West Brom V Crystal Palace at The Hawthorns : Match Preview
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Downing warmed by FA Cup date
West Brom caretaker head coach Keith Downing insists the romance of the FA Cup still burns brightly within him as he prepares to lead his side into Saturday's third-round tie at home to Crystal Palace.
The status of the world's oldest domestic cup competition has come increasingly into question in recent years as the Barclays Premier League and Champions League grab the headlines and offer greater financial rewards.
The spotlight only intensified on Thursday when Aston Villa manager Paul Lambert suggested the majority of top-flight bosses would rather do without the distraction of the FA Cup.
But Albion's Downing still has a lovable relationship with a competition the Black Country club have won five times.
"I can understand what he (Lambert) is trying to say, obviously the pinnacle financially is the Premier League, the intentions and best interests are for that competition," he said.
"But certainly for me, as a traditionalist, I'm big on the FA Cup and I think you've seen in recent times - with Wigan getting there - it's an opportunity for clubs like ourselves to go all the way and achieve something.
"And I think if you're a player, ask Ben Watson, the pinnacle of his career is to score the winning goal at Wembley. I'm sure he will tell you that's the best moment of his life.
"I think players will see it as an opportunity to go all the way. For me as a traditionalist, watching it years ago live on a Saturday, it's a special competition."
The Baggies, who last lifted the trophy in 1968, have bowed out in the third round in two of the past three seasons.
In fact, the only time they have reached the quarter-finals in the past 11 years was on route to a semi-final defeat to eventual winners Portsmouth in 2008.
"We haven't progressed in recent times in cup competitions and so we want to try to change that record and go as long as we can in the competition," Downing added.
"There's still a buzz about it, there's still a feeling about the competition for Saturday and we'll go out there and try to get through to the next round."
Managerless West Brom go into the tie on the back of a first league win in 10 attempts with a 1-0 success over Newcastle on New Year's Day.
Victory also extended Downing's unbeaten run from his four games at the helm, although he still insists he does not want to take the position full-time.
Opponents Palace have certainly improved under Tony Pulis since his appointment at the end of November, and Downing believes they will prove a different proposition to the team Albion beat 2-0 at The Hawthorns earlier this season.
"I have total respect for Tony Pulis, whatever side he puts out will be organised and hard to beat," Downing said.
"They certainly are a different Palace side to the one who came here at the start of November."
Defender Billy Jones has been ruled out having suffered slight concussion after a collision with goalkeeper Ben Foster against Newcastle, sustaining a nasty cut above the eye.
Striker Victor Anichebe (groin) continues to be sidelined, while Nicolas Anelka remains in Downing's 20- man squad as the Football Association's investigation into his controversial 'quenelle' goal celebration is ongoing.
Palace boss Pulis is expected to make wholesale changes.
After a busy Christmas period the Eagles are likely to rest a number of first-team regulars, with Kagisho Dikgacoi (hamstring) absent.
Fellow midfielder Stuart O'Keefe could make a return following his own hamstring injury but Jack Hunt, Glenn Murray, Jerome Thomas, Paddy McCarthy and Adlene Guedioura all remain sidelined.
The FA Cup may be a distraction from league duties but Crystal Palace defender Danny Gabbidon believes a positive result at The Hawthorns could help them in their relegation fight.
A home draw to Norwich on New Year's Day saw Palace drop back into the Barclays Premier League bottom three and a tricky trip to the midlands will not be the priority of manager Pulis as he looks to steer the club to top-flight safety.
But Gabbidon, who has played in all but two of Palace's league games so far this season, reckons a win at West Brom and subsequent FA Cup progression could play a part in a successful survival bid.
"Sometimes cup runs can help," he told the Croydon Advertiser.
"It's something up to the manager whether he wants to change players, but sometimes when you're in a run of form you want to keep playing as well.
"You just look forward to the next game; it's one we want a good result from. I don't know what's in the manager's mind. At the end of the day, it's another game and one we want to win."
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