LONDON (AFP) – Alex Ferguson has set his sights on ending Manchester United’s FA Cup drought as the 11-time winners prepare to face West Ham in Saturday’s third round tie at Upton Park.
United have not lifted English football’s oldest trophy since 2004 when they defeated Millwall in the final and have seen Chelsea dominate the competition in recent years, winning four of the last six tournaments.
Ferguson’s team have suffered with tough draws in recent years and they lost at Liverpool last season after being beaten by Manchester City in 2011.
But, with United in a strong position in the Premier League — they sit seven points clear of second placed Manchester City — Ferguson can confidently turn his attention to making a winning start to the FA Cup campaign.
“Over the last three or four years we have had some really difficult ties,” Ferguson said.
“When the draw comes out you hope for either a home tie or one you can navigate. This is a particularly hard one.
“But I always feel, at a club like ours, the closer we get to Wembley, the better we become.”
United’s match at West Ham is one of four all-Premier League ties, alongside West Bromwich Albion’s trip to Queens Park Rangers, Arsenal’s game at Swansea City, and holders Chelsea’s match at Southampton.
Chelsea were stunned 1-0 by bottom club QPR in the Premier League on Wednesday and interim coach Rafael Benitez has admitted that his players are feeling the effects of the gruelling Christmas season.
“I thought they were doing well and I thought that would be fine, but maybe in odd areas we were tired,” he said.
“You could see we didn’t have the intensity and the pace on the pass and the movement that we were expecting.”
Southampton, meanwhile, have shown signs of improvement in recent weeks after a difficult start to the season and avoided defeat for the third successive game by holding Arsenal to a 1-1 draw on New Year’s Day.
Manchester City, United’s nearest rivals in the league, host second-tier Watford, with the FA Cup one of only two trophies they can now win after elimination from the League Cup and the Champions League.
With many of the competition’s big names drawn against fellow top-flight sides, the chances of a major upset have been reduced, but seventh-tier Hastings United will hope to pull off a shock at Championship side Middlesbrough.
Romantics will also hope to see Mansfield Town earn a place in cup history when the team from the fifth-tier Conference National host last season’s beaten finalists Liverpool on Sunday.
Fixtures (1500GMT unless otherwise stated)
Brighton and Hove Albion v Newcastle United (1230GMT), Queens Park Rangers v West Bromwich Albion, Peterborough v Norwich City, Oxford United v Sheffield United, Middlesbrough v Hastings United, Charlton Athletic v Huddersfield, Barnsley v Burnley, Hull City v Leyton Orient, Southampton v Chelsea, Aldershot Town v Rotherham, Crawley Town v Reading, Manchester City v Watford, Nottingham Forest v Oldham, Derby County v Tranmere, Sheffield Wednesday v MK Dons, Crystal Palace v Stoke City, Luton Town v Wolverhampton Wanderers, Wigan Athletic v Bournemouth, Tottenham Hotspur v Coventry City, Millwall v Preston North End, Macclesfield v Cardiff City, Bolton Wanderers v Sunderland, Fulham v Blackpool, Leicester City v Burton Albion, Leeds United v Birmingham City, Aston Villa v Ipswich Town, Southend v Brentford, Blackburn Rovers v Bristol City, West Ham United v Manchester United (1715GMT)
Swansea City v Arsenal (1330GMT), Mansfield v Liverpool (1600GMT)
Cheltenham v Everton (1945GMT)