The magic of the FA Cup is dead they’ll tell you. It’s time has passed, replaced by a battle for third & fourth places in the Premier League. The passion is gone amongst players who make millions, and viewers with dozens of games to choose from on their TV each week.
Well tell that to the supporters of Hull City – heading to the semi-finals for the first time in 84 years. Tell it to the Arsenal fans who have seen chance after chance of trophies pass them by in recent years, but now head to Wembley once again. Tell it to the Sheffield United fans and players who have achieved what most would deem impossible – becoming the first 3rd tier side to make it to an FA Cup semi-final since 2001.
And tell it to Wigan Athletic – they dared to dream last season and became the first team to win the cup during a relegation campaign. This year, they repeated the trick of defeating Manchester City and return to Wembley for a huge semi-final and the chance to defend that famous trophy.
Arsenal 4-1 Everton
The world’s oldest cup competition offered up some fascinating ties this weekend as the teams entered the quarter-finals – starting with the all top flight clash between Arsenal and Everton on Saturday. Roberto Martinez took his new side to The Emirates knowing that he had not lost an FA Cup tie as a manager for two years, after taking his Wigan side all the way last term.
Arsene Wenger fielded a strong team, having admitted that March is a make or break time for his club and that winning a trophy this season is “vital”. Mesut Ozil ensured that the home side settled any nerves early on – the German international slotting home calmly after a mistake by James McCarthy allowed Santi Cazorla to play him in.
Everton were level just after the 30 min mark when Gareth Barry blocked another Ozil effort and set ROSS Barkley on his way. The youngster charged forward and found a pin-point cross to Kevin Mirrallas at the far post. Mirrallas almost fluffed his chance, but got enough on the ball for it to drop kindly to Romelu Lukaku, who found himself with a simple tap in to equalize.
That was as good as it got for Everton, unfortunately, as they tried to find a way through but were thwarted by good the ever-solid Per Mertesacker. On 68 minutes, Arsenal regained the lead, as Gareth Barry could do nothing but trip the pacey Oxlade-Chamberlain and the referee was quick to point to the spot.
Former Everton man Mikel Arteta stepped up to slot home – only to be called back to retake, as substitute Olivier Giroud was deemed to be encroaching. Arteta though remained calm, and slotted his penalty home just as deftly on the second occasion.
At 2-1 there was always a chance of a second equalizer, however on 83 minutes Bacary Sagna found himself tearing to the touchline, and Giroud’s movement was impeccable to create the space needed in the centre to allow him to slot home cleverly. Two minutes later, a sweeping move involving Rosicky and Ozil, again, saw the ball at Giroud’s feet again and the Frenchman made no bones about the cool finish to make it 4-1.
Sheffield United 2-0 Charlton Athletic
Sunday kicked off with League One’s Sheffield United taking on Charlton Athletic at Bramall Lane in front of 30,040 – the clubs best attendance since a play-off fixture two years ago. Nigel Clough, unbeaten as United manager since the 4th round win over Fulham, has restored a lot of faith and confidence in his side, while Chris Powell’s Charlton have suffered a lack of form of late.
The first half was an undulating affair, with both sides working hard and creating chances, but lacking in an end product. However, midway through the 2nd half the game burst into life for the home side, as Jose Baxter whipped a delightful cross into the area, which was met by Ryan Flynn.
The home crowd were still on their feet, sensing a cup upset was on the cards, when less than 2 minutes later John Brayford let loose a shot from the edge of the area, and saw a fortunate deflection take it out of Ben Hamer’s reach in the Charlton goal.
At 2-0 the tie was over and the home fans were rapturous in their approval. The final whistle brought jubilant scenes from the players, as some fans burst onto the pitch to join in the celebrations.
Hull City 3-0 Sunderland
Hull City will be equally delighted, after taking over an hour to break down a stubborn Sunderland side. In similar fashion to the earlier game, a home goal after the hour mark opened the floodgates. Curtis Davies popped up with his 3rd goal in 3 games for Hull, powering a solid header into the Sunderland goal.
Four minutes later, David Meyler found himself facing down Oscar Ustari in the away goal, and was composed enough to double the lead, before giving the corner flag a head-butt in celebration – a literal nod to Alan Pardew’s antics with the player last weekend.
Hull had earlier missed a penalty, Sone Aluko finding Ustari equal to his low effort, however that all was made academic in the 77th minute, as Cattermole hit the self-destruct button and slotted in Matty Fryatt when attempting a back-pass. The forward took the opportunity gladly, and Hull now look forward to their first semi final since 1930.
Manchester City 1-2 Wigan Athletic
Last but not least, Sunday saw the holders Wigan meet Manchester City in a rematch of last year’s final. The billionaires of City were shocked at Wembley last term, but went in to this one in confidence after securing the League Cup at “the home of football” last weekend.
However, it was once again the Championship club who started strongest – Wigan settling well and showing that they were not playing in awe of their opponents. Manuel Pellegrini named a strong starting 11, with both Aguero and Negredo up-front, however they made little impact in the opening half.
Wigan then sprung the surprise once again – Martin Demichelis bringing down Fortune in the area, a giving the referee no choice. Jordi Gomez stepped up and slotted calmly to the left, while goalkeeper Pantillimon began to go the wrong way.
Lining up for the 2nd half a goal down, there was an expectation that City would come out all guns blazing, however on 47 mins it was Wigan celebrating again. This time, after a series of mix-ups in the defence, a low cross found its way to James Perch in the area, and the defender took the chance with relish.
Pellegrini, obviously frustrated, made a triple change to shake up his failing team and hauled off Negredo, Navas and Yaya Toure. The substitutes Milner, Dzeko and Silva linked well immediately and Milner in particular began to have an impact with his hard work in the midfield.
The pressure was building on Wigan, and a Clichy cross was met well by Dzeko, but he could only hit the post, while the rebound bounced agonizingly past Silva. That pressure eventually paid dividends for City on 68 minutes, with Wigan failing to clear a corner and the ball finding its way to Samir Nasri on the edge of the area. The Frenchman finished well into the left hand corner, and set-up a barm-storming final 20 minutes.
City threw everything they had at the reigning cup holders but through solidity or luck they held firm – Emerson Boyce providing the most memorable block as he launched himself in front of a cross just a split second before Dzeko could sweep it into the gaping goal.
Former City player and current Wigan boss, Uwe Rösler showed his anxiousness, pacing the touchline, but his side finally ventured forward, picking up a free-kick and a corner to relieve the pressure.
City had a final chance to conjure an equalizer, as Aguero earned the home side a corner. Pantillimon made his way up front as a last throw of the dice, however the corner was cleared with ease and the final whistle soon followed.
A fantastic weekend of cup football finished on a high, as one of the Premier League favorites falls (yet again) to the little-fancied Wigan. Wigan are rewarded with a Wembley clash against Arsenal, while Hull meet Sheffield United… And if that doesn’t prove that the magic of the cup is still alive and well, nothing will!
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