No cup shocks – what a surprise!
THE one big shock of the FA Cup fourth round was that there were no shock results. Not a single David managed to slay a giant – in fact, none of the 16 ties produced so much as a mild surprise.
And if that was a cause for dismay in some quarters – after all, the fabled ‘romance of the cup’ is built on giant-killing exploits – then it may also have been a reason to celebrate that the big guns were again taking this famous old competition seriously.
The top teams all fielded line-ups that were far stronger than has been the trend in recent seasons when the tournament has often been reduced to the disrespectful role of testing ground for youngsters and fringe players while the superstars were given a breather.
At last it seems that the cup and all its Wembley trappings are being seen as a worthwhile prize again. Most fans, after all, have always viewed it that way. Memory banks are illuminated by FA Cup moments.
The visit of mighty Liverpool, studded with stars including Luis Suarez and Steven Gerrard, will be a highlight in Bournemouth’s history and will live long in the memory of the Dorset club’s supporters.
Stevenage, only a few seasons out of the non-league ranks, hosted mighty Everton. The fact that they lost 4-0 will pale into insignificance for the home fans when they remember the day in years to come.
Fans of Conference side Kidderminster had a day out at Sunderland and saw their team perform heroically in a 1-0 defeat; Yeovil’s tough campaign was illuminated by a match against Premier League Southampton; while Watford had the football world gasping when they went two goals up at Manchester City before eventually succumbing. Only the FA Cup can do this.
Sunday’s fifth round draw, however, did the tournament no favours. The four biggest giants – Manchester City, Chelsea, Liverpool and Arsenal - were thrown together in two ties so the eventual quarter-final line-up will be denied two of the biggest attractions. Some of the smaller survivors, though, will scent the chance of further progress.
The sporting spotlight switches to rugby this weekend as the Six Nations Championship gets underway. Wales may be favourites to retain their crown but the winners of Saturday’s France-England fixture may have different ideas. It promises to be a fascinating competition.