16 Conclusions on the FA Cup third round

Date published: Sunday 6th January 2019 6:36

1) A list of things that have happened since Ipswich Town last won a match in the FA Cup:

– Spain won the World Cup. Then Germany won the World Cup. Then France won the World Cup.

– Newcastle, West Brom, Blackpool, QPR, Norwich, Swansea, Reading, Southampton, West Ham, Cardiff City, Hull City, Crystal Palace, Leicester City, Burnley, Bournemouth, Watford, Middlesbrough, Brighton, Huddersfield Town, Wolves and Fulham got promoted to the Premier League.

– Scott Parker was named FWA Player of the Year.

– Richard Dunne was named in a PFA Team of the Year.

– Andy Gray and Richard Keys were subject to dark forces.

 

2) Paul Lambert labelled Ipswich Town’s predicament as a “disgrace”, but let’s take the chance to talk up the victors rather than mourn the vanquished. There are few managers in English football doing a better job than Accrington’s John Coleman. His ability to keep this club punching above its weight knows no bounds.

Coleman celebrated his 1,000th game as a manager last month, a career that has spanned tenures at Ashton, Rochdale, Southport and Sligo Rovers. Having left Stanley after 13 years in 2012, he returned in 2014 and led them to the League Two title last season on comparatively scant resources. There are six former Premier League clubs in League One’s top half, but next come Accrington.

There is no secret to Coleman’s success, no shiny tactical philosophy and no fervent desire to manage in the Premier League at the age of 56. He believes in simple processes of respect, togetherness and effort, and obsesses about getting the most out of every ingredient. Every club must wish they had one like him.

 

3) Callum Hudson-Odoi’s Chelsea exit has not yet been sealed. Bayern Munich are clearly keen to sign him on a permanent deal, and have made two significant bids, but Chelsea are holding out for £40m. All signs suggest that Hudson-Odoi is entertaining the interest.

And why on earth wouldn’t he? Hudson-Odoi has never started a Premier League game, he’s seen Christian Pulisic sign for a fee of £58m and he’s heard Maurizio Sarri concede that he will find it difficult to give his young winger league starts because he has to win. Of course Hudson-Odoi might get more chances next season, with Willian and Pedro in their 30s, but nobody should be dissuaded from taking control of their own future.

On Saturday, Chelsea supporters waved goodbye to Cesc Fabregas but saw glimpses of why Hudson-Odoi is so certain that he merits regular top-flight minutes immediately; they might have bid him farewell too. If Chelsea won’t cherish him, Bayern Munich would be a wonderful environment in which to challenge himself and develop.

 

4) Phil Jones is English football’s king of tragicomedy, but he reached a new high on Saturday when he suffered a friction burn to his face by sliding along the turf head first after attempting to challenge Reading striker Danny Loader. That’s a sentence that demands to be read several times over.

What is it about Jones, an international footballer, that attracts so much mishap? And why does he look like a discarded supermarket mannequin when he’s lying on the floor?

 

5) You do wonder about people’s determination to be angry about absolutely every part of absolutely everything when Harry Kane playing the last 15 minutes of a cup tie actually made people get frothy-mouthed. Some even accused Tottenham of being classless by bringing Kane on at 6-0. Christ, lighten up.

Firstly, Pochettino and Kane can do precisely what they sodding well like because that’s how this works. Less than 24 hours earlier, Tottenham’s manager had been accused of disrespecting the FA Cup by saying it wasn’t the trophy he was most interested in winning, as if that came as any surprise. Suddenly he’s getting stick for bringing on his best player.

Secondly, Pochettino explained after the win that he wanted to give Tranmere Rovers supporters a chance to see Kane in action given that they had packed into Prenton Park, presumably to see Tottenham’s stars. How often is a young kid taken by his Mum or Dad to Tranmere going to get to see a World Cup Golden Boot winner in action? It was a lovely gesture from Pochettino at the end of a gentle evening’s work.

 

6) One of the knock-on effects of the Premier League’s biggest clubs not picking full-strength teams in the FA Cup until at least the quarter-final stage is that it affords academy graduates competitive minutes. Nobody took their chance quite as emphatically as Arsenal’s Joe Willock.

Willock was starting only his third senior game of the season, and scored his second and third goals. Both were opportunistic finishes from close range, but that knack for making runs from midfield into the right places at the right time is invaluable, and not necessarily coachable.

These performances matter for young players. Willock is not going to break into Arsenal’s attacking midfield any time soon (that is not intended as derisory, merely a reflection of reality), and has never been loaned out. The FA Cup third round can be a shop window for a loan deal during January. Impressing here might mean that a Championship club shows interest rather than a League One outfit. Every little helps when you’re trying to make your way.

 

7) Dean Smith enjoyed a fine start to life at Villa Park. Aston Villa won five of their first eight Championship matches under his stewardship and offered hope that they might mount a serious promotion campaign in his debut season.

But there are signs that Smith is now suffering from the same problem as his predecessor, in charge of a squad that is top-heavy and crying out for defensive reinforcements. If having John Terry as an assistant manager should lead to improvements in defensive coaching, we are not yet seeing the proof. Villa have won one of their last six league games (against Swansea) and on Saturday lost 0-3 at home to the same opponent in the FA Cup. It was a miserable afternoon at Villa Park.

Since mid-November alone, Villa have conceded twice to Birmingham City, West Brom, Stoke City and QPR, three times to Leeds and Swansea and five times to Nottingham Forest. If improvements are not made in January, Villa will not go up.

 

8) You do sometimes wonder about the intelligence of certain footballers. Grimsby Town headed to Selhurst Park filled with hope of causing the biggest shock of the weekend. Norwich City hosted Portsmouth knowing that a home win against lower-ranking opponents could start a wonderful cup run. Both teams were undone in the first 15 minutes by nonsensical tackles.

For Norwich, Grant Hanley would perhaps only have received a yellow card if he had merely barged Ronan Curtis gently off the ball. But the physicality of his tackle, swiping through Curtis, gave the referee reason to produce a red. Norwich manager Daniel Farke disagreed, but VAR did not help his cause.

Nor too did it stop Grimsby’s Andrew Fox being dismissed for a ludicrous high challenge on Andros Townsend after less than two minutes of play at Selhurst. Even if Fox believed that a booking was the right call, what on earth possessed him to fly so negligently into a tackle, never mind at such an early stage? Both owe their teammates and manager an apology.

 

9) Huddersfield’s misery shows no sign of abating. Championship opposition afforded their strikers a chance to gain a little confidence but the opportunity, funnily enough, was wasted. Jason Puncheon made his debut in a strong starting XI, but Huddersfield managed a single shot on target and tumbled to a ninth successive defeat in all competitions.

David Wagner must now be desperate for a new striker, instructing owner Dean Hoyle to pay whatever it takes. The manager pointed out that Huddersfield were written off last season and made their critics look foolish, but there is a mood of resignation that was not present last season. Get Neal Maupay out of Brentford and they have a chance.

 

10) We have waited three years for Adalberto Penaranda’s Watford debut, and the Venezuelan probably didn’t anticipate making it on a freezing cold afternoon at a National League South stadium.

No player better reflects the complexities of Watford’s complicated ownership network. Penaranda was signed for then-Pozzo-owned Udinese and loaned to Pozzo-owned Granada for a season, both in 2015. Then in 2016, he signed a four-and-a-half-year deal with Pozzo-owned Watford, but returned to Granada on loan. When Granada were sold, Penaranda needed a new loan and went to…you guessed it, Udinese. That was followed by a spell at Malaga.

Now back at Watford and having overcome niggling injuries, Penaranda is still just 21 and has 13 senior international appearances and a point to prove. He was subject to the most anger and derision from Woking supporters on Sunday, which usually means he was the player they were most wary of. Suddenly, Javi Gracia’s squad looks packed with young attacking options.

 

11) The biggest shock of the weekend including one of the top six was the strength of the starting XI picked by Pep Guardiola. Gabriel Jesus and Riyad Mahrez were predictable inclusions as reserves to in-form players, but Raheem Sterling, Kevin de Bruyne, John Stones and Ilkay Gundogan were more surprising. Poor Rotherham, whose manager used his post-match press conference to ask the waiting media whether they felt sorry for him.

Sterling seems similar to Kane, in that he is better playing than resting when in form, and that his workload does not need to be managed quite so much. Few wingers have troubled Andrew Robertson like Sterling did on Thursday, and Rotherham were never likely to stop him.

You would think that seven or eight of the same players might start against Burton Albion on Wednesday in the EFL Cup semi-final first leg. Sterling out for Sane, Laporte in for Stones and A Youngster in for De Bruyne or Mahrez. But Guardiola will want to put that tie out of sight before the second leg, and may go strong again in the hope of making second-half substitutions. Oh, to have the option.

 

12) Goals are supposed to fill centre-forwards with joy, but nobody told Alvaro Morata. The Spaniard has looked drained of all confidence as standard this season, and two goals against Championship Nottingham Forest was barely enough to raise half a smile. When Morata was substituted, he headed straight down the tunnel.

Morata has long passed the point of no return at Chelsea. His all-round centre-forward play is below the standard required unless he is going to market himself as an elite finisher, and his finishing is not nearly good enough for that. The result is a mediocre striker who doesn’t get the best out of himself or those around him. Hopefully Morata can go back to Italy and Spain and fall in love with leading the line again, but Sarri cannot afford to run a charity.

The only question is whether Chelsea can find a buyer in January or are made to wait until the summer. Either option will shape their own business. Callum Wilson, Gonzalo Higuain and – far less likely – Edinson Cavani have all been mentioned.

 

13) Marcelo Bielsa has performed way above pre-season expectation in charge of Leeds United, but the second half of the season was always likely to be far harder than the first. That’s partly because of the psychological pressure of trying to take Leeds back to the Premier League, but also because of Bielsa’s style of play. The Championship is a long, hard, gruelling season. Playing high-intensity, pressing football with players not used to the method risked fatigue and muscle injuries.

Leeds are not yet crumbling under the weight of that pressure, but they are creaking. Consecutive comeback victories over Aston Villa and Blackburn Rovers were memorable, but the end result covered up cracks in both performances, while defensive injuries are hitting hard. Leeds have now lost three games in a row, and have conceded at least twice in their last five matches. Bielsa needs either January investment or a few players to step up their game once more.

 

14) We did have a shock. An actual shock. Cardiff City losing to League One Gillingham was Saturday’s big story, but on Sunday Fulham managed to take the lead against Oldham Athletic of League Two and still lose at home.

Oldham’s story is a tumultuous one. They are owned by former agent Abdallah Lemsagam, who is not universally popular but who has at least been able to pay the players on time. Oldham were close to financial abyss before his arrival, and are hardly buoyant heading into 2019.

The controversy comes with Oldham’s myriad new signings, many of whom have a connection to Lemsagam despite him having to stop his career as an agent to be permitted to own a professional football club. It continues with accusations from former Oldham players that the owner is impossible to deal with and is poisoning the club.

Sunday’s win at Fulham was more remarkable still because Oldham sacked manager Frankie Bunn, reportedly by email, on Boxing Day and have academy manager Peter Wild in charge. You’d assume that he would now get the gig on a full-time basis, but this is Oldham and this is Lemsagam. Assume nothing.

 

15) Insert something about waiting ages for a bus here. A fairly ordinary, uninspiring third round came to life with its biggest upset in its penultimate game: fourth-tier Newport knocking out Premier League Leicester.

There are 73 places between the two clubs in the football pyramid, but the FA Cup and a passionate Rodney Parade atmosphere was the great leveller. Even when Rachid Ghezzal cancelled out Jamille Matt’s early opener with eight minutes remaining, there was time for Padraig Amond to seal the tie with a penalty.

“You want to test yourselves against these players. Without saying we are going to beat them or anything like that, they are not going to enjoy coming to play in Newport,” Amond said last January, previewing the club’s fourth-round tie at home to Tottenham. The Irishman would also score in that game, a 1-1 draw, before the club were beaten in a Wembley replay.

After failing to advance past the third round of the FA Cup since 1979, Newport have now done so in both of the last two seasons. After finishing 22nd out of 24 in League Two in successive seasons, Newport finished 11th last campaign and are currently 13th with at least one game in hand on every team around them. Michael Flynn has taken to his first managerial post like a duck to water.

 

16) But we will end where we began.

Barnet will fly the flag for non-league football in the FA Cup fourth round, having knocked out Championship Sheffield United at Bramall Lane. Darren Currie’s National League side have beaten two Football League teams this season. That’s as many as… Ipswich Town of the Championship.

Daniel Storey

 


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