After the initial fears that the FA Cup would be a major inconvenience for top flight managers, I’m happy to say most of the Premier League managers gave the competition a fair amount of respect – those that didn’t are counting the cost this morning.
It has to be said that both Pep Guardiola and Slaven Bilic named very strong sides for their Friday night encounter – unfortunately for Bilic his side are like rabbits in the London Stadium floodlights and going a goal down is usually the indication for 2 or 3 to follow. Man City declared at 5, Pep came out of his depression and Bilic looked forlorn. It’s back to harassing various strikers now for the Hammers.
On to the main event and FA Cup 3rd round Saturday kicked off with Man Utd predictably thumping Reading 4-0. The highlight of this was Ali Al-Habsi channelling his inner Gary Walsh for the fourth goal. Mourinho could even afford to give no hopers like the World Cup winning Bastian Schweinsteiger some minutes, and Wayne Rooney finally equalled Bobby Charlton’s Man Utd goals record. I can’t wait for him to break it in their inevitable fourth round clash at home to Rochdale, live on BT Sport.
One thing I was sort of right about is that Preston could give Arsenal a scare at Deepdale. Preston took a 1-0 lead in the first half and perhaps could have had more, but as is always the case when it looks like Wenger is in for a verbal thrashing, Olivier Giroud comes to his rescue. Jordan Hugill had his Paul Gascoigne moment where he just wasn’t long enough to get on the end of a cross in, but I’d bet that won’t be replayed endlessly for 20 years.
Paul Merson boldly predicted Everton, Bournemouth and Stoke would all win on Saturday but all three’s seasons are basically over now. Leicester can’t win away from home in the Premier League but an away game to a Premier League team in the FA Cup is apparently very different, with the Foxes coming from behind to win 2-1 without Vardy or Mahrez. They might have to get used to that. Stoke were humbled at home by Wolves, whilst Bournemouth made 11 changes and lost to League One Millwall. Quite how Eddie Howe has the temerity to change his entire team I don’t know, but I’m sure it’ll help Bournemouth a great deal as they push for 12th. Meanwhile, my tip for a decent run West Brom were ousted by Derby. Just call me ‘The Magic Man’
Big Sam’s return to Bolton was the width of the post away from being a disaster, but they escaped with a 0-0 draw for a replay. Palace’s team included the lesser spotted Loic Remy, along with everybody’s favourite third choice keeper Julian Speroni. Another side heading for a replay are Southampton, who twice led against Norwich but were denied by an injury time goal in a 2-2 draw. Southampton gave a debut to a young keeper called Harry Lewis, but sadly for him his debut will be remembered for him taking a first touch Carlton Palmer would be proud of before a similarly ill-timed challenge on Cameron Jerome cost his side a penalty.
Bottom side Hull won the match nobody wanted to win in Marco Silva’s first match, beating second-bottom Swansea. Paul Clement was claiming this as his first match too, despite spending the second half in the dugout during their win at Palace on Wednesday. There was the worst possible result for David Moyes and Sean Dyche, as a dour 0-0 draw means they get to do it all again a week on Tuesday. Joey Barton made his return, meaning the clock has started before his next major incident. Watford beat Burton and even played some youth players rather than a random mix of players, in perhaps the biggest surprise of the day.
On to Sunday then and we saw the biggest shock of the round – Alberto Moreno kept a clean sheet as Liverpool drew 0-0 with Plymouth at Anfield. Klopp played a side with the youngest average age in Liverpool history, ironically giving his team another fixture to face after the busy Christmas schedule brought some moans from the German. BT and Sky are currently scrapping over who will show the replay at Home Park in 10 days, but it can’t possibly be less entertaining that this was.
It was far smoother sailing for Chelsea as they thrashed Peterborough 4-1. It was 3-0 when John Terry looked every one of his 36 years of age, stumbling and dragging down the Peterborough forward and receiving his marching orders. I don’t think JT will have many acts left in a Chelsea shirt, not helped by the recalling of Nathan Ake and the return of Kurt Zouma. Middlesbrough comfortably beat Sheffield Wednesday, with Negredo scoring the type of FA Cup goal you dream of – the one where the opposition keeper smashes it off you from point blank range and it goes in.
Spurs made hard work of dispatching Aston Villa in the final game of the day but eventually ran out 2-0 winners. Harry Kane wasn’t in the 18 as the FA Cup Third Round saw him draw a baby girl out of the hat in the lottery of pregnancy. Seriously though, congratulations to the Kane family. Vincent Janssen will be hoping baby number two is not far away as he may have to wait a while for another chance in the team, as he was sorely lacking here.
All of that means we’ve lost 6 top flight teams ahead of Monday’s 4th round draw, with at least one more guaranteed to go after a replay. Who knows what tales the fourth round will bring us?