FA Cup Magic: Five Conclusions from the Third-Round games

Kettering... can they go all the way?!

Kettering... can they go all the way?!

Manchester City 0-3 Nottingham Forest
Obviously the result of the round was at the City of Manchester Stadium where Forest, strugglers in the Championship, upset the Richest Club In The World to add more misery to Mark Hughes at the beginning of 2009. Hughes will be worried about the lack of passion and fight shown by his side against opposition they should have been able to beat quite comfortably. I am beginning to wonder, given the performances of the likes of Richard Dunne and Micah Richards and other players who were so impressive last season,  whether Mark Hughes has ever really earnt the respect and loyalty of the dressing room. I think it was clear that they enjoyed playing under Sven last season (the last result of the season proved that much), and I wonder if that, combined with the uncertainty that such wealth brings to a club, is the root of City’s problems. Congrats to Forest though, a club of their size and history deserve to be in the top tier, I hope Billy Davies can turn things round there.

Hartlepool United 2-0 Stoke City
The other major upset happened at Geoff Stelling’s beloved Hartlepool, where the lowly League One club showed that Stoke aren’t too much cop really. There is also an argument that this is perhaps not too much of a shock result. Given that the football league is generally acknowledged to be a far more physical and tough place to play than the flair-filled Premier League, it was perhaps obvious that United would be able to handle Stoke’s bully boy long throw tactics – after all they deal with it every week. Combine that with the fact that Stoke lack much variety going forward, and Hartlepool may have been confident of keeping a clean sheet.

Chelsea 1-1 Southend United
This still counts as an upset, as though Chelsea are not out of the competition, neither are Southend, and before the game anything less than a comfortable Chelsea win would have been deemed improbable going on impossible. However, Southend showed a lot of grit and character against Big Phil’s flamboyant side, and they got their reward. Serious questions are now starting to be levelled at the jolly Brazilian over his ability to manage at the top level domestically, and at times he does seem to be struggling to get Chelsea ticking. He has had international success, but in a tournament, teams can’t really ‘work you out’ as they can in a longer league campaign, and I think Chelsea have been sussed out this season. If you can defend solidly and frustrate them you have every chance of getting a result and as yet, Scolari hasn’t shown the tactical nuance to over come such obstacles.

Gillingham 1-2 Aston Villa
When will Aston Villa’s luck run out!? Although they were apparently comprehensive in their dominance over Gillingham in today’s clash, they were struggling to break the 1-1 deadlock as the game ran towards it’s close. Step up Ashley Young, surging into the box and falling over after running into the Gillingham defender. You won;t see many softer penalties than that, the defender made no attempt at the ball, no challenge whatsoever, he simply put his hands up and let Young past. Young didn’t fancy trying his luck though, and after bumping into the obliging defender, the penalty was duly awarded. I’m not saying that Villa shouldn’t have won, by all accounts they did more than enough to progress, but Gillingham can feel very hard done by I feel. It is these sort of decisions that change the look of a season and if Villa keep getting the rub of the green, they could have a very good one indeed. If it changes… things could fall apart.

Congratulations to Torquay and Kettering
The two non-league cups in the fourth round hat deserve a lot of praise. Torquay picked up an impressive win at league side Blackpool, and Kettering overcame fellow non-leaguers Eastwood Town to make the draw too. In this day and age we really and truly shouldn’t see any non-league teams this far into the competition, such is the advantage held in all aspects by the Premier League clubs in particular, but the spirit of the under-dogs is invincible and is what makes this such a great competition. The FA Cup is all about upsets, and though they haven’t knocked out world famous opposition, these two sides are flying the flag for the little clubs in the fourth round, reminding everyone that it is possible and showing just what the FA Cup is all about.

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