If this year’s FA Cup Third Round has proved anything, it has proved that the supposed gap between the Premier League and the rest is nowhere near as great as many people would have you believe. Blackburn Rovers, Bolton Wanderers, Everton and Birmingham City all fell to lower division opposition, whilst others such as Liverpool, Fulham and Derby County could do no more than force replays against teams that one might have thought that they would have brushed aside. Even a couple of the Premier League teams that did get through got massive slices of luck. Elsewhere, there’s still a non-league team in the draw after Swansea City could only draw at home against Conference South side Havant & Waterlooville, and Cambridge United led for a large part of their match against Wolverhampton Wanderers before losing to two late goals.
First up, then, the giants that were slain. Everton made a mockery of their top six place in the Premier League in losing 1-0 at home to Oldham Athletic. Manager David Moyes was widely criticised for picking a weakened team for the match, to which he responded by saying, “It wasn’t a vastly weakened team at all. I felt it was strong. I would have expected the team I put out to have been good enough to win.”, all of which leads one to question why he doesn’t play that team every week in the Premier League. There were no such excuses for Blackburn Rovers, who put out a full-strength team at home against Coventry City, but still contrived to lose 4-1. They were already 3-0 down when David Bentley pulled one back for them, and Blackburn now have nothing to play for except for securing their Premier League status for the rest of the season. Birmingham City supporters might have been forgiven for thinking that they had got out of jail when Garry O’Connor cancelled out Luke Beckett’s early goal for Huddersfield Town at the Galpharm Stadium, but Chris Brandon, who had earlier hit the post, scored the winner ten minutes from the end. Finally, Bolton Wanderers “rested” a number of their first choice players (including Nicolas Anelka – presumably to increase his value by a few quid, should Chelsea decide that they want him) and lost 1-0 at home to Sheffield United.
It wasn’t just Premier League clubs that made heavy weather of playing against lower division opposition. Swansea City were held 1-1 by Conference South side Havant & Waterlooville (there’s an excellent review of this match on Hobo Tread), while Conference South side Cambridge United took the lead through a dodgy penalty away to Wolves, before losing 2-1 to two late goals. You could tell how rattled Mick McCarthy was by it all by his ranting about the penalty in the post-match interview before he finally remembered a bit of magnanimity and praised Cambridge for an excellent performance. Cardiff City went a goal down before beating Chasetown 3-1. Elsewhere, Mansfield Town beat Brighton & Hove Albion 2-1 at the Withdean to keep a small ray of sunlight shining on what has been an otherwise dismal season at the foot of League Two. Norwich City required a late equaliser to get a home draw against Bury, and Barnet earned a creditable 1-1 draw at Swindon Town. Finally, the all-Premier League matches proved to be the least interesting of the lot. Manchester United cruised past a weak Aston Villa team on Saturday evening, West Ham United and Manchester City couldn’t manage a goal between them, and Spurs and Reading (founded – 1871, number of major trophies ever won – zero, but who still seem to think that two seasons in the Premier League have rendered them “too big” for the FA Cup) played out a 2-2 draw.
Sunday’s matches matches resolved almost nothing, with only Arsenal managing a win at Burnley, albeit with the aid of a harsh sending off and after the Lancashire had missed several good chances. Liverpool came unstuck at Luton Town, managing only a 1-1 draw and upping the pressure on Rafael Benitez by another several notches. Derby County came from two down to manage a 2-2 draw against Sheffield Wednesday, Fulham had to come from behind to manage a 2-2 draw against Bristol Rovers, and Newcastle United rode their luck to a 0-0 draw away to Stoke City. The draw for the fourth round will be made today at 1.30, and there will be plenty of bigger clubs now looking at the draw with considerably more uneasiness than they would have been before this weekend started.
You can see all of this weekend’s FA Cup goals (and plenty more besides) and the excellent 101 Great Goals.