I tell you what, it’s not just Premier League teams who don’t seem to care that much about the FA Cup Third Round.
Even the BBC don’t seem that bothered. Did you see their line-up for Match of the Day? They didn’t even pick the reserve team, did they? They rolled out the players who they are trying to ship out in the January window, hoping that if they put in a half-decent performance that another show might come in with a sensible transfer bid. That’s what the FA Cup seems to mean nowadays.
Meanwhile, Gary Lineker, Alan Shearer, Wrighty and the gang got the evening off. Mind you, they have been doing double shifts over the festive period what with all that Premier League action. But still, it’s not a real job is it? You don’t see me asking for time off just because they are playing a few more matches than normal. There’s no squad rotation system in place here. I’m not even suffering from tired legs. Afternoons and evenings, I am here for you.
I’ll tell you where there was squad rotation. Old Trafford. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer switched it all around for the visit of Reading and the Manchester United side selected started as if it were still under the spell of Jose Mourinho.
But, they got there in the end and Solskjaer has now become the first ever United boss to win his first five games in charge. Alexis Sanchez got his first start under the Norwegian and ended the match coming off early and sitting in his new gaffer’s seat. That’s not the way to get a start in the Premier League, Alexis. It’ll be the FA Cup for you from now on.
We also got one step closer to understanding the real reason that Marouane Fellaini shaved his head. Tatih Chong has an even bigger barnet than Fellaini ever managed and, frankly, you cannot have that much hair in the same midfield so someone had to get rid. And given that Chong clearly has more skill and technique in his little finger than Fellaini has in his entire tree of a body, it made sense that Fellaini went to the barber.
For me, the biggest sign of change at United has not been in the style of football. It’s not been the results. The moment that sums up the new feeling under Solskjaer came as Marcus Rashford sprinted through, rounded the Reading goalkeeper and promptly fell over. Rashford allowed himself to crease up at what had just happened because, you know what, it was funny. Football, in general, has become far too serious and under Mourinho it was more akin to a funeral parlour than an entertainment business. Seeing Rashford relax and be a kid in his early 20s about something like that suggests United are enjoying life at the moment.
Mind you, it was only Reading. Just like it’s only been Cardiff, Huddersfield and Newcastle etc, etc.
You knew Manchester City rotated when you heard that Phil Foden had scored and a kid called Sandler made his debut. Peppy G’s boys spanked Rotherham 7-0.
There is something quite amusing about a player missing a penalty in his final ever appearance for a club. I know, we shouldn’t laugh but it is hard not to. Gary Lineker even did for his country when needing just a goal to become a record scorer. I seem to remember a few famous club servants doing it over the years. And now, Cesc Fabregas has joined that little list.
Cesc lined up for Chelsea in their match against Nottingham Forest in what is 99% certain to be his last game in England before he joins Theirry Henry’s sinking ship in Monaco.
What better way to sign off by scoring a spot kick in an easy win?
Ah. Yeah, that. The stagger, pause, stagger made it look even more stupid Cesc.
Still, it was decent of Alvaro Morata to try and deflect attention by missing an open goal from three yards. Nice one, Alvaro. If you are on your way as well, I doubt you’ll be as missed as Fabregas.
Tottenham fans were furious about another crazy away day put in place by TV scheduling. Having done Cardiff for an evening match just days before, Spurs were on their way up to Tranmere. Well, I say Spurs. Their fans were the first team, the players were pretty much the reserves. Even Fernando Llorente played. And he scored a hat-trick. When a right back scores a goal like Serge Aurier managed the chances of a cup upset are somewhat diminished.
Talking of upsets, a couple of Premier League sides did fall by the wayside on Saturday. And Neil Warnock was very upset. Not so much with the fact that his Cardiff City side had lost to League One Gillingham. More the fact that he had learned that he wasn’t getting Nathaniel Clyne on loan from Liverpool after all, given that Clyne had just lined up for Bournemouth in the all-Premier League tie against Brighton.
Brighton won that meaning Bournemouth continue their torrid time. Eddie Howe’s answer? Splash £19m on Dominic Solanke. That’ll fix it.
Arsenal headed up to Blackpool and were delayed getting to the ground as a Blackpool fan decided to protest on the roof of Arsenal’s team bus. Well, that’s one way to get noticed I suppose.
In the build-up, it also broke that Arsenal have finally got their hands on Barcelona’s Suarez for just £20m. That sounds like an absolute bargain, right? Imagine him joining forces with Yo-Pierre and Laca, what a strike-force that could be. Oh, it’s Denis Suarez? Yeah, that’s not as exciting.
Especially given that Arsenal have plenty of talented young central midfielders coming through and the addition of Suarez could well just block another path. Yes, Aaron Ramsey is shipping off, hilariously, to either PSG or Juventus at the end of the season but if Emery is prepared to gamble on some of the kids he could start something truly special.
Joe Willock, for example. Scored a brace at Blackpool and saw the Gunners through to the Fourth Round.
Lincoln, leaders of League Two, gave Everton a proper game of cup football but left Goodison Park on the end of a 2-1 defeat, a result that didn’t really seem too fair.
Burnley edged past Barnsley courtesy of a penalty. And, yes, that’s another win for Sean Dyche’s men when Jonah Hart hasn’t played.
Huddersfield failed to score (shocking, I know) against Bristol City and will be able to focus all their efforts on a doomed relegation survival bid.
Jordan Ayew managed to find the back of the net, finally, for Crystal Palace as they sneaked past League Two’s Grimsby Town. Plenty of shots were had by Palace, only one was scored.
Rafa Benitez was far from delighted with a 1-1 draw at home to Blackburn. You get the feeling Benitez would have taken a defeat rather than a late equaliser forcing a replay. Come on, Rafa. It’s the FA Cup!
Neither Frank Lampard or Ralph Hasenhuttl would have chosen a score draw in Derby’s clash with Southampton but that is what they got after Derby fought back from 2-0 to snatch a draw. Tom Lawrence scored a goal of real quality to match Nathan Redmond’s strike in the best goal of the match competition.
I had Birmingham down as a very likely banana skin for West Ham but a somewhat grumpy Marco Arnautovic managed to score to see them through, before throwing a strop with his boss for subbing him, despite Arnautovic picking up another niggling injury. It’s almost as if it was a good idea to rest him with the job being done. It was nice to see Andy Carroll back doing what Andy Carroll does best (when not injured); missing an easy chance and then collapsing in a heap.
We don’t often mention anything that isn’t pure Premier League-related in this column, but I feel that Ipswich Town deserve some credit today. A lot has changed in the world since Ipswich last won in the FA Cup. I think mobile phones, the internet and maybe even HD television have all come along since Ipswich managed to avoid a Third Round defeat.
This time, it was Accrington Stanley knocking them out.
Peter Crouch reminded the world he is still playing football, scoring a late equaliser for Stoke City against Shrewsbury.
Sunday saw plucky little Woking do their best against a Watford team that did seem ripe for a bit of a giant killing. Watford did enough, keeping Woking at arm’s length for most of the game. Then Troy Deeney came on and spoiled it all by scoring with his first touch.
Fulham are getting the hang of this ‘keeping a clean sheet’ business under Claudio Ranieri. OK, this one was against Oldham Athletic but they all count. I wrote that last sentence with about 20 minutes left in the match, hoping to get ahead. And guess what? Oldham scored. And then they scored again. Nice one, Fulham. We kind of expected it, though. Fulham actually had a penalty to go 2-1 up and brought on Aleksander Mitrovic to take it. Yeah, you know what happened next.
Another shock came at Bramall Lane where Championship contenders Sheffield United were felled by Barnet.
Finally, the TV cameras did pick up a decent crack at giant-killing. Newport led former Premier League champions Leicester City 1-0 at half-time and it could have been more. It was looking like the perfect giant-killing, in fact. A small club. A small ground. Top flight side missing chance after chance. Defenders putting their bodies on the line. Big centre-forward heads home a cross from a rapid winger who looks like he should be playing on a bigger stage.
The goalkeeper, Joe Day, made a stunning save and then was beaten by an equally stunning follow up from Rachid Ghezzal with less than ten minutes left. Harsh? Who will even remember now after Newport got a penalty just moments later which, yes, they scored.
And with Whispering Claude seemingly always under pressure, will he be the next one getting sacked in the morning?