This is the last weekend where the FA Cup makes everyone shut up and take a seat. From the Fifth Round on league play continues unabated, with fixtures rescheduled as needed. The Cup won’t be the center of English football again until the Final in May. If you’re a hopeless Cup romantic like me, this was your last chance to have your less enthusiastic buddies humor you. The Fourth Round offered but one true Cupset, some glimpses of the ugly side of English football, and some fringe players make convincing cases for more playing time. If you missed anything this weekend, we’ll get you caught up.
… you’ll be disappointed with the Fourth Round. There was exactly one. And unless you were there, you probably didn’t see it. Which is a shame, because it was a pretty wild ride. Not only did the underdogs win, but they did it with a 97th minute goal. And now they get to host Manchester United in the Fifth Round, just two steps from Wembley. If you’re casting around for one last underdog to pull for in this season’s FA Cup, you could do much worse than Shrewsbury.
Even with the FA Cup’s lengthy history of upsets, not many expected Aston Villa to come out on top against Manchester City. That the home side went down 0-4 is probably the least surprising result of the round. What is surprising is the hat-trick scored by recent academy graduate Kelechi Iheanacho. The 19 year old Nigerian international has had somewhat limited opportunities in the Premier League but has absolutely shone in both cup tournaments. This weekend’s performance against Villa showed that he deserves regular first team minutes— either with his home club or on loan with someone else.
The late game on Sunday brought out some difficult emotions. On one side you had a club that, for many, exemplifies some of the worst aspects of modern football— corporate greed, dirty tricks, a tendency to treat fans like customers, and a sneering contempt for the history and tradition that defines English football. And on the other side you had Chelsea Football Club. If you managed to sit through the game you got to see Eden Hazard finally break his scoring drought. So, y’know, there’s that.
Case in point: Everton’s 3-0 win over fourth division side Carlisle United. Arouna Kone put Everton in front within the first two minutes, and the home fans responded with some pretty despicable racist chants. It got so bad that the PA announcer had to tell fans to knock it off, and afterward Carlisle manager Keith Curle had to take time from his post-match presser to admonish his club’s supporters. So, not a good look for the English game.
Yes, they have a good record against Derby. Yes, everything on paper pointed toward a good result for the visitors. But all that meant that United were perfectly poised for an embarassment, subtly threatening another underperforming slog and being forced into a replay… or worse. As it happened, United managed to get it together and do what was expected of them (on paper anyway). As with their other recent “good” performances, United were the beneficiaries of Wayne Rooney having a good day. He likely won’t get the praise he got for scoring the gamewinner against Liverpool, but it would be a mistake to downplay his contribution in the Midlands on Friday.