Weekly football conversation since 2009, with Graham Sibley, Jan Bilton and Terry Duffelen. Listen on Acast, Apple, Google, Spotify, Stitcher, TuneIn or your podcatcher of choice.

Weekend Boxset: Easter semi-final special



It’s an Easter special with semi-finals in the FA Cup, the Women’s FA Cup, and the Scottish Cup too. There’s also two rounds of fixtures in the EFL which could bring big changes to the promotion and relegation picture.

Seven great matches to take you across the Easter break. It’s the Sound of Football Weekend Boxset.


All times are UK (GMT+1)


Good Friday

Championship: Luton Town v Nottingham Forest
12.30 on Sky Sports Football
Luton could have gone above their opponents in the table had things gone their way at Huddersfield on Monday. But Elijah Adebayo missed a second half penalty to equalise against the Terriers who then went on to double their lead and move up to third. The fact that the Hatters are still in the promotion race is astonishing. Nathan Jones has done an amazing job with a squad that is, according to Sports Quotes and Facts, have the lowest wage bill in the Championship. Back in the 80s and 90s, when they were last in the topflight, no one liked them because of their ban on away fans and they had a Tory MP as chairman. Now under fan ownership, they are a different proposition, having worked their way up from the Conference to the brink of the Premier League. The last time Forest were in the Boxset I said they were one of the best teams in the country. Well, Steve Cooper’s side are 100% in the last five and have not lost a league game since January. They may be too far behind to take second spot but given their current form, I would not rule them out. TD


Saturday

Scottish FA Cup semi-final: Hearts v Hibernian
12.15 on BBC One Scotland & iPlayer and Premier Sports 1
The sides from Edinburgh have made a habit of going deep in this competition in recent years: Hibs were last season’s losing finalist to St Johnstone, while Hearts lost to Celtic in both the 2019 and 2020 finals. In the league, the sides met as recently as last weekend. Despite Hibs taking an early lead through Drey Wright’s first goal of the season, goals either side of the break from Andy Halliday and Stephen Kingsley, and a third from the former just before the hour, saw Hearts comfortably take the points in the end. That derby defeat left Hibs on the wrong side of the line for the Scottish Premiership clausura - when the table splits into two halves for the run-in. While they haven’t won a league game in six, an eight point buffer between themselves and the relegation play-off position should keep them out of danger. Having already guaranteed finishing in third place in the league - even with five more games to play - Hearts will upgrade their secured Europa Conference League slot to Europa League with a win in this game as the other semi-final is being fought out by the Old Firm (which you can see at 14.00 on Easter Sunday on Premier Sports 1). GS


FA Cup semi-final: Manchester City v Liverpool
15.30 on BBC One & iPlayer
With barely any time to catch their breath since successfully negotiating their respective Champions League quarter-finals on Wednesday, these two sides find themselves locking horns again, this time in the Cup. Last weekend’s 2-2 draw in the Premier League ensured that the title race will go down to the wire, so are we in for another open, end-to-end bout this week? Let’s hope so, but with fixtures piling up for both sides, something may have to give. The fear that Pep’s side could end up with nothing to show for this season could be behind the, shall we say, "unattractive" spectacle in Madrid in midweek. Seeing Phil Foden rolling back on to the pitch while over-accentuating the severity of a challenge might not be "What You Want To See" but it helped get the required result and it pissed off Diego Simeone - a win double. Liverpool were never in danger against Benfica despite letting a two goal lead slip on the night. Being in the more comfortable position allowed Klopp to give most of his key players less than an hour on the pitch. That and the fact they were playing at home could be enough to give the Reds the edge in this one. With the big games coming thick and fast, neither side will want extra time. It’s definitely going to extra time. GS


Easter Sunday

Women’s FA Cup semi-final: Arsenal v Chelsea
12.30 on BBC Two & iPlayer
"London is blue" Chelsea manager Emma Hayes proudly boasted after her side beat Arsenal 3-0 in the delayed Women’s FA Cup final last December. Such bravado was warranted after a convincing performance from her side in front of 40,000 at Wembley - especially from the goal scorers, Fran Kirby and Sam Kerr - but it’s not something usually associated with women’s game. Maybe we’ll see more of it as the game progresses, as rivalries build along with fan bases, but will Hayes be dishing it out at Chelsea? Chelsea are the most successful women’s club in England in recent years and, not coincidentally, the best funded. Such is their depth, they could afford to start that final with Beth England and Pernille Harder on the bench. How Chelsea’s new owners will approach the women’s team is unknown but as we’ve seen happen with sides like Liverpool and Birmingham, as soon as funding is reduced, teams drop out of contention. Which would be a bad thing for the WSL and the game in England in general. Having three well-backed sides in the WSL and the emergence of Manchester United as well, is having a transformative effect on all teams, especially as we look forward to this summer’s Euros in England. As it is, Arsenal stand in the way of another League and Cup double for Chelsea. Playing this game at home, with Leah Williamson in defence, and their attack strengthened by Stina Blackstenius, will make the Gunners a different proposition than they were at Wembley. Enjoy this one - we may not get too many more big London derbies like this for a while. GS


FA Cup semi-final: Chelsea v Crystal Palace
16.30 on ITV & ITV Hub and STV & STV Player
After their gut-wrenching Champions League exit, Chelsea will be anxious to wash off the stain of defeat with an emphatic win on Sunday. The FA Cup is the only trophy that the West Londoners can win this season and they will not need reminding that they lost last year’s final. After a recent dip in form, Thomas Tuchel’s team are still in good shape and it looks like Timo Werner has found his scoring boots. The German striker scored a brace against Southampton last weekend and another against Madrid on Wednesday. It’s possible that Chelsea will be heavy legged after extra time at the Bernabeu but Crystal Palace will be underdogs for this match and indeed the final should they get through. Central to Palace’s excellent work this season has been Conor Gallagher, Sadly the Chelsea loanee is ineligible to play against his parent club. The recently minted England international’s absence makes the scale of the task even greater for Patrick Viera. As will the injured Michael Olise who has not played since the international break and may not be available. Given their handicaps, I expect Palace will sit deep, frustrate and hope Zaha does something cool on the break. TD


Easter Monday

Championship: Middlesbrough v Huddersfield Town
12.30 on Sky Sports Football
These two also play on Friday so the context may be different for this game. Boro will play second placed Bournemouth looking to break a two-game losing streak to Fulham and Hull, the latter leaving coach Chris Wilder baffled by the display. If that game goes to form, then the current eighth placed side could struggle to reach the 74 points that Wilder thinks are enough to reach the play-offs. So disappointing was ’keeper Joe Lumley’s less than fabulous performance against Hull that Wilder is under pressure to replace him with Luke Daniels. As above, Huddersfield worked hard to overcome a tough Luton side on Monday. If you’ve not seen it, check out Jon Russell’s cracking opener that had the Sky pundits asking if he meant it (he did, reader). On Friday, third placed Terriers will play a freefalling QPR (which is a game you can watch live on Sky Sports Football & Main Event from 17.30). Assuming they win, they can keep a watching brief over Bournemouth place while making it an almost certainty for the playoffs. The Yorkshiremen will have to manage without they’re pivotal centre back, Matty Pearson who has a knee injury and may be out for the rest of the season. TD


League One: Plymouth Argyle v Sunderland
15.00 on Sky Sports Football
When Lee Johnson was relieved of his duties at the Stadium of Light back at the end of January, the call from supporters was that the team was in need of someone to give them a bit of backbone. The need, they continued, was to stop being nice guys which had seen them leak needless goals culminating in the horror show at Bolton where they were battered six-nil. Johnson was replaced by former Preston North End and Norwich head coach, Alex Neil. A little over two months later, Neil had lost just once, and Sunderland are unbeaten in their last eight. Thanks to an impressive win away to fellow play-off hopefuls, Oxford United, The Lads are back in the top-six but face a tough task today against an impressive Plymouth side. Sixteen-goal Ryan Hardie is aiming to overcome a thigh injury which has kept him out of the last few games for The Pilgrims, and whether he features or not will have a big bearing on this game. Sunderland under Neil have become less dependent on the goals of Ross Stewart, which has seen contributions come from across the side. The hosts have won their last six home games and the visitors are unbeaten in their last five on the road. Something has to give. JB


Whatever you watch, have a great weekend.

Terry, Graham and Jan

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