Football News

Ten bits of FA Cup action you might have missed

By Mohamed Moallim

Published: 19:25, 6 January 2024

There is nothing quite like the FA Cup.

World football’s oldest national competition is still as reliable as ever when it comes to providing us with giant killings, upsets and fairytale stories.

This season’s edition truly began this week with the fabled third round — when the Premier League teams enter — getting underway. Today’s games followed a goalless stalemate between Crystal Palace and Everton, Brentford playing out a 1-1 draw with Wolves, Fulham narrowly beating Rotherham while Tottenham doing the same against Burnley.

No fewer than 19 matches were played on Saturday meaning it’s only natural if you miss an important or memorable event. But don’t worry – Squawka is here, with X things you might have missed.

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1. Maidstone create history

Before today Maidstone United hadn’t won an FA Cup third-round fixture. The National League South side had to go through Steyning Town, Winchester City, Torquay United, Chesham United and Barrow in this season’s tournament to set up another opportunity to reach the fourth round proper. Standing in Maidstone’s path was League One outfit Stevenage, who a year ago pulled off a third-round win at Premier League Aston Villa.

It ultimately ended up as roles reversed as a 47th-minute Sam Corne penalty separated the sides. Success meant Maidstone reached the fourth round for the first time since their reformation in 1992 – becoming the first sixth-tier side to reach this stage since Kidderminster Harriers in 2021/22 and the first National League South side since Havant & Waterlooville in 2007/08.

2. Isak at the double

The first Tyne–Wear derby since March 2016 saw Newcastle run out 3-0 winners. Sunderland, hosting at the Stadium of Light, were effectively second best even if they managed to keep the score level until the 35th minute when defender Dan Ballard inadvertently put the ball into his net. Eddie Howe’s men proved too much in the second half as Alexander Isak netted twice: first a simple finish before converting a penalty.

Not only was this Newcastle’s first win over the Black Cats since 2011, but Isak wrote his very own piece of history, for the first time since Ollie Burton in December 1967 had a Newcastle player scored a brace against Sunderland at their home.

3. Pedro’s making his case

Eyebrows were somewhat raised when Brighton parted with a reported £30m for João Pedro’s services last summer. The former Watford man hadn’t exactly pulled up any trees in his previous Premier League stint, but it’s looking to be another astute piece of business, which the Seagulls are making a habit of doing. Pedro, who alternates between a forward role or leading Brighton’s attack, started on the right flank at Stoke City and netted their last two goals in an entertaining 4-2 win.

On a personal note, the one-time capped Brazilian international moved onto 15 goals for the season. To put that in some perspective, only Erling Haaland (19) and Mohamed Salah (18) have scored more times in all competitions among Premier League players this campaign.

“We love Joao,” Brighton manager Roberto de Zerbi told BBC MOTD afterwards. “I think his potential is bigger than he is showing at the moment. “He can start games better, in the last period he needs 20 minutes to get in the game but he’s a great player and has great potential for this club.”

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4. Kluivert completes stunning Bournemouth comeback

Going into half-time at Loftus Road an upset was on the cards as Championship strugglers Queens Park Rangers led Bournemouth through Sinclair Armstrong and Lyndon Dykes goals. But whatever Andoni Iraola said to his men during the interval worked as the Cherries bagged three uninterrupted goals across the final 45 minutes. Marcus Tavernier halved the deficit before Kieffer Moore’s towering header restored parity.

With momentum shifted the inevitable occurred 21 minutes from time when Justin Kluivert completed the fightback sparking jubilant scenes among the 3,000-strong travelling support. Justin subsequently followed in his father Patrick’s footsteps by netting an FA Cup goal. Kluivert senior has two, both coming in 2005, winning strikes against Chelsea and Tottenham.

“We just needed to attack faster, be more vertical and use the space, make them run backwards,” Bournemouth manager Andoni Iraola told BBC Sport after being asked what his message at half-time was. “We were on the ball and they were quite comfortable, we needed some change of speed and I think players did really well. We had the chances, we had the goals and we deserved the win.”

5. Hornets leave it very, very late

National League leaders Chesterfield were on course to replay their FA Cup third-round tie against Watford but Tom Dele-Bashiru had other ideas. The visitors surprisingly went in front at Vicarage Road through Joe Quigley who nodded the non-league side ahead. Any chance of an upset was slightly reduced when Mileta Rajovic levelled proceedings but a second game seemed the likeliest outcome until Dele-Bashiru’s injury-time winner.

Chesterfield was effectivity 14 minutes away from a famous upset, instead Watford reached the fourth round, something they last managed to accomplish in 2019 en route to a final appearance. “We’re relieved. The first half wasn’t good enough from us, it was far below our standards,” Dele-Bashiru said after the game. “The gaffer wasn’t happy, we weren’t happy. At half-time he told us that it is in our hands, we need to do better in the second half and put in a good performance with more desire, more hunger, more urgency to win the game and get through to the next round.”

6. Entertaining all-Championship tie at the Den

Goals weren’t at a premium in southeast London as Milwall and Leicester, separated by 14 places in England’s second division, played out a five-goal thriller. The host found themselves two goals behind — Cesare Casadei and Ricardo Pereira putting the Foxes ahead — before Duncan Watmore halved the deficit only for Callum Doyle to restore Leiciester’s two-goal lead. Zian Flemming made it a nervy last four minutes but Enzo Maresca’s men held on to book a place in the fourth round.

“We had a very young first XI – we had seven of our 11 players born after 2000 – so it was a tricky game, but overall we created many chances, we scored three goals and we could have scored more,” the Italian tactician said afterwards. “Probably in the first half we conceded too much because we were pressing not in the perfect way. The second half was much better off the ball and also on the ball, we improved a lot.”

7. Blackburn school Cambridge

Once in their last six FA Cup campaigns Blackburn reached the fourth round, which came a year ago, they’re now looking forward to another deep run following an incredible 5-2 win over League One side Cambridge with Sammie Szmodics dropping three goals in the process. It was a first career hat-trick for the 28-year-old midfielder who has been lethal in league competition (16 goals in 25 appearances so far). Szmodics’ efforts had meaning behind them: twice he levelled the score before putting Rovers ahead in a crazy first half that saw five goals scored.

His performances haven’t gone unnoticed. “The development of Sammie is great to see. He’s a team player, a goalscorer who is very good at doing all the concrete things, and then he has scored all those goals, his first hat-trick, and got an assist,” Blackburn manager Jon Dahl Tomasson told BBC Radio Lancashire.

Goals from Arnor Sigurdsson and Harry Leonard secured Rovers their second win across nine games in all competitions and thus allowed Rory Finneran to become the youngest debutant in the club’s history at the age of 15 years, 10 months and eight days.

“It was great to see a couple of young boys getting minutes, Ryan Finneran at just 15. He’s a talented boy able to play with left and right, and has great vision – but we shouldn’t forget he’s still very young. It was a good opportunity to give him some experience,” Dahl Tomasson added.

8. Just like London buses

Raheem Sterling’s omission from Chelsea’s lineup against Luton Town last time out raised a few eyebrows but he was back in Mauricio Pochettino’s starting lineup against Preston consequently ending a six-game scoring drought. His effort came 11 minutes after Armando Broja broke the deadlock. The visitors to Stamford Bridge had kept Chelsea at bay for 58 minutes.

Thiago Silva, the club’s oldest-ever goalscorer, doubled their lead before Sterling took centre stage. The forgotten England international netted through a wonderful, dipping free-kick. A rarity at one stage in his career as one of his first 168 goals in English club football had come from such a method, his last two goals for Chelsea have both come from a direct free-kick. Enzo Fernandez would score another as Chelsea ran out 4-0 winners.

9. Villa scratch the seven-year itch

In terms of success, only five clubs have won the FA Cup on more occasions than Aston Villa, but their most recent victorious final (seventh won) came in 1957, since then it’s been two runners-up finishes. Following that final loss to Arsenal in 2015 they’d suffer a fourth-round elimination to Manchester City, which had been the last time Villa gone beyond round three, until now. Matty Cash’s late winner at Middlesbrough ended seven consecutive third-round eliminations. “It’s the old adage, if you don’t shoot, you don’t score,” said Neil Lennon on BBC Radio 5 Live.

10. Dawson stands tall

The average save rate for penalty kicks in professional football is supposedly low, something like below 30%, it’s likely to be even lower saving two in a single game. So what Sheffield Wednesday goalkeeper Cameron Dawson pulled off against Cardiff City is extraordinary. He was called into action minutes after Jordan Windass, son of Dean, put the Yorkshire side in front at home.

Ryan Wintle had the chance to equalise from 12 yards but Dawson was equal to it. The drama wasn’t done as three minutes later Dawson thwarted Callum Robinson from the spot. Consecutive failings must have impacted Cardiff’s psyche as Wednesday netted three more times as they claimed a 4-0 success.