By Joe Behan
Not even the great Sir Alex Ferguson is exempt from the cruelties of the FA Cup. That no man, or club, is bigger than the game, or indeed the cup, is the Fergie lesson.
Middlesbrough beat Manchester United, 2-0, Saturday to start the end of Ferguson’s managerial retirement this year. Just after the hour at 0-0, Ferguson brought on Ryan Giggs and Ruud van Nistelrooy to finish the game, but things didn’t go according to plan. The subs were fine, but it would have better served United had Fergusen put them in the defense.
United sweeper Laurent Blanc was hopeless when he let a ball go over his head for Boro’s Noel Whelan to tap in. Then minutes later the finger pointed at Fabien Barthez when yet another mess-up from the French goalie presented Andy Campbell with Boro’s second goal, pushing his side to the cup’s last 16, which will be contest Feb. 16 and 17.
As usual, Ferguson, whose Premiership-leading side a lost a league game to Liverpool last week as well, let off some steam after the game and had an indirect go at his players publicly. Usually when that happens, United bounce back and put a winning run together. But this time Ferguson needs to be reminded that not too long ago he turned his back on the FA Cup — and it came back to haunt him last weekend. Just to add to Ferguson’s pillow-turning nightmare, his former assistant coach and now Boro boss, Steve McClaren, stated, “It’s a terrific win.”
Meanwhile, another former United man also rubbed a little salt into the cup wound of the knighted Ferguson last weekend. Andy Cole bundled home an 86th minute header to take Blackburn Rovers past Millwall and a cup date with Boro.
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For Liverpool, who vanquished United in the league last week, the cup competition provided a dose of reality on Sunday when Dennis Bergkamp, the underdog choice at Highbury, hit the winner for Arsenal. The now-fancied Gunners are at home to Gillingham or Bristol Rovers.
The cup, as always, is about the underdog. While United went down to Boro at the Riverside, Walsall was victorious over Charlton at the Valley.
Div. 1 dogs in hunt
Things are not going well for Walsall in Div. 1 as they struggle both on and off the field. In fact, only days before their biggest game of the season, manager Ray Graydon made way for new boss Colin Lee to face Premier opposition Charlton. Lee immediately changed his lineup for the cup game and penciled in Portuguese striker Jorge Leitao, whom Graydon had lost faith in. The Walsall striker responded with a brace that gave his team a 2-1 win and his new manager a dream start in the FA Cup.
James Walker was outstanding in goal for Walsall and stopped a Charlton penalty in the second half to save the day for the underdog. The Wall has home advantage against Fulham in the next round.
After dispensing Sunderland out of the cup, First Division side West Bromich Albion continued dumping premier teams with a 1-0 win over Leicester. Leicester’s Matt Elliot took down Albion’s Andy Johnson and the referee blew for the deciding penalty kick. The disputes from the Leicester players said it all, as they knew it was over and fighting premier relegation had begun. West Brom, while on paper were the underdogs, always had a chance to win this one and now they have to be fancied at home against Cheltenham.
Manchester City beat Ipswich Town 4-1. Kevin Keegan and his Maine men now go on to meet Newcastle United in the fifth round of the FA Cup. Ipswich was in deep relegation trouble, but George Burley rounded up the Town to put together some great results over the holiday season. In ink it looked like an even match as City top the First Division and are playing some serious stuff. On the league ladder, City are only a handful of spots behind Ipswich.
City’s second-half performance gives us a glimpse of Keegan uplifting his team as the City went on to destroy the Town. King Kev is on his way back to his beloved Newcastle with 84 goals in the bag this season. Keegan is the m’stro when it comes to premier promotion and he will relish the chance to go at premier high flyers Newcastle.
The ultimate underdog is Third Division Cheltenham Town, who beat First Division Burnley 2-1 in the FA cup over the weekend. Cheltenham is only in their third season as a Football League club. Burnley’s keeper, Nik Michopolous, limped off, and then Cheltenham struck two rapid goals to seal the historical win. Cheltenham’s dream of playing a top premier team was put on ice as they face Albion next.
Gazza danced on Leyton Orient to give Everton an easy 4-1 win. Now can Gazza do it against better opposition? Next up for Everton is Crewe Alexandra, who beat Rotherham 4-2, and the Gaz may live on in the Cup. Tranmere do not have John Aldridge around these days, but it’s not stopping the Rovers, who beat Cardiff and go on to meet Spurs or Bolton. Preston North End earned a 2-1 victory over Sheffield United and the End deserves their dream game against Chelsea or West Ham, who tied 1-all.
In the Scottish Cup, Hearts broke down at home and were beaten 3-1 by Inverness CT. Rangers crashed four past Hibernian to give Celtic a wee reminder they are still around these days. Kilmarnock were testing the Hoops until Henrik Larsson reminded Rangers why he is the Golden Boot and made it 2-nil for the Bhoys.