2011/12: FA Cup 5th Round
Saturday 18 February 2012 (12.00pm)
In forty years of watching football, the Fifth Round is the only round I’ve never watched a game in. From the Extra Preliminary Round to the Final, I’ve witnessed a fixture at every stage, but for some reason never the Fifth. Today I’ll not be breaking that duck and unless events somehow conspire that I get to see a replay, then the Fifth Round will have to wait until next season at least.
So what of this weekends fixtures? Well for a start, no Friday or Monday games. Five ties today and three tomorrow. Chelsea open proceedings at home to Birmingham City (12.30pm) and for me brings back memories of the time they met in the FA Cup back in 1975, when the Midlands club emerged 1-0 winners at Stamford Bridge. I saw Birmingham demolish Sheffield United in the last Round and on the strength of that and their recent good run I believe they will cause Chelsea problems today. Chelsea came through a difficult game at Loftus Road in the Fourth Round, but all is not right in SW6. I’m going to be bold and take Birmingham to cause an upset today and add to the woes at The Bridge in putting out Chelsea.
The 3.00pm kick-offs see Everton v Blackpool, Norwich City v Leicester City and Millwall v Bolton Wanderers, with Sunderland v Arsenal at 5.15pm. They are an interesting set of games, with numerous sub-plots. Everton have quietly gone about their business in the Cup this year, whist Blackpool are yet to lose a game in 2012. I think this one will go to a draw. For Millwall and Bolton the Cup today brings some respite from their respective poor league campaigns. With Wanderers in the Premier League relegation spots, will manager Coyle pick a weakened side for the visit to The Den? If he does The Lions will be waiting and I’m going for the Championship to upset the odds and make it through. For Norwich and Leicester they can give the tie today a real tilt as both are safe in the Premier League and Championship respectively. The Canaries for me will be to strong for The Foxes at Carrow Road and so will progress.
The last game of the day will see an Arsenal team fresh from a mauling in Milan, take on Sunderland who recently have enjoyed a resurgence under Martin O’Neill. The Sunderland boss will tell his team to forget about the 2-1 loss they suffered only last week to The Gunners and will hope to compound an awful week for Arsene Wenger by dumping Arsenal out of the Cup. Black Cats fans of a certain age will remember the 2-1 win against Arsenal in the Semi-Final in 1973 when Sunderland went on to lift the Cup after beating Leeds United in the Final. I’m going for Sunderland to take this one, as once more another season for The Gunners come to nothing.
Saturday 18 February 2012 (7.30pm)
Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear. No career as a tipster for me! Five games – only one prediction right. Well, things were looking good at Stamford Bridge, with Birmingham taking the lead on 20 minutes from David Murphy. When Colin Doyle kept out a Juan Mata penalty in the first half, it was looking as the teams went to the break that it was going to be City’s day. With a couple of substitutions in the second half, Chelsea got back in the game just after the hour mark when Daniel Sturridge levelled. The Londoners looked for a winner but instead had to settle for a replay at St Andrew’s. I had gone for a draw at Goodison and home wins for Millwall and Norwich in the 3.00pm games. All were wrong. Everton put the game out of reach of Blackpool within the opening six minutes as goals from Royston Drenthe and Denis Stracqualursi ensured the blue half of Merseyside made it through to the Quarter-Finals. At The Den, Bolton were also quick out of the blocks as Ryo Miyaichi put The Trotters ahead on four minutes. David Ngog scored just before the hour mark to put the tie beyond The Lions and the Premier League team went through. At Carrow Road there was an upset as Leicester City overcame Norwich. In a day of early Cup goals, The Foxes went ahead on five minutes with a Sean St Ledger header. However, The Canaries were level when Wes Hoolahan followed up his own penalty after Kasper Schmeichel had saved the initial spot-kick. Leicester weren’t to be denied though and David Nugent scored a stunning second to send City through. My only correct tip of the day saw Sunderland outplay an Arsenal team who looked liked they wished the season could finish now. Credit to The Black Cats who chased every cause and simply never allowed The Gunners to settle and won through a goal in each half from Kieran Richardson and an own-goal from Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.
Tomorrow sees Crawley Town v Stoke City, Stevenage v Tottenham Hotspur and Liverpool v Brighton. After today, I might as well toss a coin in terms of predictions. However, I’ll go for a draw at Crawley, and wins for Spurs and Liverpool. But don’t bet on it!
Sunday 19 February 2012 (7.30pm)
Another day, another set of pretty poor predictions! In the first of the three games today, despite being reduced to ten-men, Stoke had bits of luck at the right time to claim a 2-0 victory at Crawley. Things didn’t look so good for The Potters when on seventeen minutes Rory Delap was dismissed for a tackle which could have been called either way. Stoke battled away and were awarded a penalty just before half-time, for a nothing sort of challenge. Walters converted and the ten men of Stoke were ahead at the break. Just six minutes into the second half and Stoke were 2-0 ahead when a towering header from Peter Crouch broke Crawley hearts. The Potters controlled proceedings, but were lucky not to concede a penalty at the end of the game, when Danny Collin’s clearly handled on the line. Could a second Wembley appearance be looming for Stoke?
Stevenage and Tottenham were involved a real old ding-dong of a game which belied the final score-line of 0-0. Whilst there was not a great many shots on goal, it was an all-action Cup-tie. Spurs did have the ball in the net and were perhaps unfortunate that Scott Parker was on the goal-line as he deflected in Saha’s goal bound effort. That would have been harsh on Stevenage who served a replay.
The final game of the day and indeed of the round was a strange old affair. At half-time Liverpool were ahead 2-1 in a competitive first forty five minutes. Martin Skrtel had given The Reds the lead on five minutes, with Brighton level on seventeen minutes through Kazenga Lua Lua. Just before the break an own goal from Liam Bridcutt put Liverpool back in front. Four more goals and a missed penalty followed in the second-half as The Seagulls self-destructed. Andy Caroll made it 3-1 just before the hour mark, with Bridcutt getting his second own-goal and another own goal from Lewis Dunk to make it 5-1. Suarez had a penalty saved with ten minutes to go, but did score four minutes later to wrap up a 6-1 victory, ensuring both Merseyside clubs made it to the Quarter-Finals.
That just leaves the draw for the Quarter-Finals to wrap things up – and no, I’m not going to be making any more predictions!
Chelsea/Birmingham City v Leicester City
Everton v Sunderland
Liverpool v Stoke City
Stevenage/Tottenham Hotspur v Bolton Wanderers