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Our FA Cup quarter-final choices

Paul Armstrong | 10:59 UK time, Wednesday, 20 February 2008

After demolishing Arsenal in our favoured live Saturday evening slot, Manchester United have, remarkably, drawn Premier League opposition for the 11th consecutive FA Cup round. For the second consecutive season, Pompey will make the long trek to Old Trafford thinking the draw has done them no favours.

However, this time, our live cameras won't be there. Instead, our first choice of live game takes us to Oakwell for Barnsley v Chelsea with a 5.30pm kick-off on Saturday, 8 March. Sky will show the Old Trafford tie on Saturday lunchtime and the BBC have two live ties on the Sunday: Boro or Sheffield United v Cardiff with a 1.10pm kick-off and Bristol Rovers v West Brom at 6pm.

We're very pleased with the way this has panned out. Particularly in scheduling terms where we've managed to get all the games on BBC ONE, and avoided any clashes - or even overlaps - with the three Six Nations matches we're also showing live that weekend. If you're into both sports, that's 12 hours or more of live output, plus MOTD and MOTD2, with the Cup and six or seven Premier League fixtures across the weekend. There'll be fierce battles over the remote control in certain households I know...

Barnsley's Brian Howard celebrates with Martin Devaney (c-l), Anderson De Silva (l) and Bobby Hassell (r) after their win over Liverpool in the FA Cup fifth round

In my last blog I explained that both we and Sky tend to opt for games where Premier League clubs travel to lower division opposition: hence Preston v Pompey and Sheffield United v Boro last weekend. I did also say that the Law of Sod would probably lead to one of Huddersfield or Barnsley winning away, and that it was worth a bet. I put my money where my mouth is, and my online account now looks a lot healthier as a result of the incredible odds (14-1) offered against the away win at Anfield.

Clearly, in retrospect, it would have been great to have been there live, but at least we were able to lead MOTD with it on Saturday night and invite two of their number to join us at Bramall Lane on Sunday. And we can now take a live broadcast there in the hope that they can perform more heroics against holders Chelsea.

However, the dedicated football types who log on to this site may struggle to believe this, but past experience tells us we would get a bigger audience for United v Pompey simply because so many people either support or dislike United, and they always draw in the casual viewer. Even so, I think most football fans would agree that the Barnsley game is the tie of the round.

Similarly, the Chelsea-supporting colleague sitting opposite me in the office tells me they are never shown live in the Champions League on ITV1 when United or Liverpool are playing. Quite rightly this week with Liverpool v Inter rather than Chelsea in Greece, but apparently it's always the case. This is presumably a simple calculation by a commercial broadcaster based on how many people will watch. United and Liverpool have more supporters, and attract more general interest, across the UK than anyone else, end of story.

We are publicly funded and have to strike a balance between keeping as many licence fee payers as possible happy, (it would have been perverse not to show Man Utd v Arsenal live to 8.7m people last Saturday, for example) while staying true to the spirit of the competition. Barnsley v Chelsea should, happily, do both for us.

The Sunday games will probably get smaller, but still substantial audiences, and if you support any of the teams involved and can't get to your game, we hope to provide you with a decent service. And we hope they're good games for the neutral - everyone who was at Bristol Rovers v Saints says the atmosphere was fantastic, so it's great that we can make a return visit.

Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink of Cardiff City celebrates his goal against Wolves during the FA Cup fifth round

A 6pm kick-off on a Sunday is never likely to be popular with away supporters, but at least West Bromwich is only an hour and a half up the M5 from Bristol. There was never any prospect of Cardiff having to play in the North in that time slot, but I know from our resident MOTD Cardiff fan that, having waited 81 years for a quarter-final, this was far from the draw of their dreams. At least Jimmy Floyd will have ensured their place in the Goal of the Month shortlist for February, and they have a decent chance against either quarter-final opponent.

Speaking of neutrals and partisan viewers - having edited the Old Trafford game on Saturday - I went to Bramall Lane on Sunday to watch my team, Middlesbrough, knowing full well that our broadcast would probably be perceived as having gone well if they lost, or were at least involved in a humdinger.

I actually quite enjoyed it, particularly the second half where Boro bounced back from an iffy opening 45 minutes, but I was reliably informed by all the neutrals afterwards that it had not been a good game. Where I took comfort from third-choice left back Jonathan Grounds fitting in seamlessly, they just saw a rather drab 0-0.

Anyway, we're covering the replay live on BBC ONE on Wednesday, 27 February at 8pm. Professionally, I hope it's a wonderful end-to-end affair where the Championship side acquits themselves well. As a fan, I'll take the dullest 1-0 home win you've ever seen, followed by another against Cardiff!

Finally, for those of you who are on Facebook (that's most of the BBC for a start) we have just set up a Match of the Day group featuring regular updates, to which all are welcome. Just type "Match of the Day" into 'Search' and it should be top of the resulting list.

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