The match against Brighton wasn’t televised live here in Australia. It was however shown on a delay at 7.45 on Sunday morning. The early morning stroll to a friends house in the blazing sun was well worth it. It wasn’t sweat seeping from my red and white pores…. I’d merely succumbed to a bout of cup fever! The symptoms persisted when we eased through to the quarter final. Despite opposing defender Tommy Elphicks’s romantic flourish in the build up, http://news.bbc.co.uk/sport2/hi/football/teams/b/brighton/9400717.stmwe contained their threat in comfort. It was comprehensive and professional showing from Stoke, exactly the kind of showing you’d expect when a Premier League team faces league one opposition. Three first half headers saw us through with the minimum of fuss, from the moment John Carew gave us the lead we never looked like being cup shock victims. Brighton keeper Brezovan was overpowered and bruised by our aerial strength and in the second half we were afforded the luxury of being able to play the game out with a rare and pleasing lack of anxiety.
So for the second year running we have reached the quarter finals of the FA Cup. And the point has to be made the draw has been considerably kinder to us than it was at this stage last year. But nothing is certain. West Ham will be as relieved as we are with the draw. We still have lot to deal with to reach our first FA Cup semi since 1972. Memories of Stoke in the FA Cup still evokes more pain than happiness but I can’t help humming Abide With Me! Even the most hardened cynics (ie me!) have to dream.
Everton injected the much needed shock factor back into the competition by knocking Chelsea out. Infuriatingly and predictably, the media focused on Chelsea’s ongoing stuttering form as opposed to congratulating Everton on such a great result. While there is little doubt the competition has lost some of it’s gloss, knocking the holders out on their own patch is a commendable achievement. After going behind some sides would have folded and been satisfied with a near miss but Everton showed admirable resilience by digging in and equalising as they did. Baines free kick was a beauty too, a beauty for which he hasn’t received the credit he’s really due. It’d be pleasing if this result puts and end to the plethora of rumours surrounding David Moyes position as manager. He deserves much better than that. Orient have made themselves a fortune by earning a replay at Arsenal. True to form Wenger came out whinging about fixture congestion but that doesn’t distract from the joyous scenes of Orient’s celebrations. Those moments are the reason we live this footballing life, Wenger sulking over his multi millionaires having to get their shirts dirty one more time can’t erase marvellous memories like that.
The first knockout games in the European Cup were tremendous. Top class players at the top of their game. Each tie so far is finely poised to have second legs full of excitement and drama and perhaps an upset or two. It demonstrates why the competition is in desperate need of a revamp, the quality of the knockout matches shows how meaningless and tedious so many of the group games are.
In one of the aforementioned dramatic ties,it was the European Cup defeat to Shakhtar Donetsk that was instrumental in Claudio Ranieri’s departure from Roma. It’s entirely feasible that Ranieri jumped before he was pushed. Last season saw Roma challenging for the title, that progression hasn’t been followed up and the manager paid the ultimate price. Charm and self deprecating wit may make for a media darling but doesn’t necessarily equate to being a manager able to sustain success. It’s hard to predict where Claudio will turn up next but it’s unlikely to be Chelsea. The Italian media is currently swamped with rumours of Carlo Ancelotti heading for the Stadio Olimpico, but a swap isn’t on the cards! Elsewhere in Serie A, Allegri at Milan has a Pulis / Fuller situation, he insists on playing Pato as sub when he’s clearly the most dangerous striker they have. Against Chievo Milan struggled and huffed and puffed but Pato was supersub and saved the day with a late winner. It’ll be interesting to see if Pato satrts in their crucial six pointer top of the table battle cliche fest this coming weekend!
The Old Firm match on Sunday wasn’t actually a match at all. Celtic’s dominance was absolute. Bartley’s early booking left him wary of tackling which meant a significant portion of the midfield was conceded. Celtic used this advantage with great intelligence, able to keep the ball in relative comfort. They used it enough to effectively have the game won by half time. Rangers started the second half with a surge but it subsided quickly. The third goal just gave the scoreline a more realistic complexion and 3-0 up Rangers can feel grateful their defeat wasn’t more emphatic. This result puts Celtic well and truly in charge of the title race, Rangers games in hand are nullified. That’s not to say it’s over but Rangers will have to show more of an appetite than they did in this tepid surrender.