Rants and musings from the magazine team
So many cupsets, so little time…
The Giants of... LiverpoolOn Saturday December 8th, Oldham Athletic won 2-0 at fellow League One strugglers Colchester. It was a good win to follow an impressive FA Cup Second Round victory over Doncaster, which gave the Latics a Third Round trip to Nottingham Forest to look forward to.
That win over Colchester was Oldham’s last league win (they haven’t won at home in the league for even longer, since November 24th) which helps underline how monumental – and unprecedented – their 3-2 victory over Liverpool was yesterday.
As a fierce rain battered Boundary Park, Oldham played without pressure or expectation against a Liverpool side full of stars (including the prized partnership of Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge). The home side played their own game, keeping the ball and creating chances. When Liverpool had the ball, Oldham were positionally disciplined and kept their heads.
By contrast Liverpool often played like strangers, repeatedly failing to find one another and snatching at half-chances. Of the 20 shots the visitors had at goal, only a handful could be called real chances.
Ultimately, individual errors cost Liverpool but it speaks volumes that there was no late surge following Joe Allen’s 80th-minute deficit-reducer. Steven Gerrard’s shot against the bar notwithstanding, Liverpool never mounted a concerted effort.
Oldham welcome Everton in the next round to battle it out for a quarter-final place. Could the Latics be this competition’s Bradford?
The Giants of… Norwich CityThere are few hard-luck stories in English football that can rival Luton Town’s recent history. Relegated from the top flight the season before the Premier League was created (thus missing out on the riches to follow), the Hatters have suffered 20 years of relegations, financial woe, mismanagement and, eventually, non-league football.
But there is more than a little magic around Kenilworth Road this season. With the side on the charge to once again make the Conference play-offs, Luton are fast becoming the story of this season’s FA Cup.
From being six minutes away from crashing out to Nuneaton in the First Round, Luton have seen off Wolverhampton Wanderers (costing Stale Solbakken his job) and now, amazingly, won at Norwich City.
Never in the Premier League era has a non-league side knocked a top-flight club out of the FA Cup, guaranteeing that Scott Rendell’s 80th-minute strike will go down in history and will be talked about for many years to come.
Luton’s reward is a home time with fellow giant-killers Millwall. What price another upset?
The Giants of… QPRQueens Park Rangers’ unbeaten start to 2013 came to an embarrassing end on Saturday afternoon as they were humbled by League One’s MK Dons in front of their own fans. The Loftus Road stands were filled with confusion rather than outright anger as the visitors kept scoring and scoring, bagging four times in the first hour of the game.
By the time MK had taken that 4-0 lead the confusion turned into action as thousands of home fans walked out, leaving only a relative handful to see a mini-fightback leave the final score at an ever-so-slightly more respectable 4-2.
QPR manager Harry Redknapp bemoaned the fact that his side, which was weakened but included seven internationals, weren't able to beat a team two divisions below them, choosing to use the result as proof that the squad needs reinforcements. It's debatable whether a cup shock proves a lack of squad depth, quality or focus – but what is beyond doubt is that MK Dons thoroughly deserved their win.
The Giants of… Aston VillaThe Bad Weekend keyboard is suffering: the letters A, S, T, O, N, V, I and L are in danger of being worn away. The Villans continue their residence on these pages (there’s no such thing as bad publicity, right?) by crashing out of the FA Cup on Friday night to round off a nightmare week.
In truth, it’s questionable whether losing 2-1 at Championship side Millwall was actually a shock, considering that there are only 11 league places between the sides (the same distance separates Villa from Arsenal) and the fact that Aston Villa are, well, hopeless. To put it into context, it’s not as bad as going out of the League Cup to a League Two team. Over two legs.
As we’ve already discovered, the 2004 finalists can look forward to a trip to Luton in the next round where they will fancy their chances of advancing to the quarter-finals. And with at least two non-Premier League teams guaranteed to make it through the next round, who knows how far the Lions could go.
The Giants of… Tottenham HotspurThe FA Cup was eminently winnable for Tottenham Hotspur – a fact not lost on Andre Villas-Boas, who chose a strong side (albeit without a recognised striker) for Sunday's trip to Leeds United, including Aaron Lennon, Gareth Bale, Scott Parker and Clint Dempsey.
Spurs created a host of first-half chances, scoring exactly zero of them, either side of Luke Varney’s opening goal for the home side. The rest of the game reflected favourably on Leeds’ top-flight pretensions as the promotion chasers matched their guests throughout the 90 minutes. A Ross McCormack goal just after half-time gave Tottenham too much to do, and they could register no more than a Clint Dempsey goal.
Leeds fans were crying out for Manchester United after the game, keen to resume the old rivalry, but they will have to make do with a trip to Manchester City. For Spurs, chasing fourth place in the Premier League with a realistic shot at Europa League glory, maybe AVB can legitimately acknowledge that they can at least concentrate on other priorities.
The Giants of… ChelseaOh Rafa! Five defenders? Only one striker? With Chelsea setting up for their FA Cup tie with neighbours Brentford in basically the same way as they did at the Nou Camp last season, there was always a possibility that the Bees would find enough space to create the chances to embarrass their visitors.
That Benitez only saw fit to throw on a second striker with eight minutes remaining and his side 2-1 down gives the rest of the football world an insight into why the Spaniard is so unpopular at Chelsea. The one silver lining for Rafa is that in a weekend of big cup upsets, there isn’t much focus on his side’s 2-2 draw – even less than their aggregate League Cup semi-final defeat to Swansea.
The End of the AdventureWhat makes giant-killings so special is their rarity: for every Luton, MK Dons or Oldham, there are numerous other sides who get slain by their giants. This weekend ended the FA Cup adventures of Macclesfield, who had memorably put out Cardiff in round three, when they lost 1-0 at home to Premier League Wigan Athletic.
Elsewhere, Aldershot will have to return to the reality of a League Two relegation battle after being unfortunate to lose at Championship side Middlesbrough when within seconds of forcing a replay.
Meanwhile, neither Brighton nor Sheffield United could turn their impressive league form into giant-killings, falling at the hands of Premier League sides Arsenal and Reading respectively.
Peter OdemwingieDespite having a fine season, West Bromwich Albion’s Peter Odemwingie is well and truly down in the dumps. First the winger had his Christmas ruined when he was excluded from Nigeria’s Africa Cup of Nations squad. His frustration won’t have lifted after seeing his country draw their first two games in the competition.
However, what has really upset Odemwingie is his club’s decision to turn down a transfer bid from Harry Redknapp’s QPR. The bid, believed to be in the region of £3m, was dismissed out of hand by West Brom’s technical director Richard Garlick, leading Odemwingie to submit a transfer request.
When this too was rejected the Nigerian released a statement saying that he was “deeply hurt and in some ways offended” by his club’s decision. Who knew the lure of a relegation battle was so strong?
The Ever Popular Alex McLeishWhen Arsenal’s Wojciech Szczesny and Laurent Koscielny collided in the dying minutes of the 2011 League Cup final to allow Birmingham City’s Obafemi Martins to score the winning goal, Alex McLeish’s managerial reputation was secured.
Despite getting Birmingham relegated that season, McLeish has managed to dine out on that reputation ever since, first convincing Aston Villa to hire him for a disastrous year before somehow compelling Nottingham Forest to sack the impressive and popular Sean O’Driscoll so they could immediately install McLeish.
Things have, predictably, gone badly for McLeish at Forest with only one win in his first six games. This form has seen the Tricky Trees fall to 10th in the Championship, six points off the play-off zone. On Saturday, Forest were well beaten, losing 3-0 at home to Watford – a performance that McLeish described as “brain-dead”.
Meanwhile, in his first home game for new side Bristol City, former manager O’Driscoll was busy masterminding a much-needed win…
Claude DavisThough not in the same league as Jonathan Woodgate’s legendary debut for Real Madrid, Claude Davis’s first outing for Rotherham United was definitely one to forget.
Football League veteran Davis was brought in to help consolidate Rotherham’s defence as they push for a play-off place. Giving away a penalty and then getting sent off before half time was probably not what anybody had in mind.
Davis’s performance contributed to a terrible day for the Millers against visitors Bristol Rovers, who started the day propping up the entire Football League.
Rotherham will now have to put the 3-1 defeat behind them and prepare for a tough assignment against high-flying Northampton next Saturday. And Davis? Well at least he doesn’t have to worry about playing next week.
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