It was a weekend that proved the magic of the FA Cup is still very much alive as Aston Villa, QPR, Liverpool, Norwich City and Tottenham were all knocked out by lower-league opposition in Millwall, MK Dons, Oldham Athletic, Luton Town and Leeds United respectively, while Manchester City and Manchester United are now favourites in the betting after securing their places in the fifth round.
Here, Shaun Curran takes a look at five talking points to emerge from the action.
Can another lower-league team ‘do a Bradford’ in this year’s FA Cup?
The struggles of the elite clubs in both the Champions League and Europa League over recent years certainly suggests as much, but is the fact that so many Premier League clubs are finding it hard to overcome lower-league opposition a sign that the top flight isn’t all it is cracked up to be?
League Two Bradford City have made wonderful headlines in their incredible run to the Capital One Cup final, knocking out Arsenal, Aston Villa and Wigan Athletic en route, and would you bet against something similar happening in the FA Cup?
There are only six Premier League clubs definitely in the last 16 (Chelsea should make it seven) and the lower-league teams are flexing their muscles.
Brighton, Bolton, Luton Town, Oldham, Millwall, MK Dons and Leeds United have all knocked top-flight teams out of this year’s competition and, buoyed by the Bantams’ success, we could yet see another lower division team follow the recent examples of Cardiff and Millwall and grace the FA Cup final.
Are Manchester City clicking into gear at the right time?
Even if you discount their disastrous Champions League campaign, Manchester City have been below par for much of the season, bereft of any of the panache and defensive solidity that was the cornerstone of their Premier League title triumph last year. But has the tide turned?
Their 1-0 victory over Stoke City was the first time that City have won at the Britannia Stadium since the Potters’ promotion in 2008 and the comfortable nature of the victory will have pleased Roberto Mancini, who is overseeing an impressive run that is going strangely under the radar.
Since losing to rivals United at the Etihad in December, City have won eight of their nine games in league and cup, including each of the last six – the last five without even conceding a goal.
As he loves to remind everybody, there is a cliché that it is Sir Alex Ferguson’s side who get better as the season goes on, but could it be Mancini’s men this year?
With no European football to distract them, the Citizens could yet get back in the mix for the league title as well as the FA Cup, which they are now joint-favourites at 5/2 to win.
Will Paul Dickov get the chance to complete Oldham’s Merseyside double?
On the face of it, when your team has just knocked out seven-times winners Liverpool – deservedly so, too – in a pulsating match, it might seem ridiculous that your job is under threat.
Yet that is the situation for Oldham Athletic boss Paul Dickov, who, in the aftermath of his side’s 3-2 victory at Boundary Park, had to field questions about his future, with chairman Simon Corney refusing to even give the former Manchester City striker the dreaded vote of confidence.
Corney has gone some way to doing that this morning, stating that Dickov is ‘okay for the time being’, which doesn’t sound like the Scot will be okay for very long.
But is Corney wrong? Beating Brendan Rodgers’ team was great for the club, but the reality is Oldham are just one point above the League One drop zone after a run of seven defeats in eight games and are in real danger of relegation.
If results don’t improve in the next couple of weeks, Dickov might find that someone else will be trying to complete the Merseyside double when Everton visit in the fifth round.
And talking of doubles, can Leeds United complete their own Manchester version?
Neil Warnock was right (and it’s not often I say that) when he said that Leeds United v Tottenham Hotspur rolled off the tongue like a Premier League fixture and his players lived up to that with a great display in the win over Spurs, which has set up the chance for Leeds to claim a famous Manchester double.
Leeds don’t hate Manchester City quite as much as they hate their rivals United (although that probably goes for the entire country) but any War of the Roses clash is a big deal and the Leeds faithful will have ecstatic memories of their last trip across the Pennines.
A Jermaine Beckford goal gave Simon Grayson’s Leeds, then a League One side, a famous 1-0 win at Old Trafford in the third round in 2010 and Warnock will be looking to cause another major shock when he takes his side to the Etihad to face the champions.
Who will be on the telly in the next round?
The revolution will not be televised, but Manchester United certainly will. All the time. Forever more. No matter what. Until the end of time.
Because in case you hadn’t noticed, Manchester United are on the telly a fair bit. Quite a lot, in fact. Actually, when it comes to the FA Cup, United are on the telly every single time, no matter what the circumstances, as ITV and ESPN try to maximise their viewing figures at all costs: one of which is that lower-league teams rarely get the airtime they deserve.
This weekend was no different, but ESPN’s decision to transmit the Red Devils’ routine win over Fulham at Old Trafford – a match they were always, ALWAYS going to win comfortably – finally drew criticism from all quarters.
It was the 37th consecutive occasion that a Manchester United FA Cup tie was televised, but as cracking matches at the Amex Stadium, Carrow Road, Loftus Road, Moss Rose, the Reebok Stadium and others showed, television channels should start to turn their cameras elsewhere.
So what will the powers that be decide to do for the next round? Sir Alex Ferguson’s men have been given another mundane draw there is absolutely no chance of them losing (at home to Reading), so will ITV decide to give, for example, Luton Town their day in the sun?
Because it is rather hypocritical to trade on the ‘romance of the cup’ and then do sweet FA to promote it.
Do you agree with our talking points? What have we missed? Let us know by commenting on this article below.