Three days after Oldham’s League One success against Portsmouth saw the continuation of the Latics’ FA Cup adventure. Having knocked out Liverpool FC in the fourth round, Athletic had salvaged a replay out of their fifth round clash against the blue half of Merseyside, Everton FC, when Matt Smith headed home a 95th minute equalizer in an exciting 2-2 draw at Boundary Park. For Oldham it was a return to Goodison Park where they had achieved a famous 1-0 win over their hosts in the 2007-08 season and hopes were high amongst the Latics faithful that a repeat was on the cards.
I met up with the guys from the “Two Teams One Spirit” group once again as it was thanks to them that I had the opportunity to go to the game in the first place. We met in the Taxi Drivers’ Club on Walton Hall Avenue, just a brisk 5-10 minute walk from the stadium, and a decent proportion of the 4,000 travelling support had already congregated there for a pre-match pint or two. At 7:45 we took our seats in the Bullens Road End and the travelling support were in good voice right from the off but it wouldn’t be long before all of the pre-match optimism would suddenly disappear.
Fifteen minutes was all it took for Everton to take the lead, a Darron Gibson cross from midfield was taken from close range by an unmarked Kevin Mirallas on the half volley. The closest Oldham would come to scoring in the first half was when Jose Baxter, a former Everton player, was unfortunate to hit the post, a miss which would be punished on the 34th minute mark. A handball from Connor Brown saw a penalty given to the hosts for whom Leighton Baines made it 2-0 and already there was a big mountain to climb for the visitors. It was hard to take for Oldham to concede a goal from the penalty spot, especially as they had a strong case for a penalty of their own turned down following a handball by Gibson following the aforementioned Baxter opportunity.
At half-time most of us talking over a quick beer in the stand agreed that the next goal would be crucial; if Everton scored it would be game over but an Oldham goal would bring back some hope. Unfortunately for Oldham it would be the former that would ring true as Leon Osman got a crucial touch onto a Steven Pienaar cross to make it 3-0 and put the game to bed. There was at least a consolation goal for Oldham fans to cheer as Matt Smith, who had scored some crucial goals in the cup run, rose highest to meet Jonathan Grounds’ corner kick to reduce the arrears just after the hour mark. However, that would be as good as it got for Oldham with the game finishing 3-1. After the game there was only enough time for me to wish the Oldham boys, whether they be English or German, a good trip back as they boarded the coaches lined up outside the stadium whilst yours truly took a short cab ride home with some very good memories from the last few days.
On the pitch Everton are looking to qualify for Europe, either through a sufficiently high Premier League placing (currently lying in 6th place) or by winning the FA Cup for the first time since 1995. Oldham, on the other hand, will now hope to maintain their place in English football’s third tier as they currently lie 20th in the 24 team league.
It had already been a fantastic week for cup shocks in England, with Bradford City and Swansea City both reaching the League Cup final, but this weekend saw the FA Cup provide further upsets for some of football’s big names. The same can also be said of the Scottish League Cup where favourites Celtic FC were knocked out at the semi-final stage by St Mirren. In Northern Ireland there would be cup celebrations for Cliftonville FC who convincingly defeated defending title holders Crusaders FC 4-0 in the League Cup final on Saturday.
The FA Cup could be accused of having surpassed itself in terms of shocks this weekend with the likes of Liverpool, Tottenham Hotspur, Aston Villa and Norwich City going out to lower league opposition. Seven times winners Liverpool were the biggest casualties of the round losing 3-2 to League One (third tier) side Oldham Athletic whose progression to the next round has guaranteed them a home draw with Liverpool’s local rivals Everton. Matt Smith (2) and Reece Wabara scored the goals for Oldham whilst Luis Suarez and Joe Allen replied for the visitors in a match which effectively ruined Liverpool’s season. Out of both cups and lying in seventh place in the Premier League, Brendan Rodgers’ men can at least now concentrate on trying to climb the league table.
Tottenham Hotspur also lost on Sunday away at Championship (second tier) side Leeds United at Elland Road. Luke Varney and Ross McCormack scored the goals which gave Leeds a 2-0 lead which was later halved by Clint Dempsey. Tottenham, however, were unable to equalize and Leeds held on to seal a fantastic win and will be rewarded with an away trip to Premier League champions Manchester City in the fifth round. Chelsea almost made it a hat-trick of cup shocks on Sunday but were able to secure a late draw against Brentford FC. Fernando Torres’ 83rd minute equalizer was enough to give the Blues a second chance and, should Rafael Benitez’s side prove successful in the replay, will see them travel to Middlesbrough in the next round.
Amongst the other FA Cup games over the weekend struggling Aston Villa went out of the competition. Just three days after their elimination from the League Cup at the hands of Swansea, Villa were forced out of the FA Cup at the hands of League One side Millwall FC who defeated the Premier League side 2-1 on Friday night. Millwall’s reward for progressing is a trip to the only non-league side left in the competition, namely Luton Town. Luton narrowly defeated top flight club Norwich City 1-0 away at Carrow Road with Scott Rendell’s goal proving the difference. Elsewhere in the competition some of the big boys managed to get through to the next round unscathed. Record winners Manchester United easily saw off Fulham FC 4-1 at Old Trafford whilst Manchester City edged past Stoke City 1-0 at the latter’s Britannia Stadium. Arsenal did suffer a couple of scares, going behind twice, before persevering 3-2 away at Championship club Brighton and Hove Albion.
The 2012-13 Scottish League Cup final will see Heart of Midlothian play against St Mirren following another exciting round of knockout action north of the border. Saturday saw Heart of Midlothian, currently holders of the Scottish FA Cup, play against Inverness Caledonian Thistle at Easter Road, the Edinburgh home of Hearts’ big rivals Hibernian FC. Andrew Shinnie (Inverness) and Michael Ngoo (Hearts) traded strikes as the game finished 1-1 with thirty added minutes of extra-time unable to separate the two sides. A penalty shoot-out then saw Inverness’ Phillip Roberts miss the crucial spot kick as Hearts went through 5-4 on penalties to leave the Jambos hoping of lifting their first League Cup title since 1963. Sunday saw another exciting semi-final at Hampden Park where Celtic FC have made a bad habit of losing crucial cup matches in the last couple of years. Following defeat to Kilmarnock in the final of last season’s tournament, Celtic went out at the hands of St Mirren today to leave coach Neil Lennon wondering just when he’ll enjoy some more luck in Scottish domestic knockout competition. Esmael Goncalves gave St Mirren the lead after 8 minutes but Gary Hooper equalized for the Hoops on the stroke of half-time. In the space of five second half minutes, however, St Mirren would set themselves up for a famous win thanks to a Paul McGowan penalty (64 mins) and a wonder strike from Steven Thompson (69 mins). Celtic did pull one back through Charlie Mulgrew’s stoppage time effort but the damage had already been done for Lennon’s men. St Mirren will hope it will be third time lucky for them in the League Cup final having lost in their two previous final encounters in 1956 (v Aberdeen) and 2010 (v Rangers).
In Northern Ireland’s League Cup tournament Cliftonville FC won the trophy for the second time in their history on Saturday following a convincing 4-0 win over 2011-12 winners Crusaders FC. Goals from Diarmuid O’Carroll, Joe Gormley (2) and Ryan Catney saw off the defending title holders and gave Cliftonville their first success in this competition in eight years.
Just when you think you’ve seen it all in football, the sport continues to show that it has the capacity to surprise. In England’s Capital One Cup, the latest reincarnation of the League Cup, there has been no shortage of surprises throughout this season’s competition with a fair amount of controversy thrown in for good measure. After being derided as a “Mickey Mouse” cup over the years, one can argue that, in terms of excitement, the League Cup is actually far more interesting than its big brother, the FA Cup. The 2012-13 League Cup final will see Premier League side Swansea City, set to play in their first major English final (the Swans have ten Welsh Cup triumphs to their name), against fourth-tier side Bradford City who have already disposed of three Premier League clubs so far in this competition.
Swansea City, who hail from Wales’ second city, will become the second Welsh team to reach the League Cup final in twelve months after their arch rivals Cardiff City were beaten by Liverpool in the 2011-12 edition. If Swansea can live up to their billing as heavy favourites then they will create history for Welsh football by becoming the first team from the country to win this particular competition (Cardiff won the FA Cup in 1927). The achievement of reaching the final for Swansea City is remarkable given that the club were only promoted to the Premier League just two years ago and under the management of Danish footballing legend Michael Laudrup have continued and expanded on a fine passing game played under his predecessors Roberto Martinez, Paulo Sousa and Brendan Rodgers. The Swans have knocked out of the competition, amongst others, defending cup holders Liverpool and European champions Chelsea. The latter game was laden with controversy after Chelsea’s Eden Hazard kicked out at a ballboy during the semi-final, second leg when trying to retrieve the ball in the last stages of the game, which was goalless on the night but stood 2-0 in Swansea’s favour. The ballboy, revealed as 17 year old Charlie Morgan, fell on top of the ball after a tussle with Hazard who subsequently aimed a kick whilst Morgan was lying on the ground. Hazard saw red, both in terms of anger and in the form of the card shown from the referee’s pocket, but went on to speak to Morgan after the game with both parties apologizing to each other in the aftermath. The incident almost overshadowed the fact that Swansea had successfully defended the 2-0 lead gained from the first leg at Stamford Bridge and will go to Wembley hoping to win their first piece of major silverware since their 2010-11 Championship Play-Off victory which guaranteed their promotion to the Premier League.
Bradford City, a Premier League club as recently as 2001, have suffered a downward turn in fortunes since losing their top flight status. As well as three further relegations, the Valley Parade club were placed into administration in 2002. Nevertheless the spirit of the club has prevailed in tough times and the League Two table currently sees Bradford lying in tenth place, five points behind Northampton Town in the automatic promotion spots and just two points outside the Play-Off places. Their cup form has been nothing short of extraordinary, knocking out three Premier League clubs along the way. Penalties were needed in both the fourth round match against Wigan and the quarter-final tie against Arsenal before Bradford put the challenge of Aston Villa to bed by defeating the Birmingham based side 4-3 on aggregate. Should the Bantams win the trophy against Swansea on February 24th it will go down as one of the most remarkable cup triumphs of all time and would give the West Yorkshire club their first major cup win since they saw off Newcastle United in the 1911 FA Cup final.
Anybody who bemoans the fact that none of the giants of the English game have reached the League Cup final really ought to remind themselves of what makes cup football so exciting in the first place. The chance for David to get one over Goliath is an essential part of knockout football. The fact that two clubs such as Swansea and Bradford are in the final should be celebrated as it gives other clubs the opportunity to dream that it could be them one day, especially in an age where money seems to be deemed more important than the silverware. Try telling that to two clubs whose trophy cabinets aren’t quite as full as they are at Liverpool, Manchester United and Chelsea, to name but three giants of the game.
In this respect the League Cup tends to be more open than its counterpart, the FA Cup. Apart from Portsmouth FC’s triumph in 2008 and Manchester City’s in 2011, the FA Cup has been won by one of just four teams – Manchester United, Chelsea, Liverpool and Arsenal – every year since 1996. In the same period the likes of Leicester City (twice), Aston Villa, Tottenham Hotspur, Blackburn Rovers and Middlesbrough have all lifted the trophy as well as the traditional heavyweights of United, Liverpool and Chelsea (Arsenal, surprisingly, haven’t won the League Cup since 1993). Perhaps the fact that the League Cup concludes early in the new year provides motivation for many teams to win that first piece of silverware in any given season. One thing for certain is that the League Cup deserves far more respect than it currently gets in the English game. Swansea and Bradford will no doubt provide one last highlight this season for a competition which is more interesting than its detractors realize.
Watching the FA Cup 3rd round tie between Arsenal and Leeds United on Monday evening might not have proved so entertaining if former Arsenal defender Martin Keown had not have been struck by a ball hit by a visiting Leeds player in the pre-match warm up. Keown was standing by the pitch alongside ESPN presenter Rebecca Lowe and ex-footballer Robbie Savage.
At least Keown had an inkling that the ball was coming towards him. In contrast German TV presenter Jessica Kastrop had absolutely no idea that a ball was aiming towards the back of her head whilst working on the side line ahead of the 1. FSV Mainz 05 v VfB Stuttgart clash in the Bundesliga last season. If one thing is to be learnt by television companies it is that presenters and pundits should not be anywhere near the teams while they are warming up; that’s unless the broadcasters are just hedging their bets in case the main event doesn’t prove quite as exciting.
The FA Cup third round saw very few shocks this weekend but did see some interesting results and a bit of controversy along the way.
In the tie of the round cup holders Manchester City lost in the derby match against record holders Manchester United by three goals to two. The Red Devils, who were the visitors to City’s Etihad Stadium, took a 3-0 lead going into the half-time break thanks to a brace from Wayne Rooney and a super strike from Danny Welbeck. Ten man City, who saw defender Vincent Kompany harshly sent off for a two-footed tackle on Nani as early as the tenth minute, did well to pull two goals back through Alexsandar Kolorov and Sergio Aguero but the dream comeback ended incomplete as United held out to eliminate their neighbours. United will now face arch-rivals Liverpool FC in the 4th round with another away trip looming for the Old Trafford outfit.
On Friday evening Liverpool’s third round tie at home to Oldham Athletic ended in a flattering 5-1 victory over the League 1 (third-tier) side but ended on a sour note with Oldham’s Tom Adeyemi on the receiving end of some alleged abuse from a home supporter. This episode along with the never-ending row regarding the Luis Suarez/Patrice Evra affair, in which the latter accused the former of using racist language against him, continues to hang over the Anfield club who now need to move on and focus on football and regain some of the credibility which has been lost in recent weeks.
In other ties the main shocks came at League 2 Swindon Town who disposed of Premier League outfit Wigan Athletic with a 2-1 win. League 1 outfit Sheffield Wednesday got the better of West Ham United from the Championship (second-tier) with a late goal from Chris O’Grady separating the two sides. There would be no such upset at Stamford Bridge on Sunday where, in a repeat of the 2010 final, six-time winners Chelsea FC defeated Portsmouth FC 4-0 with Ramires bagging a brace for the West London side. Sunderland continue to flourish under the guidance of Martin O’Neill, this time winning away to Peterborough United. Sebastian Larsson proved influential for the Black Cats by scoring the opening goal and creating the second for James McClean as the Mackems notched up a fourth win in five games since O’Neill’s tenure began and will face a trip to nearby Middlesbrough in the next round.
It all pretty much went to form however as the likes of Tottenham Hotspur, Everton and Aston Villa saw off lower league opposition in the form of Cheltenham Town, Tamworth and Bristol Rovers respectively whilst Newcastle United’s impressive season continued with a 2-1 home win against Premier League strugglers Blackburn Rovers.
FA CUP FOURTH ROUND DRAW
Brighton & Hove Albion/Wrexham v Newcastle
Sunderland v Middlesbrough
Dagenham & Redbridge or Millwall/Southampton
Hull City v Crawley
MK Dons/Queens Park Rangers v Chelsea
West Bromwich Albion v Norwich City
Blackpool v Sheffield Wednesday
Arsenal/Leeds United v Aston Villa
Stevenage Borough v Notts County
Watford v Tottenham Hotspur
Liverpool v Manchester United
Derby County v Stoke City
Everton v Fulham
Macclesfield Town/Bolton Wanderers v Swansea
Sheffield United v Birmingham City/Wolverhampton Wanderers
Nottingham Forest /Leicester City v Swindon
Ties to be played on the weekend of 28-29 January, 2012.
There’s been plenty more action in European domestic cup competitions this week including the French League Cup semi-finals, Coppa Italia, English and Scottish FA Cup replays as well as the completion of the German Cup 3rd round following the postponement of two games in December due to bad weather. With further played in Spain, Portugal, Greece, Cyprus and Turkey Stoppage Time reviews the best of the action.
Montpellier HSC and Olympique Marseille will contest the 17th Coupe de la Ligue final in April after chalking up respective victories over Paris Saint Germain and AJ Auxerre in the semi-finals. An Olivier Giroud goal in second half extra-time proved the difference as Montpellier reached the tournament showpiece. Marseille, the defending champions, reached consecutive finals having put AJ Auxerre to the sword with a 2-0 win with goals from Brandao and Gignac.
The Derby della Capitale took centre stage in the Coppa Italia as AS Roma and SS Lazio faced off in another typically feisty derby match. A goal from Simplicio in the 77th minute gave AS Roma the win after both teams had scored from the penalty spot early in the second half. Napoli sealed their place on Tuesday with a 2-1 home win against Bologna whilst Wednesday saw Sampdoria go through via a penalty shoot out at home to Udinese. The one game on Thursday night witnessed an easy win for AC Milan over AS Bari with the San Siro side going through 3-0 thanks to goals from Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Alexander Merkel and Robinho.
Copa del Rey holders Sevilla FC became the first team to qualify for the semi-finals on Tuesday defeating Villarreal 3-0 in the second leg of their quarter-final tie, going through 6-3 on aggregate. Goals from Renato, Freddie Kanoute and Alexis gave the Andalucians a semi-final tie against Real Madrid who recorded a 1-0 victory on Thursday over local rivals Atletico Madrid. Second division Real Betis made a brave attempt to claw back a five goal deficit against record holders FC Barcelona but, in the end, the Catalans went through 6-3 on aggregate despite losing the second leg 3-1. Barcelona look forward to a meeting with Almeria who disposed of Deportivo 4-2 on aggregate.
There were replays in England’s FA Cup with Premier League teams getting the better of lower league opponents. The biggest game saw eleven times winners Arsenal FC defeat Leeds United 3-1 at the latter’s Elland Road stadium on Wednesday thanks to Samir Nasri, Bacary Sagna and Robin van Persie. On Tuesday there were wins for Manchester City (4-2 v Leicester City), Wolverhampton Wanderers (5-0 v Doncaster Rovers) and Stoke City (2-0 v Cardiff City) giving the top-flight plenty of representation in the oncoming 5th round.
In the Scottish Cup there was a big shock on Tuesday as third tier Ayr United got the better of SPL side Hibernian FC by a Mark Roberts goal to nil piling the pressure on the Easter Road side who have not enjoyed a good season. Dundee United ultimately got the better of second tier Ross County winning 4-3 in a penalty shoot out in a repeat of the 2010 Scottish Cup final. There were also wins for Dunfermline Athletic (5-3 v Montrose), St Mirren (6-1 v Peterhead) and Partick Thistle (1-0 v Falkirk FC) whilst drawn matches involving Stenhousemuir/Stranraer (0-0) and Greenock Morton/Airdrie United (2-2) will have to be replayed at a later date.
Tuesday saw the completion of the Round of 16 in the KNVB Beker with wins for Eredivisie sides Groningen FC, RKC Waalwijk, NAC Breda and VV Noordwijk. They saw off determined opponents in the form of SC Genemuden, Achilles 29 Groesbeek, Telstar Velsen and Sparta Nijkerk respectively.
There were just two matches to play in the Round of 16 in Germany’s DFB Pokal with top flight sides securing wins over lower league opposition in games postponed from before Christmas due to bad weather. Srdjan Lakic was the hero for 1.FC Kaiserslautern scoring a hat-trick in his club’s 4-1 win over TuS Koblenz whilst a brace for Timmy Simons sealed progress for 2007 cup winners 1.FC Nurnberg in their 2-0 victory against 3. Liga side Kickers Offenbach.
Two matches were played in the group stage of the Turkiye Kupasi, one of which saw Galatasaray secure their passage to the quarter-final stages following a goalless draw away at Antalyaspor in their roup A encounter. In Group C capital club Ankaragucu still have a chance of progressing to the last eight following a Monday night 1-1 draw at home to Bucaspor. The visitors have now completed their group campaign and currently lie in second place but a win for Ankaragucu in their final match against Yeni Malatyaspor will see them take Bucaspor’s spot.
The Kypello Elladas saw the quarter-final first legs played out, amongst the four ties were two of the Greek games classic fixtures. Defending cup holders Panathinaikos fell to a 2-0 defeat at the hands of capital rivals AEK Athens whilst record cup winners Olympiakos Piraeus could only draw a north/south grudge match 1-1 against PAOK Thessaloniki. Olympiakos Volou have one foot in the semi-final draw having won 2-0 away at AO Kerkyra whilst on Thursday Atromitos got the better of Diagoras Rhodes FC by a similar scoreline.
In Portugal’s Taça da Liga the group stages are in full swing with two rounds of games completed in each of the four third-round groups which will determine who this year’s semi-finalists will be. Group A is led by Nacional who hold a three point advantage over FC Porto after beating Gil Vicente 4-1 on Wednesday. Two-time winners SL Benfica, Paços de Ferreira and Sporting top groups B, C and D respectively.
The Kypello Kyprou on the Mediterranean island of Cyprus saw the conclusion of three of the eight Round of 16 ties this week with the stand-out fixture between Apollon Limassol and APOEL Nicosia with the former winning 3-1 on aggregate following a 2-0 home success on Wednesday. There were also wins for Ethnikos Achnas and AEK Larnaca with respective wins over Ermis Aradippou and Doxa Katakopias.
Anybody familiar with the German football magazine “11 Freunde” will have noticed a monthly section called “Auswärtsspiel” (lit. “away game”) whereby various reporters and contributors will report on random matches, anywhere in the world, which they have been to in a particular month. Whether it be a high pressure, top quality English Premier League match, a bottom of the table six-pointer in the South Korean second division or a fifth-league mid-table clash in Peru, football has the unique ability to be so universal and yet project different cultures and atmospheres to the wider world. “Stoppage Time” has, shamelessly, copied this idea and is hoping that our readers can enjoy a similar experience to which German readers are accustomed. In the first of an irregular series, “Away Days” focuses on the FA Cup, third round match played between Tranmere Rovers and Wolverhampton Wanderers on Sunday, January 3rd:
I arrived in O’Neill’s Irish Bar in Liverpool just before midday ready to sample two interesting matches on television. The Old Firm derby between Celtic and Rangers kicked-off at 12:30 followed by the Manchester United v Leeds United match at 12:45. Me and my four German friends Jörg, Simon, Markus and Matthias, all of whom taking the opportunity to indulge in a bit of Groundhopping during the Bundesliga winter break having been to Everton’s Goodison Park stadium the day before, had already sampled many beers before the shock at the events at Old Trafford were confirmed before our soon to be blurry eyes; a 1-0 victory for Leeds United. The locals were buzzing with the result as, in theory, the chances of local giants Liverpool and Everton going to Wembley had increased slightly thanks to their near neighbours misfortune. It was on the back of this result that we got into a taxi to go ‘over the water’ (i.e. ‘across the river’ in local parlance) and to get ready for a less glamourous, but no less important, cup match taking place at Prenton Park (pictured).
Tranmere Rovers are very much the third force in Merseyside football currently residing in England’s Coca-Cola League One (i.e. third league). The glory days of the mid-1990′s and early 2000′s when Tranmere rose from from the then Third Division to the second tier of English football as well as playing in a string of Wembley Play-Off and cup finals (most famously the 2000 League Cup final which they lost 2-1 to Leicester City), are increasingly a distant memory. Since then the club have suffered demotion back to the third tier and, like many clubs in England, are facing great financial difficulty. Having sacked their previous coach John Barnes after only four months in charge, former club physio Les Parry has slowly got the team playing as a unit and have risen from bottom of the table to third bottom, just four points from the safety zone. Their opponents Wolverhampton Wanderers are experiencing something of a renaissance since their promotion back to the Premier League in 2008-09. Under the leadership of Mick McCarthy “Wolves” have steadily built into a team that are finding their feet in the top flight again (they currently lie 15th in the Premier League) and recently faced criticism for playing a severely weakened side in a league game against Manchester United, choosing to save the bulk of the players for other games they thought it easier to win. Despite this McCarthy has been pragmatic in his approach and he still has the fans on his side after what has been, thus far, a difficult season.
Another friend of ours, Liam, belatedly joined us in the Prenton Park pub just outside the stadium before the game kicked-off. After another couple of beers were enjoyed the six of us set out to take our seats in the Johnny King Stand (named after Tranmere’s most successful coach) and, on a bitterly cold evening, the last game of the FA Cup third round got under way. After what was a largely uneventful first twenty minutes news came through the stadium that the draw for the fourth round had just been made. A voice some rows behind me shouted “Crystal Palace at home, next round”. Maybe one of the players close to the touchline heard the news as it was from this point that the game began to improve with a few half chances, Wolves’ Sylvain Ebanks-Blake having the best opportunity after his close range header was stopped by Rovers’ keeper Luke Daniels. The second half started at a good old pace and it was the home side who looked the most dangerous. The best chance fell to Tranmere striker Terry Gornell who, after he’d beaten Wolves ‘keeper Wayne Hennessey to the ball in the eighteen yard box, stabbed his effort just wide and it was from then that things looked like they wouldn’t go for Tranmere. This was to be proved in the 78th minute after a killer through ball from Wolves’ midfielder Nenad Milijas was driven home from just outside the penalty area by Matt Jarvis. This was particulary harsh on Tranmere who had put a lot of effort into a game which, according to a steward at half-time, might not have gone ahead due to the extreme temperatures making the pitch very tough. Despite this though the crowd of 7,500 gave both teams a standing ovation in what was a competitive game played in a good spirit. Wolves may have won but they were certainly made to work for it from a club who are two divisions down the English football ladder.
From there it was back to the Prenton Park pub for a couple more beers to round off what had been a good day. Now I can look forward to my next away day: 1. FC Nürnberg v Eintracht Frankfurt on January 23rd. Until then, and to my Groundhopping friends from Germany, “auf wiedersehen!”
You know that a new year has begun in earnest when the FA Cup third round fixtures come to be played on the first weekend of January. After two preliminary rounds, four qualifying rounds and the first two rounds proper of the competition, the FA Cup for 2009-10 has reached the stage where excitement levels reach fever pitch as the Premier League clubs fight it out among lower league and non-league clubs alike. The dream of lifting the most famous piece of knockout football silverware in world football at Wembley Stadium in May still has fans and players buzzing with every new competition, this despite the fact that some top-flight managers refuse to play strong teams for the early rounds. In this day and age where “fourth is the new first” the Premier League and its mountains of wealth seem to be more important than winning a trophy for today’s modern coaches. However the FA Cup is still a trophy whose history and tradition will ensure that it remains an important part of the football calendar. “Stoppage Time” previews the third round of matches played from January 2-3:
Usually the first thing that happens after the draw for the third round is made is to see where there are any potential ‘banana skins’ where a lower league club could upset one of the big boys. This round has certainly got a few of those to look forward to. Liverpool, whose troubles have been well documented all season, go into an away tie against Reading FC from the Championship (English football’s second tier) having finally won two matches in a row in the Premier League for the first time since September. Reading, on the other hand, have recently lost their manager and haven’t won in five matches. If Liverpool slipped up here then it would be a disaster for the club as their chances of domestic silverware realistically lie in this competition. Their local rivals Everton FC, who lost in last season’s final to Chelsea 2-1, will be hoping to avoid what would be a huge upset as they play against a Carlisle United side who will have 6,000 fans at Goodison Park for the game. Carlisle will be hoping to emulate Oldham Athletic’s achievements in 2007-08 when the Coca Cola League One (i.e. third tier) club went to Everton and came away with a win. Other ties where Premier League clubs play against lower league opponents are Tottenham Hotspur’s home game against Peterborough United, Roberto Mancini’s rejuvenated Manchester City are away at Gordon Strachan’s Middlesbrough, Stoke City play York City from Blue Square Premier League (i.e. fifth tier), a similar upset could await Sunderland if they lose at home to Barrow FC, who are also in the Blue Square Premier. A tough encounter could be on the cards for Alex McLeish’s Birmingham City side, who lie eighth in the Premier League, taking on Nottingham Forest who currently lie third in the Championship. Burnley will be hoping to put a bad spell of league form behind them with a win away at MK Dons and Portsmouth, who have failed to even pay their players for the last three months, will want to a good cup run to keep players’ spirits high by beating 1987 FA Cup winners Coventry City at Fratton Park. Bolton Wanderers, who sacked their coach Gary Megson earlier this week, have a home tie against League Two strugglers Lincoln City whilst Roy Hodgson’s Fulham will hope to put the disappointment of defeat in last week’s West London derby to Chelsea behind them with a home win against Swindon Town. Two all-Premier League ties to be played on Saturday are seven times winners Aston Villa at home to Blackburn Rovers and Wigan Athletic against Hull City. Also Newcastle United fans must make the long trip from their north east home to south west outfit Plymouth Argyle. There are twelve other ties on Saturday involving clubs from the lower divisions playing against each other for a place in the fourth round.
There are half a dozen fixtures on Sunday that will finish off the third round action. The tie of the round is the eagerly awaited clash between old foes Manchester United and Leeds United at Old Trafford. Since Leeds’ relegation from the Premier League five seasons ago the Yorkshire outfit have struggled for the most part in League One but they look like finally getting back into English football’s second tier this season. Leeds will be hoping to beat their arch-rivals in Manchester for the first time since 1981. However the Red Devils will hope to put Leeds cup dreams to bed with a convincing win in front of a sell-out 76,000 crowd, as many as 9,000 of whom will be following Leeds. The only all-Premier League tie on Sunday is West Ham United’s welcome to Upton Park of London rivals Arsenal who will hope that they can add to coach Arsene Wenger’s tally of four FA Cups this season. FA Cup holders Chelsea FC will start the defence of the trophy against Watford FC who the Blues have beaten when winning the cup in 1970 as well as last season. In the remaining ties Tranmere Rovers from League One welcome Premier League Wolverhampton Wanderers (a game you can read about in our new section “Away Days” starting on Monday, January 4th), an all-Championship tie between Sheffield United and Queen’s Park Rangers and Notts County, under the directorship of former England coach Sven Goren Eriksson, play against non-league Forest Green Rovers.