Football Features

The dream goes on: Seven FA Cup stats and stories you might have missed

By Harry Edwards

Published: 20:55, 27 January 2024

Action in the FA Cup fourth round has been spread over five days, but Saturday was still full of stories.

There were six games in total in the FA Cup on the day, including three all-Premier League ties. Of course, all eyes were on Maidstone’s trip to Ipswich, but with four 3pm kick-offs to try and follow from afar it was easy to miss.

So we’ve made it easy to catch up, with the best of the stats and stories from Saturday’s FA Cup action.

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Maidstone’s unity

The day started with Maidstone United’s trip to face Ipswich (more about that in a bit), and given the gap between the two sides, there was a lot of focus on a potential upset.

The story of the game started outside Portman Road, with a video showing just how tight-knit the club — and George Elokobi — are with the fans. Taken by a journalist, Elokobi is seen talking to a group of fans about the history being made by the club and players, and how nobody could take that away from them.

He then went on to promise that the players would give it their on all the day, telling the fans to savour the moment. And boy did they. A 2-1 victory at Portman Road made Maidstone the first team from outside the top five tiers of English football to reach the fifth round of the FA Cup since Blyth Spartans in 1977/78. It is also the first time a National League North/South side has reached the fifth round of the FA Cup since the dual-region system started up again in 2004.

Maidstone fans will be hoping for another big name in the draw, and what a story it would be if they got Elokobi’s former club Wolves — should they come through their tie.

An inspired performance

Lucas Covolan may be a name familiar to some after his exploits in the National League play-off final in 2021. In goal for Torquay at the time, the Brazilian scored a last-minute equaliser against Hartlepool to take the game to extra-time. He then saved two shots in the penalty shootout, though did still end on the losing side.

But if people had forgotten him since then, he’ll definitely be at the forefront of their minds now. The Brazilian, who played U20 football with former Chelsea star Oscar, was phenomenal in Maidstone’s win over Ipswich.

As you can expect in a match between a team fighting at the top of the Championship and one in the sixth tier, this was one-sided. Ipswich had a grand total of 38 shots at Portman Road on Saturday afternoon, with 13 of those hitting the target. Of those 13, 12 were well-matched by Covolan. The Brazilian produced a mixture of easy catches and top-drawer saves, including a handful as Ipswich piled on the pressure in the final stages.

When Maidstone needed a hero, he stepped up. And a moment of appreciation for Maidstone taking their chances, scoring with both of their shots, thanks to Lamar Reynolds and Sam Corne.

Luton leave it late

A battle between two of the Premier League relegation candidates, this was an interesting matchup. As a fan, would you rather win the match, get the momentum and build a run in the FA Cup alongside? Or would you be happier out of the cup and given more time to focus on the relegation fight?

Well, judging by the reaction of the crowd at Goodison Park, a cup run was desired. There were boos from Everton fans at both half-time and full-time, with supporters unhappy at the performance of their team.

They went in 1-0 down at the break thanks to an own goal from Vitaliy Mykolenko, but had pulled themselves back into the game via a mistake from Tim Krul (and a goal by Jack Harrison).

But just as the game looked set to be rolling into a replay, Cauley Woodrow scored the winner for Luton after a scramble following a corner, sending the Hatters into the fifth round. And he did it with a broken hand too!

The defeat means that after back-to-back quarter-final appearances, Everton have now been knocked out of the FA Cup in the third and then fourth round.

Joao Pedro continues his streak

The name Joao is the Portuguese version of John, so it shouldn’t be a surprise that Joao Pedro is Johnny-on-the-spot for Brighton.

The all-Premier League between Sheffield United and Brighton was a thriller, and had pretty much everything apart from a red card. It started with a banger from Facundo Buonanotte but in the end it was the Joao Pedro goal.

Joao Pedro scored a hat-trick in the 5-2 win for the Seagulls, and unsurprisingly two of those came from the penalty spot. As reliable as they come from 12 yards, Joao Pedro has now scored 10 penalties across all competitions this season, more than any other player from Europe’s top five leagues.

He’s also the first Premier League player to hit double figures for penalties in a single campaign since Bruno Fernandes did so for Manchester United in 2020/21, when he scored 13.

Jamie Vardy is back

Jamie Vardy may not be the player that once terrorised Premier League defences, but he’s still more than capable of popping up at the right time for Leicester.

The Englishman had recently missed nine games through injury, only returning last weekend in a draw with Ipswich, coming off the bench for the final nine minutes. He started the game against Birmingham, his first since the end of November and after a quiet first half made the telling impact.

Although Leicester dominated the possession, it was Birmingham who had more shots with 14 in the first half compared to two. Leicester’s third effort came through Vardy, combining with Marc Albrighton, to open the scoring — his first goal since November.

It was a goal that eventually opened up Birmingham as they needed to push for an equaliser, with Leicester adding two more as the game went on. The 2020/21 FA Cup winners are through to the next round and surely dreaming of another Wembley run.

Plymouth in unchartered territory

Another all-Championship tie, Leeds will have fancied their chances to advance to the fifth round given the gap between these two sides in the table. A total of 24 points separate Leeds and Plymouth in the table, which is a huge gulf even with the fact that Leeds have played a game more.

Leeds looked on their way to the fifth round too, leading at half-time through Jaidon Anthony’s goal — just days after the death of his mother. But Plymouth stepped things up in the second half and eventually got their equaliser, through Adam Randell.

Neither side could find the winner, which means Plymouth will be in the FA Cup fifth round draw for the first time since 2006/07, when they reached the quarter-finals. Sure, there’s no guarantee that they’ll be in the fifth round, but baby steps.

Why Newcastle’s opening goal counted

Newcastle have won all five of their FA Cup ties against Fulham, with this fourth-round matchup the first for over 60 years. While three of the first four victories were all very comfortable, the fifth was anything but.

Newcastle ending up winning 2-0 thanks to goals in each half, and the first was a controversial one. As Fulham failed to clear their lines defensively, Bobby Decordova-Reid’s attempted clearance hit the arm of Bruno Guimaraes before falling to Sean Longstaff who rifled home.

The goal went to VAR review and Fulham fans will have felt aggrieved that it was allowed to count. But it was exactly as the rules allowed. While accident attacking handball applies to the goalscorer, it doesn’t for the assister. The only way the goal would have been ruled out for handball is if it was deemed deliberate by Guimaraes.