For the first time in the Premiership era – which began in the 1992/3 season – a non-league side knocked out a top flight club in the FA Cup last]Saturday, as Luton Town won 1-0 away at Norwich City. The Hatters – who have slumped all the way down to the Conference after their halcyon days of the late 1980s, when they were in the old Division One and won their only major trophy, the League Cup , in 1988 – were lucky not to concede a penalty in injury time when Lathaniel Rowe-Turner handled in his own area, but on the whole they full deserved their victory, which was earned through Scott Rendell’s strike in the 80th minute. Luton’s “reward” for beating Norwich is a game against Millwall in the next round – a fixture that ended in an infamous riot at Kenilworth when the two teams met in the FA Cup sixth round back in 1985. The Lions had earned their own progress by defeating Aston Villa 2-1 at the Den on Friday night – a result that was technically an upset, though it was hardly a shock given Villa’s poor recent performance – including being knocked out of the League Cup by Bradford City earlier in the week – and, despite Millwall being in the Championship, the gap between the two sides was only 12 places – fewer than the number between Manchester United and the side they beat 4-1 at the weekend, Fulham.
The lack of dominance by the Premiership teams in the FA Cup was particularly evident on Sunday, as three top flight sides took on opponents from the lower leagues and none of them led their respective matches at any point, with two of them ultimately exiting the competition. Oldham provided the biggest upset of the day, as they outplayed a Liverpool side two divisions above them and won a five goal thriller at Boundary Park, 3-2. Although Brendan Rodgers had rested some of his regular starters for the game, including Steven Gerrard, it was still an unlikely victory for Paul Dickov’s men, as they had managed just one point from their last eight league matches heading into this tie. Chelsea did manage to keep alive their defence of the trophy as they earned a late 2-2 draw away at Brentford, though the shushing gesture that Fernando Torres made to the home supporters after his equaliser was completely unnecessary and showed how far he has dropped from being one of the most feared strikers in Europe, to taking issue with some good-natured abuse from fans of a League One club.
Tottenham Hotspur were not able to match their London rivals feat of getting away with a draw, as they lost 2-1 at Elland Roads against Leeds United – who completely deserved their victory and whose two goals were taken splendidly. Spurs lined up without a striker in their starting eleven, as Jermain Defoe has been struggling with an injury and Emmanuel Adebayor is playing in the African Cup of Nations for Togo, but the entire team played without desire and they appeared to think they only needed to turn up in order to win the match. From the first minute, Leeds were quicker to the ball and stronger in tackles – something you would expect from a team managed by Neil “Colin” Warnock – and several of the Tottenham players appeared unable to complete even a simple pass to a teammate, with Scott Parker and Steven Caulker being guilty of regularly giving away possession. While much is made of Arsenal’s lack of trophies since 2005, Spurs have not won the FA Cup since 1991 and in those intervening 22 years, they have claimed only two League Cups, have never been in the title race and have not made it past the semi-final stage in any other competition. Barring an unlikely victory in the Europa League this season – which has a strong lineup of clubs for the knockout stages this year – this barren spell will continue for Tottenham and the only aim we realistically have is finishing fourth to qualify for the Champions League – another trophy we will not win, but it will make more money for the club, which unfortunately is what modern football is all about. While I recognise that it is only by being Europe’s premier club competition that a team can attract the best players and pay competitive wages, but merely finishing in the top four each year is not success in itself, yet that seems to be the sole focus of the board.
Queens Park Rangers were the other Premiership team to be knocked out by a side in a lower rung of the league ladder, as they lost 4-2 at home to MK Dons, a result that actually flattered QPR, who were 4-0 down heading into the final ten minutes. In some of the other fourth round fixtures, Arsenal won an entertaining match at The Amex against Brighton, prevailing 3-2 thanks to a late deflected goal from Theo Walcott; Manchester City earned a 1-0 victory at Stoke; Wigan beat non-league Macclesfield by a single goal; Everton’s good form continued with a 2-1 success away at Bolton; and Middlesbrough knocked out League Two’s Aldershot.
There is a round of Premier League fixtures in midweek, followed by the closing of the January transfer window on Thursday, with many teams expecting to be active, not least Harry Redknapp’s QPR, who on Tuesday evening face the champions, Manchester City, at Loftus Road. Also on that day, Newcastle, who have not yet won away in the league this season, travel to Birmingham to play Aston Villa, who have scored just once in their last six home Premiership matches; Stoke will try to end their run of their consecutive league defeats when they take on Wigan at the Britannia Stadium; and Sunderland host Swansea. On Wednesday, Tottenham travel to Norwich, who earned a point in the reverse fixture at White Hart Lane and also knocked them out of the League Cup at Carrow Road this season; Liverpool, currently in 7th but who have not beaten anybody above them in the league this year, face 6th placed Arsenal at the Emirates; there is a London derby at Craven Cottage between Fulham and West Ham; Southampton face Manchester United at Old Trafford; Chelsea travel to Reading; and Everton and West Brom meet at Goodison Park.
Last time, 5-6; Season, 98-120
Aston Villa vs Newcastle – Draw
QPR vs Manchester City – Away win
Stoke vs Wigan – Home win
Sunderland vs Swansea – Away win
Arsenal vs Liverpool – Home win
Everton vs West Brom – Home win
Norwich vs Tottenham – Home win
Fulham vs West Ham – Draw
Manchester United vs Southampton – Home win
Reading vs Chelsea – Away win