Johannesburg - From beating Arsenal in the Premier League last weekend to producing a thrilling come-from-behind 2-2 draw in the Champions League against Juventus on Tuesday, Tottenham Hotspur’s next order of business is to visit the less glamorous surrounds of Rochdale’s Spotland Stadium in Sunday’s fifth-round FA Cup tie.
Work has been going on around the clock to get the pitch at the 10 000-seater venue up to scratch, with the club having been forced to completely relay the surface ahead of the Spurs clash - a far cry from Wembley Stadium in London and the Allianz in Torino.
The field was in such a poor condition that the outfit from Greater Manchester issued an apology after beating Millwall in the fourth round
Subsequently, Rochdale chair Chris Dunphy splashed out a few hundred thousand pounds on a new playing surface in time for arguably the biggest match in the club’s history. It seems clear, then, that the game itself has all the ingredients of a classic mismatch.
The home team are rock-bottom of League One and have not played any higher than England’s third tier, and 63 places separate Spurs and the Dale, whose best finish in a top flight competition was as runners-up in the 1961/62 League Cup.
Meanwhile, the Lilywhites come into the contest having not lost in 13 matches in all competitions. Since January 31, Mauricio Pochettino’s men have beaten Manchester United, drawn with Liverpool at Anfield and picked up three points against the Gunners. The stirring comeback against Juve earlier in the week is also fresh in their memories.
On every level, it seems that Rochdale are outgunned - in 111 years of existence, this is only the third time the club has reached the fifth round; and reaching the round of six will be a first. In addition, in 28 League One matches, just 29 goals have been scored. To put this into context, Harry Kane has 33 goals in 34 appearances on his own for Spurs.
Nevertheless, on a pitch that measures just 115 yards by 74 and one that has already broken up so badly in torrential rain that three matches have been postponed in 2017/18, an upset may just be possible.
Few predicted that third-tier Bradford City would come from 2-0 behind to beat Chelsea in 2015 at Stamford Bridge. Non-league Hereford United also shocked Newcastle in the 1972 edition of the competition. In terms of fifth-round giant-killings, Man United and Liverpool fell victim to Barnsley in 1998 and 2008, respectively.
With that said, while the odds are clearly stacked against a Rochdale outfit that appear destined to be relegated to the fourth tier unless fortunes change soon, the FA Cup has always boasted a tradition of the so-called David slaying Goliath.
With the advantage of playing on a postage stamp of a pitch, the chance to make history by reaching the sixth round for the first time means there could be reason for hope for Rochdale’s underdogs.