After Saturday’s shocks, more David-v-Goliath matchups were on tap for Sunday. We start with Luton Town, who ignored the fact that they are 60 league places below Liverpool and forced a very deserved replay at Anfield. This was one of the games I checked out on Sunday and I felt it was an entertaining 1-1 draw. The football on display was not always the most fluid but there was plenty of hustle and passion from Luton. Both goals came off of defensive errors as John Arne Riise scored an own goal just three minutes after Peter Crouch’s 74th-minute opening goal. It was Chris Perry’s misplaced header that gave Andriy Voronin a breakaway. The Stoke goalkeeper parried the Ukrainian’s shot but the ball fell right at Crouch’s feet and he rolled it into the net.
Drew Talbot was my man of the match in this one. It was his dangerous cross that Riise turned into his own goal and he kept the Liverpool defence on their heels most of the afternoon.
The replay at Anfield on January 15th will bring in £250,000 to the Luton Town coffers as the club fights for its future. The League One outfit are currently in administration and struggling to pay the wages of their staff. They will be forced to sell off their best players should a buyer not be found.
The other game I checked out on Sunday was the Stoke City – Newcastle United tie. Stoke City forced a replay against after holding the struggling Premier League side to a draw. The game lacked quality and only came to life for spells of the second half. There were a couple of close calls either way but the defenders and goalkeepers on both sides were determined to keep the ball out of their net. Stoke will now travel to St James’ Park next Wednesday.
The draw sees more criticism and pressure heaped on Newcastle gaffer Sam Allardyce. Stoke are among the Championship promotion places, but for all their size and energy, they should not have posed such a serious threat to a mid-table Premier League team that aspires to be amongst the “big” clubs. Newcastle face an away fixture to Manchester United and then a replay with Stoke next Wednesday. It’s shaping up to be another pressurized week for Newcastle.
Fulham had to come from behind twice to force a replay with League One strugglers Bristol Rovers. Rovers, near the foot of the League One table, defended resiliently and capitalized on Fulham’s nervous start. Fulham did look better in the second half and could have won the game on a few occasions. I expect they will win the replay but will not be pleased to have an extra match on their plate.
In a less shocking result, Premier League strugglers Derby County were held to a 2-2 draw by Sheffield Wednesday. Wednesday side went two up within the first 23 minutes. Mark Beevers’ (linked in the press with a move to Everton) speculative shot was woefully mishandled by Derby keeper Lewis Price as he spilled it into the goal to gift a 1-0 lead to the visitors. 24-year-old striker Marcus Tudgay, sold to Sheffield Wednesday two years ago after five years at Pride Park, drilled home the Championship side’s second as they thrilled the 5,500 fans that had travelled with the team. Tudgay pounced on Darren Moore’s awful attempted header to his own keeper and put Wednesday up 2-0.
Cue the comeback! More poor defending, this time from Wednesday, as Kenny Miller outmaneuvered three defenders to colect a cross into the area and fire low into the corner past another former Derby man, Lee Grant. Giles Barnes drew Derby level with a lovely left-foot volley just before the interval. The second half was unremarkable by comparison to the first. Derby’s finishing was poor and Grant was a solid presence in goal. He made one particularly good stop to keep out a Gary Teale volley. Another former Ram, Deon Burton, had a goal disallowed late on. The replay of this tie will be at Hillsborough next Wednesday.
The only non-shock was Arsenal’s 2-0 win over Burnley. Arsenal largely played their “B” team though recent first-team regulars such as Eduardo, Justin Hoyte and Bacary Sagna featured for the Premier League leaders. Burnley did not roll over and capitulate, giving Arsenal a run for their money with a performance that evoked memories of their shock third-round win over Liverpool in 2005.
Kyle Lafferty’s header hit the bar for the hosts before Eduardo slotted home in the 9th minute. Robbie Blake and Chris McCann both spurned chances in front of goal in the first half. Lafferty’s afternoon came to an abrupt end in the second half. On the hour he was deemed to have made a dangerous challenge on Gilberto and referee Alan Wiley pulled out the red card without hesitation. Wiley’s angle on the play was not great and the replays showed that he got the decision wrong. It may have been beneficial for Wiley to have consulted the assistant on the opposite side for his opinion. In any event, a red was very harsh and did change the face of the game. To their credit, Burnley poured forward with even more purpose and tried to find an equalizer. However, Eduardo was at the heart of the second goal as well, playing a perfectly weighted through ball for Bendtner. He rounded Kiraly and finished the game off as a contest with 15 minutes left on the clock.