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.
Glasgow Rangers completed the first leg of a potential treble this afternoon defeating underdogs St. Mirren in the 50th Scottish League Cup final at Hampden Park, Glasgow. Walter Smith’s men rode their luck in the first half and were reduced to nine men in the second half but their quality came through in the end as an 84th minute winner from Kenny Miller secured Rangers a record extending 26th triumph in this competition.
The first half produced little goalmouth action for the first thirty minutes with Rangers’ Steven Whittaker having the first shot on target in the 25th minute but it failed to trouble St. Mirren keeper Paul Gallacher. Kenny Miller also had a chance on 34 minutes but his chance blazed high and wide after making a run through the middle into the penalty area. Saints’ first real chance came after Rangers’ keeper Neil Alexander mis-controlled the ball from a back pass and allowed Jack Ross to put in a sliding tackle but the ‘keeper was adjudged to have been fouled. For the last five minutes of the half Saints upped-the-ante with great chances from Steven Thomson, David Barron (whose long-range effort hit the bar) and Michael Higdon but all were unsuccessful and the Buddies were justifiably disappointed at going in goalless at half-time.
The game became contentious early in the second half with both teams getting physical. Rangers’ Kevin Thomson was the first player sent off after a rash tackle from behind on St. Mirren’s Steven Thomson. Even team coaches Walter Smith and Gus MacPherson were seen arguing on the touchline as both sides became embroiled in a slanging match. St. Mirren tried to take the game to the ten men of Rangers but it was the Scottish Premier League (SPL) leaders who had the next big chance in the 65th minute when a Nacho Novo free kick eventually found Kenny Miller amongst a melee of players in the penalty area but his shot was blocked five yards out by Michael Higdon. Six minutes later the Gers were down to nine men as defender Danny Wilson was shown the red card after a pull of the arm of Saints’ substitute Craig Dargo just outside the penalty area. However this seemed to make Rangers more determined to keep out the challenge from the Paisley side, who are second from bottom in the SPL, and when Steven Naismith came on as a 79th minute substitute for Kris Boyd it eventually proved to be the pivotal moment of the match. Five minutes after coming on Naismith ran with the ball from deep inside his own half leading the way in a three-against-three situation and his cross perfectly found the head of Kenny Miller who headed low into the bottom right corner of the net to give Rangers the lead. Saints pressed forward to get an equalizer but they couldn’t break down a resolute Rangers defence.
The final whistle blew and most of the 44,538 crowd would go home celebrating the first silverware of the season for Rangers with the SPL trophy almost certain to be joining it in the near future. With a Scottish Cup quarter-final replay against Dundee United to come there is still potential for Rangers to win an eighth domestic treble. For St. Mirren a battle against relegation is the basis for the rest of the season but the club can be proud of their efforts in their first domestic cup final since 1987 even if they eventually ended up empty-handed.