Just when you think the FA Cup is a lost cause, the results have defied the fixtures and given us a thoroughly enjoyable weekend of cup scares and upsets. Whilst people will debate the strength of the various teams fielded, I’m firmly in the camp that it’s a squad game and if a manager has picked a team that’s not good enough then prepare to be ridiculed.
Friday kicked off the weekend with an entertaining draw between Derby and Leicester. The Darren Bent-bot malfunctioned and his duty to put the ball in the net from within the 6 yard box did not compute that he was in the wrong area as he beautifully picked out the side netting to give Leicester the lead. On a wet night with McClaren in the dugout and Scott Carson in goal the world held its breath expecting a 3-2 Leicester win but it didn’t transpire and these two will have to lock horns again in 10 days.
I was sceptical of Liverpool and Wolves being on TV on Saturday lunchtime, but Klopp was a good sport and played a very youthful side again to see his team crash out. First things first, we must credit Wolves who were excellent and deserved to advance. Having gone out of the EFL Cup on Wednesday you’d think Klopp would try and banish his extreme January blues but seemingly preparation for Tuesday’s match with Chelsea is pivotal. So now all of Klopp’s eggs are in the Premier League basket – I’d like to hear the reactions on Tuesday if Liverpool do lose that match.
The next Premier League team to follow Liverpool out were Crystal Palace, beaten rather less surprisingly by Man City. Big Sam won’t be too upset to be out, he’s got bigger problems, whilst Pep will just be glad to have a quiet weekend where he could play some lesser spotted players like Vincent Kompany. There were no such troubles for Chelsea, who thrashed Brentford 4-0, whilst Middlesbrough less impressively saw off Accrington Stanley 1-0. Burnley are also in the Fifth Round, as Steven Defour briefly forgot he was in Burnley to score a wonderful second goal in their 2-0 win over Bristol City.
The game of the day was undoubtedly at White Hart Lane. League Two Wycombe led 2-0 and 3-2 against high flying Tottenham but couldn’t see the job through. It was the type of hard luck story that makes you appreciate the FA Cup all the more, players defying their status to defy the odds. Well done Vincent Janssen, you’re well on the way to paying back that transfer fee. It was refreshing to see a lower league team go on the attack at one of the big clubs and so nearly get their reward. I salute you, Gareth Ainsworth.
Saturday evening served up a tasty looking tie between two Premier League sides in Southampton and Arsenal. However, you had to check the small print as both sides made 10 changes, and would you believe it, Arsenal’s second string has got a lot more to it than Southampton’s. Indeed, a pair of England players netted the five goals in The Gunners’ 5-0 win, and they could even afford Alexis Sanchez to have a 30 minute run out. Southampton have an EFL Cup final to look forward to and it seems the excitement of being in two cups was just too much. Wenger watched from the stands, as did his back four, on a very easy night.
Although we focus on the top flight here at Tales it would be churlish to not mention those lower down the pyramid who have made the 5th Round. Lincoln were superb in their win against Brighton, whilst Sutton made it two non-league sides in the last 16 with a hard fought win over Leeds. There’s also a special mention for Oxford, who ruined my 14 hour round trip with a convincing 3-0 win over Newcastle. Although none of the three Championship sides fielded full strength sides due to having promotion on their mind, it is good to see the spirit of the competition is alive and well.
Onto Sunday and we lost two more top flight sides. Firstly a dire Watford were beaten by Millwall as our lunchtime fare. It actually sickens me a little that a club like Watford think they can rest players in the FA Cup, especially after a run to the semis last year. Enjoy your miserable end to the season, though they do inexplicably have to play Arsenal on Tuesday so I have a degree of sympathy. Hull were the next to go, thrashed 4-1 by Fulham. There was the rare phenomenon of a player missing two penalties in two minutes to sum up Hull’s day and make the sale of Robert Snodgrass seem even more problematic. Man Utd comprehensively beat Wigan to round off the day, I can’t wait to see who they’ll face in their 57th consecutive televised FA Cup tie in the next round. Some young chancer called Schweinsteiger played and scored, but no doubt it’ll be back to just being a very highly paid fan in their next league game.
With all that said and done we have 7 Premier League teams guaranteed to be in Monday’s 5th Round draw, with Leicester hanging on and looking to make it 8 when they face Derby in the only replay. There are four guaranteed Championship sides in the next round (along with the potential for Derby), two from League One and Two from the National League. It’s an embarrassingly low number of Premier League sides but perhaps telling that only two outside of the “big six” have survived. Let’s hope that some if not all of the lower level sides left in get the lucrative ties they deserve rather than having to take each other out. Be sure to check out Ross Jacobs’ team of the round and if your team is still in the draw, good luck!