January 7 – The much-chronicled effects of coronavirus on the English Premier League is set to take its toll on the third round of the FA Cup – traditionally one of the highlights of the season – when the country’s top clubs join the competition this weekend.
Before a ball has even been kicked, the first ever ‘double draw’ has been announced for the fourth and fifth rounds on Monday amid concerns clubs will have to forfeit third-round games, and to help with fixture scheduling as the pandemic continues to disrupt the calendar.
Already Championship club Derby County are planning to field an under-23 team against non-league Chorley on Saturday because of positive Covid cases in their senior squad, while Shrewsbury’s match at Southampton the same day looks set to be called off because of positive results in the camp of the League One visitors.
Dates for the fourth round cannot be changed and both Derby and Shrewsbury could struggle to re-arrange their respective games before January 23.
Meanwhile, the manager of non-league minnows Marine says the threat of Covid-19 derailing Sunday’s ‘dream’ tie with Tottenham Hotspur is a huge worry.
Marine are only the second eighth-tier club in the history of the tournament – four divisions below League Two – to reach the third round and the gap between the Northern Premier League Division One side and Jose Mourinho’s highly-paid stars is the biggest in the FA Cup’s history.
Their part-time squad includes a refuse collector, teachers, an engineer and a health worker. “These lads aren’t in bubbles like professional footballers, they’re in work environments,” Marine manager Neil Young told the Evening Standard,
“It’s a massive concern to me from a preparation perspective. We don’t have the luxury of reserve teams or youth teams or any lads sitting about. We’ve got 19 players, only 16 get paid if they’re in the squad. I want to make sure all the players who have got us here have that day out on Sunday.”
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