We asked in our last blog whether the FA Cup was half full or half empty. Well the 4th Round has finally been completed with Liverpool’s narrow replay win over Bolton and the conclusion has to be that the cup is not only full to the brim, it’s overflowing with exciting football and shock results. Bradford’s win over Chelsea has been described as the biggest upset ever, surpassing Sunderland’s epic Final win over Don Revie’s mighty Leeds way back in 1973. Coming from 2-0 down away at the Premiership Champions elect was fantastic but the way they did it was incredible. Because they didn’t batter Chelsea with high balls and a bludgeoning centre forward, they outplayed them at their own game. Fast incisive passing, quick counter attacks, precision strikes.
We so often berate ourselves in this country about a lack of technical ability compared to European or South American players. But here was John Stead, probably described by most commentators as a journeyman, showing superb control, hold-up play, quick feet and clever lay-offs. And for a right footed player his left foot strike from the corner of the penalty area, bent round a defender into the top corner was magnificent. Andy Halliday scored the third goal with a controlled and accurate side-footed shot from a pass and a position that the vast majority of players would have blasted over the bar, including many of the full internationals he was up against. And they are both currently playing in our third tier!!
Middlesborough went to Manchester City and bettered them in the second half to win the tie. Again, it was good tactical play, neat one-twos, positive running, technical ability and awareness (Patrick Bamford was second to the ball but judged which way Fernando would try and clear it). This from a second tier side that included 8 English players against the reigning Premiership Champions with a side of foreign internationals (Milner was the only English starter).
I won’t go on analysing each individual game but who would have thought that after the start to the season they had, Louis Van Gaal would be declaring Man Utd favourites for the Cup as we move into the 5th Round. It took their expensive stars a replay to get past Cambridge Utd, a team from the Second Division that started with 10 Englishmen and a Scotsman (Man Utd had 3 Englishmen). Let’s see how they do at Preston who earned their place by convincingly beating Sheffield Utd at Bramall Lane. The Blades themselves had again shown their ability to match Premier League opposition by taking Spurs all the way in the two-legged Capital One Cup the previous week. Their two goals were scored by an 18 year old Englishman who had been playing at non-league level only weeks earlier!
We will return to the topic of young players in our next blog but, in the meantime wonder if the level of English football and players is far higher than we give ourselves credit for? Are these performances just players rising to the occasion, the golden day when everything comes right and all the team play the game of their lives? Is it just the magic of the Cup? Or is it that standards throughout the Leagues are rising?
The next round is on Feb 14th which is also the closing date for entries into The Peoples FA Cup. Romance lives on – love football, love the FA Cup.