Early on Sunday morning, Richard Scudamore swiveled his chair around from his desk and gazed out of the windows of the lair built into a supervolcano in the Pacific Rim, a venue selected for its isolated location which offers excellent access to lucrative Far Eastern markets. ‘Take a note, Mungo,’ he said to his assistant, ‘To the senior management of Chelsea, Wigan Athletic and Manchester City. I note with displeasure that several of our member clubs have been tarnishing the Premier League brand by failing to beat opposition from the lower orders not in the FA Cup, of which I am aware, but also in something called the League Cup. This is not only damaging to our brand, but also to the public interest. As we all know, there’s nothing that the general public would want more than four of the Biggest Clubs In The World playing at least six of their strongest first elevens at Wembley next month. I trust that you will do whatever you can to put these upstarts in their place. Yours etc.’ And so it was that one of the most grimly predictable days in the history of the FA Cup began.
Saturday had certainly not gone according to any script. Well, not any script that involved Premier League clubs wiping the floor with the lower orders, anyway. Arsenal should, by any reasonable measure, have wiped the floor with Blackburn Rovers but seemed to opt instead for a public display of every different form of neurosis that the club has displayed over the last seven or eight years or so, and a lone goal from Colin Kazim-Richards, which thumped into the ground before looping improbably up and over before bouncing in off the post. Arsenal play Bayern Munich in the next round of the Champions League this week, and if they can’t score over ninety minutes against opposition from a division below them it is difficult to write a positive prognosis for them from this particular tie. It would, of course, now be typical Arsenal for them to go out and win this match handsomely. Blackburn Rovers, meanwhile, are a team in form for the first time in several seasons, and much as it galls to see the Venky’s goons happy about anything whatsoever it is at least worth remembering the so often put upon Blackburn Rovers supporters, for whom last weekend’s result should really all be about.
The Saturday evening FA Cup match saw another Premier League club scramble their way to a replay. When Oldham Athletic took the lead against Everton, it started to feel as if Boundary Park might even have some for of hex over it for those of a Liverpudlian persuasion, but Everton fought their way back into the game and took the lead two minutes into the second half. It looked as if that would be enough to edge David Moyes’ team over the finishing line, especially when Robbie Simpson missed a decent chance with a couple of minutes left to play, but with the whistles of the away support blowing around the ground, Matt Smith headed in from close range as the clock ticked over the minimum four minutes of stoppage-time that had been announced, and Oldham had a draw and a trip to Goodison Park next week for a place in the quarter-finals of the competition. Such late drama hadn’t been on the menu at Kenilworth Road in the other live match of the day, although some had predicted that it might be tense, both on and off the pitch. Eventually, the match between Luton Town and Millwall passed off relatively peacefully, and a composed performance from the Championship club saw them comfortably through to the quarter-finals of the FA Cup for the first time in nine years. Luton Town, meanwhile, can look back on a cup run that saw the team earn itself a huge amount of well-deserved credit. Their fight to get back into the Football League continues. In the day’s other match, Barnsley travelled to Milton Keynes and spared the world the sight of Peter Winkelman’s gurning mug by winning comfortably.
All in all, then, Saturday was a reasonably entertaining day, but Sunday turned out to be little more than a procession of Premier League steamrollers trampling everything before them underfoot. The day started surprisingly early with a midday kick-off for a delayed Fourth Round replay between Chelsea and Brentford. Chelsea had been a little fortunate to come away from the first match at Brentford with a draw, and for much of the first half their League One opposition gave it a good go before folding in the second half, as the relentlessness of Chelsea’s attacking finally ground them down. They went in goalless at half-time before Chelsea scored four in seventeen second half minutes – including one scored by John Terry, who is apparently still a professional footballer – to remind them of their station in life. There was something about the match between Manchester City and Leeds United which lent itself to realism-defying predictions of a surprise result. After all, Manchester City were pretty dreadful at Southampton last week and Leeds United… well… Leeds United beat Manchester United at Old Trafford three years ago. No such excitement was to be had, however, and City also ran up four goals without reply to take their place in the next round.
Last but not least, Huddersfield Town unveiled their new manager at The John Smiths Stadium for their match against Wigan Athletic, for his players to put in an anaemic performance and Wigan to ease their way through to last eight of the competition for only the second time in their history. After this, came the draw for the Sixth Round of the competition, held, as now seems to have become traditional, before the last game of the weekend’s scheduled matches. The balls were poured into the bag, the ex-pros had a good rummage around and pulled out… Manchester United (or Reading) vs Chelsea (or Middlesbrough). On his secret island lair, Mr Scudamore cursed the damned unpredictability of these so-called “knock-out” competitions. And that – well, most, okay some of it – was the weekend that was.
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