but assisted in the context of their route to this stage.
Which brings me to Wolves. In theory, we have ‘beaten the best’ to get to where we are and having dealt with lower league opposition subsequently, we have been paired with an elite side once more. To think we could have had Millwall or Brighton at home as the only balls left in the bowl, this was a little painful to take. But opportunity knocks and as many have remarked, Wolves (A) would have gone in the ‘Avoid’ column on most people’s wishlists as the draw was being made.
There have been many a watershed moment throughout Nuno’s reign. but this represents an incredible opportunity to take over half of Wembley stadium (twice) and ultimately add a stellar trophy to a cabinet that has gone too long without one. Much is made about Mauricio Pochettino and the fact he hasn’t brought home a trophy for all of his good work at Tottenham, but isn’t this what we all do this for? Nobody remembers the games that secured them the apparent holy grail of fourth place, but a Wembley win? Even a Wembley defeat with 30-40,000 brothers and sisters in arms? These things will be taken to the grave. The Play-Off win in 2003 is etched as vividly as a tattoo on my brain,
And so, we must confront the challenge of Manchester United at home in a few weeks time. We’re no strangers to beating the Red Devils and it still have to double-check the scoreline from Old Trafford earlier in the season, so convinced I was of that performance. No matter the context, we were brilliant up at the Theatre of Dreams and that will be playing on United minds in the build up.
The mind instantly wanders to the prospect of that atmosphere. This is where that sense of impending victory manifests itself. I’m not sure we’ll have witnessed an atmosphere like it for many years. I hope I am there to witness it, with work commitments curtailing my weekend to early Sunday morning. My fingers and toes are crossed. What I do know, is that with Nuno at the helm and this squad available to us, we won’ leave that pitch with any regrets.