Six things we learnt from the FA Cup fourth round
After a weekend which yielded 14 victories, two replays and the best fifth round draw for years, we look at what we learnt over the weekend.
1. Graham may have missed his last shot for Hull
For two members of Hull City’s team the scuffed pitch and high winds made Roots Hall a dilapidated Last Chance Saloon. One man stood his ground, the other didn’t. With Steve Bruce putting his money on Nikica Jelavic and Shane Long, the futures of Matty Fryatt and Danny Graham look thin. Each had two chances at Southend. Fryatt took his, Graham did not. The 28-year-old’s £5m transfer from Swansea a year ago was a dreadful piece of business. His return to his native North-east with Sunderland did not produce a goal and made him miss the League Cup final. His loan at Hull has produced one goal; now another exit beckons.
2. Chelsea face the toughest task of all despite Jose Mourinho’s confidence
The draw for the FA Cup fifth round pits arguably the two strongest teams in England against one another. Despite Mourinho’s immediate claim that he is looking forward to the match, the Portuguese should be wary. City, 2-0 down against Championship side Watford at half-time, decided enough was enough and a Sergio Aguero hat-trick later were 4-2 up to continue their average of scoring four goals per game at home. Are Chelsea going to score five at the Etihad? Don’t count on it.
3. De Fanti’s flops are of little worth to Poyet
The sacking of Sunderland’s director of football, Roberto De Fanti, was greeted with a resounding cheer on Wearside. Over the summer he had brought in 14 players at a combinted cost of more than £19m before falling out with first Paolo Di Canio and then Gus Poyet. It was easy to see why during Sunderland’s laboured 1-0 win over Kidderminster. No fewer than eight of De Fanti’s signings were on display against the non-League side and very few impressed. One of them, Charis Mavrias, did score the winner but is unlikely to be on view again when Sunderland face Stoke in the Premier League on Wednesday.
4. Hanging on to Shaw is a benchmark for Liebherr
Having said goodbye to Theo Walcott and Gareth Bale, Southampton are used to selling the jewels of their academy but Luke Shaw, England’s most talented young left-back, has to be retained, not least because Katherina Liebherr’s first meaningful statement since the departure of Nicola Cortese was that she had “no plans to sell” to Chelsea or Manchester United. Plans, however, can change.
5. Rochdale are the club most in love with the Cup...
Given the battering the competition has received, it is understandable that the Football Association is sensitive about how many pay to watch it. Saturday’s fourth-round FA Cup games count as a something of a success. The 12 ties were watched by 183,738, a drop of seven per cent from the last league attendances of the home clubs. Rochdale saw their attendances leap 190 per cent for the 2-1 defeat by Sheffield Wednesday, while Stevenage’s gate was up 140 per cent. Sunderland were the biggest fallers – 35 per cent down. However Wigan, who beat Crystal Palace 2-1, were the most disappointing, down 25 per cent from the win over Bournemouth. Given that they are the FA Cup holders, that takes some explaining.
6. ...but Solskjaer and Cardiff are well up for it, too
The first FA Cup team talk Ole Gunnar Solskjaer heard was Alex Ferguson telling his players he would throw himself in the River Irwell if he didn’t think Manchester United could beat Tottenham at Old Trafford. As a manager, Solskjaer has always taken domestic cup competitions seriously. His third and final season in charge of Molde saw the club in real danger of relegation although they pulled clear and won the Norwegian Cup. Cardiff’s victories over first Newcastle and now Bolton demonstrate a similar attitude.