Sunday, February 25, 2024

The Latest Football News and Opinions From 90 Minutes Online

FA Cup replays abound but Everton take the thrilla from Villa

Whilst the rest of Europe and the lower leagues of England continued as normal, last weekend was once again dominated by the FA Cup as the fifth round got underway. Sunday evening brought back fond memories of Channel 4’s Football Italia as BBC3 screened the Milan derby, but there was plenty more on offer leading up to that as the neutrals hoped for a domestic cup upset

 

 

The weekend started with the Swansea v Fulham fixture and it was difficult not to be taken in by the nature of Swansea's football. They played wonderfully well and with a panache and style that gives credence to their rise to the upper echelons of the Championship.

 

 

Their manager Roberto Martinez is adored in the Welsh city, not only for his commitment as a player and early success as a manager, but also for his looks as a season ticket holder once told me! Anyway, Fulham were quite lucky to escape with the draw that cemented a replay at Craven Cottage.

Swansea had dominated most of the first half and the influential Mark Gower hit the post after an impressive interchange of passes on the edge of the area. Then on the stroke of half-time Fulham happened upon a large stroke of luck when a rare corner of theirs struck Swansea captain Garry Monk (who was looking the other way) and ricocheted into the Swansea goal.

The second-half bore witness to Swansea taking the game to Roy Hodgson's team. Instead of being dejected with the conceding of an own goal, they continued as they had before. Swansea held onto the ball very well and made every effort to play passes along the floor, in this way they set up numerous attacks and Mark Gower continued to threaten with more shots. Quite soon their pressure told and in the 52nd minute Gower fed their striker Jason Scotland, he took the ball and with a slick turn created space to drive the equaliser low past Schwarzer in the Fulham goal.

Alas, Swansea were unable to finish a resilient Fulham off and the replay is set up tantalisingly. Fulham have improved markedly under Roy Hodgson and are a difficult proposition at Craven Cottage, but there is definitely a part of me that hopes to see Swansea play at home against Manchester Utd in the quarter-final.

Moving on to Manchester Utd and there was a lot of anticipation before their fifth-round tie away against Nigel Clough's Derby. It was noted that Derby were the last team to defeat the Premiership champions, doing so in the League Cup semi-final first leg last month. On this occasion it appeared that Manchester Utd were far more prepared as they set about Derby with some gusto.

Derby managed to stave off Utd for half an hour, with credit going to Robbie Savage who attempted to collar Ronaldo and deny him any space. Eventually the pressure told and Nani scored after 29 minutes with a classic curling shot. Things became worse for Derby just before half-time when Darron Gibson latched onto a rebounding Ronaldo free-kick and made it 2-0.

The game was effectively over when minutes after the restart, Ronaldo finally got himself onto the scoresheet with a header. Derby fought valiantly as would be expected under Nigel Clough, and they grabbed themselves a good headed goal through Miles Addison. For the next twenty-five minutes they tried in vain to get another goal which would have put pressure on Ferguson's team. In the 81st minute, though, any comeback thoughts were finally dispelled when Danny Wellbeck scored a fourth.

Manchester Utd's performance overall was a definite marker to their future opponents. They looked constantly dangerous and for now their form is looking ominous. We shall see how far their pursuit of an unprecedented quadruple goes in the next couple of months.

Meanwhile, in the rest of the fifth-round matches, there were several draws to speak of as the upcoming fixture list became more crowded for a few clubs. Blackburn's home tie with Coventry City was an up and down affair, Roque Santa Cruz got back to goal-scoring habits when he put Blackburn ahead within the first two minutes.

Unfortunately for Sam Allardyce Blackburn could not capitalise on several chances during the first-half, and Coventry managed to weather the storm to be only 1-0 down at half-time. During the second period Coventry started to assert themselves on the game and they spectacularly equalised on 61 minutes when Aron Gunnarsson hit a 25 yard shot into the top corner. Things soon got worse for Blackburn when Michael Doyle deflected a shot in with just quarter of an hour to go. Allardyce's team naturally plied forward for an equaliser of their own and at the death Christopher Samba saved Blackburn when he poked home a spilled shot for a final score of 2-2.

West Ham were expected to be comfortable favourites at home against Middlesbrough, a team that have plumbed the depths when it comes to entertainment! Instead Southgate's team seemed to find the FA Cup a nice change from their Premiership worries, they held firm as West Ham wasted several chances and then snatched the lead through Stewart Downing in the 22nd minute.

Tellingly, Middlesbrough were unable to then stretch their lead, with Afonso Alves spurning several openings. West Ham were not helped when the rejuvanated Carlton Cole had to go off injured, but they toiled away and with seven minutes to go grabbed a barely deserved equaliser through the substitute Herita Ilunga, thus setting up another replay.

The final fifth round replay to be set up was through the tie involving Sheffield Utd and Hull City. The home team took an early lead when Greg Halford headed in to make it 1-0 to Sheffield Utd. By all accounts the Championship team played with a better fluidity than their recent form, but Hull City also showed their own doggedness which has aided them in the Premiership so far.

Kamil Zayatte headed in the equalier for Hull soon after the half-hour mark and the game was reasonably open. Further opportunities came and went for both teams to take the lead, but in the last fifteen minutes it was apparent that either side would grudgingly settle for the draw and inevitable replay.

The final two fixtures that made up the fifth round for the weekend were of a greater magnitude. Firstly there was the eagerly awaited tie between the best of the rest, so to speak. Everton took on Aston Villa at Goodison Park and the game was clearly of great enormity for both teams. David Moyes and Marin O'Neill are two managers that still don't get enough recognition for the stirling work they have done at their respective clubs, and this match held a key to the FA Cup quarter-final for one of them.

Going into the game Aston Villa had not been beaten domestically for three months as they had crashed the party at the summit of the Premiership. Meanwhile Everton were on an impressive run of form too and were still feeding off of having dumped their fierce rivals Liverpool out of the FA Cup in the fourth-round.

The first half an hour of the match lived up to expectation as there was plenty of excitement. Everton took the lead after only three minutes through Jack Rodwell's first senior goal, when he poked home from Stiliyan Petrov's hand ball on the Villa goal-line! They may have been down by a goal but Martin O'Neill must have been relieved not to see the Bulgarian international sent off as well, although in the long run it would make little difference.

Everton did not have long to celebrate their lead when in the eighth minute Aston Villa were awarded a penalty after Agbonlahor had been fouled by Tony Hibbert. James Milner stepped up and flashed a cheeky smirk as he just about put his spot kick under the body of Tim Howard to make it 1-1.

Despite the set-back Everton were producing more endeavour than the visitors and just after twenty minutes had elapsed they earned their own penalty. Victor Anichebe wormed his way through the Aston Villa defence until he was just inside the penalty area, he was then scythed down by Reading's former lynchpin Steve Sidwell. Up stepped Mikel Arteta and he showed Milner how to take a more professional penalty as he wrong-sided Brad Friedal and made it 2-1.

The match started to ebb and flow from end to end as both teams developed chances for themselves. Villa had their opportunities as Agbonlahor continued his recent lack of goals when missing from 6 yards with a header. John Carew came closest though when his fabulously casual flick forced Tim Howard into a fine save and maintained Everton's lead.

As the game wore on the chances dried up and Everton held possession well, until with fifteen minutes remaining they opened up a crucial two goal lead. Anichebe was once again involved as he sent over a cross from the left, it comically evaded the Villa defenders and Tim Cahill just about managed to bobble the ball past Friedal. After this Aston Villa seemed resigned to their fate as the game petered out and finished 3-1 to Everton.

Villa will go back to the Premiership with reinforced determination to break the top four strangle-hold, but they must be bitterly disappointed to see their FA Cup run end. Everton will take even more impetus from this result as they too aim to break down the barriers to Champions League qualification, but perhaps more importantly they are now closer to winning some silverware.

Finally in this round-up, we come to the London derby between Watford and the transitional Chelsea, at Vicarage Road. There was curiosity in if Watford could take advantage of Chelsea so soon after losing Phil Scholari, and on a lesser note of seeing Ray Wilkins in charge of Abramovich's minions!

Chelsea started brightly as if without a care in the world, and really they should have taken a lead within the first ten minutes after slicing through Watford's defences with ease and style. Instead they had to make-do with the much-maligned Salamon Kalou who failed from six yards (twice), and Didier Drogba who almost belted in a goal from 25 yards.

Anelka did show a glimpse of what was to come when ten minutes before half-time he linked up with Didier Drogba only to see his shot hit the post. With the resumption of the second-half Chelsea continued to ply away at the Championship strugglers without any luck, but they were certainly in control as Watford for the most part defended.

Yet with twenty minutes remaining Watford unbelievably took the lead after their substitute produced a moment of inspiration. Tamas Priskin had only been on the pitch for three minutes when he collected a pass and sprung through Chelsea's defence to chip Petr Cech and make it 1-0 to Watford.

The joy did not last long though and it was almost as if Watford's goal became a catalyst for Chelsea's ambition. Fifteen minutes remained for them to avoid a large shock when Nicolas Anelka connected with an Ivanovic flick on by an overhead kick, and Chelsea were back at 1-1. Watford had no time to settle before Anelka then sucker-punched them with his second goal two minutes later, as he headed in Ashley Cole's cross.

To Watford's credit they pushed hard for an equaliser in the final ten minutes and came close on a couple of occasions. Jobi McAnuff had two seperate opportunities, one of them gilted with only three minutes left, but he was unable to find a way past Cech with either of them. Almost immediately after this Anelka was given the chance to complete a match-saving hat-trick, and he took it with aplomb and Chelsea ran out as 3-1 winners.
 

The end of the weekend saw the obligatory draw for the next round, and the quarter-final line up has managed to leave all the remaining big clubs apart. As it stands Arsenal are due to finally resume their fourth-round replay with Cardiff City tonight, all going well I can't see them failing to take their spot in the fifth round proper. As for the rest of the competition I'm sure there are still some upsets left to come between now and May's showpiece final, as for those who have been knocked out- there's always next season...

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