See, I knew I shouldn’t have said anything about consecutive replay-less rounds.
There were only two FA Cup fifth-round ties to be played on Sunday, and one of them just had to go to a replay.
Sunday’s ties offered up the opportunity for two struggling Championship sides to get a big boost at the expense of top-flight sides, as Preston welcomed Portsmouth to Deepdale, and Sheffield United hosted Middlesbrough at Bramall Lane.
North End are barely hanging above the relegation zone in the second tier, but you wouldn’t have guessed it from their performance against Harry Redknapp’s European hopefuls.
Unfortunately, David James was on top of his game, and he needed to be sharp, especially on the hour mark, when Simon Whaley stepped up to the spot with a chance to give Preston the lead.
James made the save there, and he made every other save required of him, as did Preston’s Andy Lonergan. But, just when it looked like the strugglers had at least secured a replay, their FA Cup run came to a cruel end, as midfielder Darren Carter put the ball in his own net in the waning moments to hand Pompey a 1-0 win.
Despite the disappointing result, Redknapp’s praise of the Lilywhites in his post-match comments says it all – ‘If Preston played like that every week, they wouldn’t be in a relegation battle.’ Well, Alan Irvine, if ever there was a moment to build off of a solid cup run, it’s now, especially when your next three matches are against promotion pushers Watford (2nd) and Stoke (1st), and a Crystal Palace side still in the hunt for a playoff place.
Sheffield United are looking a little safer than Preston right now, though there’s nothing great about being 16th, especially when it means that one manager is out the door, and another’s in.
Former Blades assistant manager Kevin Blackwell, fresh off of a forgettable tenure at Luton (oh, how my favorite lower-league side has fallen), is now in charge of pulling United towards the right half of the table after Bryan Robson departed last week, made his managerial debut at Bramall Lane on Sunday, and could’ve gotten his reign off to a flying start with a win over Boro.
Unfortunately, his new club couldn’t pull through with a third straight upset of a top-flight side, but a 0-0 draw and a replay at the Riverside is certainly a lot better than getting dumped out of the competition.
So, we’ll have one replay before we’ll fully know the four quarterfinal matchups, and there’ll either be four Premier League sides or four Championship sides in the final eight.
With Manchester United and Chelsea the only two of the Premier League powers still alive and kicking in the cup, you’d have to think that they’re the favorites now.
Maybe we’re on track for a rematch of last season’s final, but we’ll have to see how the draw plays out, won’t we?