Harty on Albion and Crawley’s FA Cup ties

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AS local FA Cup weekends go, they don’t get much bigger. Quite simply, history is being made, the Albion enjoy their first fifth-round tie for a quarter of a century with a visit to Stoke City, while fellow Sussex side Crawley Town embark on the biggest game in the club’s history when they take on Manchester United at Old Trafford.

On Tuesday, I had one of those surreal moments that only come along once in a lifetime. As a trustee of Chestnut Tree House, Crawley’s designated charity, I received a kind invitation from the club to enjoy corporate facilities at the game.

A no brainer? Well, yes, really. The love bus is already booked for Stoke and, while my mate Michel Kuipers will play in goal for Crawley, I couldn’t miss the Albion for any other footballing reason.

It’s Crawley’s day and I wish both the team and its fans all the best. The club have done so much to help the charity, long before they embarked on this cup run. Besides, in last week’s column, I stated I thought the £41 ticket price at Old Trafford was excessive to say the least and, even if the Albion weren’t in action, could I really sit with the prawn sandwich brigade having taken that stance just over a week earlier?

But, on the pitch, it will be a fascinating afternoon. Crawley won’t disgrace themselves and, for all his critics, Sir Alex Ferguson won’t humiliate his non-league visitors. If United get into a comfortable lead, don’t expect a goal fest. Once the win is in place, Fergie won’t rain on Crawley’s parade.

Having said that, if the Reds hold out for the first hour, this is cup football and anything could happen.

If pushed, though, I’d have to go for United 3-1.

As for the Albion, with a large away following, Gus Poyet’s men go to the Britannia Stadium with a real chance of a genuine cup shock.

Stoke are a Premiership side, not the most attractive, but hold their own in arguably one of the strongest leagues in the world.

I’m sure the Albion won’t be fazed by this, if they can weather the early storm of “hump, bump and thump” and play their own brand of attacking, attractive football, then anything could happen.

Readers know I love a prediction, so here goes, a ding-dong encounter, end-to-end stuff with the Albion winning with a late Glenn Murray strike.

How many sick days will there be on Monday for “cup fever”?

And, finally, sadly one person who won’t be at Stoke City is long-time Albion fan, Nigel Erskine, known to many as “Little Nige”, who is recovering in Burlington ward, Worthing Hospital after being taken ill at the weekend.

Since his late father, John, took him to the Goldstone Ground in the 1960s, Nigel has been an Albion fanatic, and a big part of the “direct action” in the mid 1990s when supporters fought for the very existence of the club.

David Bellotti even banned Nigel from the ground for a time after he instigated a peaceful pitch invasion at half-time at the Mansfield “boycott” game.

I’ve known Nigel for as long as I can remember, and know that if he’s not at the Amex for the first game, it won’t be the same, so get well soon, mate.