Swansea and Bradford have already shown this season that there is no such thing as a favourite in a cup competition. Neither team was expected to progress as far as they have, nor in the style and manner that they did. Aston Villa and Chelsea both found themselves guilty of underestimating their oppositions in the first legs of their respective ties, which costly them dearly. The cost in the end was a place in the final as the underdogs held on to claim their places. But this isn’t the first time we have seen this nor will it be the last. Everyone remembers their own giant killing memory in football, whether that be Wimbledon’s victory in the 1988 cup final against newly crowd champions Liverpool or non league Hereford beating Newcastle in 1972 or 3rd division York City humiliating Manchester United in 1995 to name but a few. But this week we have a new set of upsets to add to that list with some sunning results on both sides of the border that have well and truly upset the apple cart.
There is nothing more rewarding for a team in the lower leagues of England than taking the scalp of a Premiership club and knocking them out of a cup. Just ask Bradford who dispatched not only Aston Villa in the League Cup this year but Arsenal and Wigan as well. Or that of Oldham who yesterday stacked more weight onto the shoulders of Brendan Rodgers as they dispatched Liverpool 3-2 in a classic FA Cup fourth round tie. Leading 2-1 going into half time, most teams in Oldham’s position would have buckled under the pressure as Liverpool exploded out of the blocks in the second half, after receiving the hairdryer treatment from Rodgers. But not Oldham who pushed Liverpool back and snatched an important third goal three minutes after the restart from a header from Reece Wabara at Liverpool’s back post. Oldham, who lie a point above the relegation zone in League 1, showed grit and determination to hold on to the get the result they wanted and deserved, despite a late strike from Liverpool’s Joe Allen.
Oldham’s achievement would have been the result of the round if it weren’t for Luton Town, who provided the biggest shock by knocking out Premiership side Norwich with a 1-0 score line. The non league team, who have a history of giant killings in the cup but have since fallen on darker days which has resulted in Luton falling rapidly down the leagues, dispatched their Premiership opposition with a show of guts and teamwork that has been their calling on this amazing cup run they have been on so far. Having dispatched non league sides Cambridge, Nuneaton and Dorchester on route to the third round, they then came up against a strong Wolves team in early January and it appeared as though that is where their run would end. However a spirited display saw them pip the former Premiership club by a solitary goal, courtesy of midfielder Alex Lawless. They took courage from this victory into the game on Saturday against a high-flying Norwich and managed the impossible by repeating the result, this time from an 80th minute goal by substitute striker Scott Rendell. With Everton now waiting in the next round, all eyes will be on Luton to see if they can make it a hat trick of results or will their dream end at Goodison.
In Scotland, champions elect Celtic took on St Mirren in the semi finals in what looked to be on paper as a fairly easy match for Neil Lennon’s men. St Mirren, who have endured a difficult season and find themselves sitting second from bottom in the league, came in to the match with a different outlook than their opposition, relishing the underdog tag, knowing that only 90 minutes stood between them and a cup final place against Hearts. Celtic, somewhat foolishly under estimated their opposition who had nothing to lose in the match and paid dearly. 3-1 down after 70 minutes, the realisation of what could happen was starting to dawn on both sides. Celtic pressed to find the two goals needed to take the game to extra time as St. Mirren fought to hold onto their lead. Despite conceding a late strike, courtesy of Charlie Mulgrew’s low drive, Danny Lennon’s St Mirren side held on to claim the famous victory and book their place at Hampden. Celtic are still contesting in the Scottish Cup and Champions League and with the Premier League an almost certainty, unless for catastrophic meltdown, there is still hope for a good finish to the campaign for Neil Lennon. But the defeat to his namesake’s St Mirren side will be hard to take as a famous potential treble escapes his grasp.
With Leeds beating Tottenham, MK Dons dispatching QPR and Brentford almost knocking out Chelsea, before a late Fernando Torres goal set up a replay, it has been a great week of cup upsets. Cup competitions have the ability to throw up surprises but most of the time they end with the result expected, with the larger of the two teams taking away the spoils. That is unless, said larger team doesn’t give enough credit to their opposition, underrated their chances or desire to win. For many of the lower league teams, taking the scalp of a Premiership club can be exciting to them as playing in the final itself. For many, it’s the highlight of their careers, their five minutes of fame, a chance to show that sometimes grit and determination can become a leveler to skill and talent. In football, anything can happen and in cup competitions, it usually does. That is the magic of the cup, what most teams and fans are playing for. The cup itself is only half the prize, the other half is how you get their and who you manage to beat along the way.