Premier League clubs struggle as FA Cup magic takes over
The FA Cup was the theatre of many upsets this weekend with seven Premier League clubs thrown out of the competition, the majority by lower leagues teams.
Aston Villa continued their miserable run and were the first Premier League casualty on Friday, losing 2-1 away at Millwall. Paul Lambert’s struggling side had taken the lead when Darren Bent pounced on a rebound from Andy Weimann’s shot after a great run. Whilst this early goal in the 22nd minute should have inspired confidence, Villa were undone by lazy marking from a corner as Danny Shittu rose to head the ball beyond the reach of Shay Given only five minutes later. To make matters worse, young striker John Marquis scored in the 90th minute to give Millwall a deserved win and inflict more pressure on Lambert.
QPR were the next team to fall victim to an upset. Despite an upturn in their league fortunes under Harry Redknapp, QPR were torn apart by League One team MK Dons in a brilliant display of attacking and ambitious football. Karl Robinson’s team took the lead early through Armand Traoré’s own goal and added a second through Ryan Lowe just before half-time. Whilst QPR came out in the second half determined to make their way back, they were blitzed by goals in the 50th and 56th minutes from Ryan Harley and Darren Potter respectively. Only Jay Bothroyd and Fabio’s late goals gave the scoreline a more respectable look, with MK Dons running out 4-2 winners.
Perhaps the biggest shock came at Carrow Road, the home of Norwich. Facing Conference side Luton Town, the Canaries were unable to break down a tough opponent who used a lightning break to enable Scott Rendell to score the winning goal in the 80th minute.
Liverpool and Tottenham also fell to lower leagues sides. Facing Paul Dickov’s Oldham at a packed Boundary Park, Brendan Rodgers’s side failed to start the game on the front foot, conceding through a third minute Martin Skrtel own goal. Luis Suarez did equalise a little over ten minutes later, but Oldham, led by the impressive Matt Smith up front, scored two goals on each side of half-time. Joe Allen’s 80th minute strike brought the score back to 3-2, but Oldham held on for a famous win. Rodgers was livid and openly criticised his relatively young side.
André Villas-Boas’s Spurs side knew it faced a stern challenge at Leeds. And it proved to be, with Luke Varney and Ross McCormack providing the goals in an impressive 2-1 win.
Both Arsenal and Chelsea survived scares, but only the Gunners are already through to the next round. Wenger’s side needed a late Theo Walcott goal to win a hard-fought match 3-2 away at Gus Poyet’s Championship side Brighton. Ashley Barnes and Leonardo Ulloa had both cancelled Olivier Giroud’s goals, but Walcott’s deflected volley in the 86th minute proved too much for a plucky Brighton team.
Chelsea were more fortunate and must be delighted to still be in the Cup. After Oscar had cancelled Fulham loanee Marcello Trotta’s first half goal, Harry Forrester had finally put Brentford ahead with only 15 minutes to go. But Fernando Torres’s late goal allows a relieved Chelsea side to bring the tie back to Stamford Bridge.
In other matches, the majority of teams held their ranks against lower leagues sides and both Manchester clubs defeated Premier League opposition to go through to the next round. A notable event was Ryan Giggs scoring a penalty against Fulham, 20 years after his first ever FA Cup goal for his club.
The draw for the fifth round did not serve up some particularly tasty matches, but Luton and MK Dons will fancy their chances of emulating Bradford when they take on Millwall and Barnsley respectively at home. With potentially more upsets on the cards, the FA Cup’s magic seems to be back.
Baptiste Reynaud, football correspondent