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It Was a Bad Weekend For… FA Cup Special!

Simon Carter looks at the weekend sufferers...

Newcastle's cup hopes (yet again)
Seagulls versus Magpies is a clash as old as time itself (probably) so it was with dry mouths and racing hearts that twitchers, tweeters and ITV awaited Saturday lunchtimeâÂÂs FA Cup tie between Brighton and Newcastle. The avian clash, a repeat of last yearâÂÂs Fourth Round fixture, was the perfect appetiser for a cup-tastic weekend â and served up our first shock of the round.

Brighton, in front of over 20,000 fans, controlled the game from the start, passing the ball around with carefree abandon and a confidence gained from the visitorsâ weakened line-up and hopeless away form. The Seagulls have won many friends for their style of play and by the time Andrea Orlandi tucked away Wayne BridgeâÂÂs cross shortly before half time, it was obvious that the travelling Geordies were in for a tough afternoon.

The second half was a more even affair but Newcastle lost heart with every passing minute, visibly so once Shola Ameobi was sent off for a second bookable offence. Though Will HoskinâÂÂs victory-sealing goal didnâÂÂt arrive until the 88th minute, Alan Pardew and Newcastle had long since accepted their seventh defeat in eight games.

Brighton will again welcome Premier League opposition in the next round â either Swansea or Arsenal, who played out a thrilling 2-2 draw on Sunday â while Newcastle will try to adjust to life with only one Senegalese striker. The sides return to their very different league campaigns but donâÂÂt be surprised if they meet again next year, one way or another.

Stole Solbakken
In a light-hearted Friday press conference, Wolves manager Stale Solbakken exclusively revealed that it is as possible to slip on a banana skin in Norway as it is in England (which is to say, not very: have you ever actually seen anyone slip on a banana skin?). His comments raised laughs from the assembled hacks but there was nothing funny about Wolvesâ performance, and subsequent defeat, at Luton on Saturday.

If any tie had âÂÂshockâ written all over it, it was this one â so much so that when the result came in it may not even have raised Roger MooreâÂÂs eyebrow. Wolves are currently just six points above the Championship relegation zone while Luton are enjoying their customary Conference Premier play-off charge.

Statistically the game was very even so a 1-0 home victory for the Hatters was hardly an unfair result, but thereâÂÂs no escaping the fact that a Championship side should certainly have beaten non-league opposition â something that wasnâÂÂt lost on the Wolves board, who sacked Solbakken immediately after the game and have already appointed Dean Saunders as his replacement. Never has someone slipped so hard on a banana skin.

The league ladder
A staple of FA Cup Third Round day, alongside re-runs of Ronnie RadfordâÂÂs mud-spattered goal and ArsenalâÂÂs vomit-shirted 1992 defeat to Wrexham, is the oft-repeated statistic of how many league places there are between various opposition.

The biggest gap was the 131 places that separated Championship side Middlesbrough and their visitors, non-league Hastings United. That gap proved too much for the away side as Boro cruised to a 4-1 win, even allowing themselves the luxury of a saved penalty. But if 131 places is too much of a chasm, what about a measly 81?

Such was the difference between runaway Championship leaders Cardiff and their hosts, mid-table Conference side Macclesfield. All was going to form when the Bluebirds took a second-half lead... but then they slipped to a 2-1 defeat.

It could be argued that Macclesfield were somewhat fortunate in the award of the penalty that provided Matthew Barnes-Homer (his second of a memorable brace) with the winner, but the truth is that there was little difference between the sides all game and The Silkmen were worthy winners.

Cardiff will undoubtedly be disappointed to have ducked out of the competition so early but, without the distraction of a cup run, this may be the year that they finally avoid their traditional end of season slump. With Macclesfield gleefully into the Fourth Round for the first time in their history, maybe this wasn't a bad result for either side.

Tricked Trees
Nottingham Forest fans still shaken, angered and confused by the sacking of Sean OâÂÂDriscoll at Christmas (and the subsequent recruitment of Alex McLeish) will say that their teamâÂÂs 3-2 home defeat to League One strugglers Oldham was nothing other than preordained. Whether or not that's true, thereâÂÂs no doubting that there was a liberal sprinkling of âÂÂMagic of the Cupâ¢â in the East Midlands air on Saturday.

OldhamâÂÂs recent form has been awful: they have lost four of the last five League One games and are just two places above the drop zone. Forest, by contrast, have made a decent fist of their campaign and are currently within three points of the play-offs.

So when the Laticsâ Matt Smith turned the ball into his own goal early in the game, McLeishsâÂÂs first win with the Tricky Trees looked to be on the cards. But Forest failed to build on their impressive start and lost cohesion when Andy Reid limped off. They also struggled to adapt to the second-half expulsion of Danny Collins. 

But let's not take anything away from Oldham. They threw men forward after the break and, in seven magical minutes, ran in goals from Robbie Simpson (twice, his first an absolute belter) and a wonderful free kick from ex-Everton wonderkid Jose Baxter.

Billy Sharp halved the deficit as the clock ran down but Forest had shown little to suggest that a fightback may be on. McLeish really needs a win to avoid becoming the least popular appointment since Rafa Benitez turned up at Stamford Bridge, and he needs that win sooner rather than later, with an impending East Midlands derby against, well, Derby, who had no such trouble disposing of their own League One visitors. Speaking of which...

Tranmere Rovers
No cup shock here, but this was an awful day for Tranmere. The Merseyside club have made light work of League One this season, spending most of the campaign in top spot, and would have been relishing a visit to Championship side Derby to test their promotion credentials.

Derby edged a relatively even first half, taking the lead through Ben Davies just before the break. However, the second half was an annihilation as the home side added four different scorers â with the fifth goal scored by a 16-year-old. Ouch.

Rovers now have a week to lick their wounds, tell themselves that it was a one-off, and take their frustrations out on Crawley next Saturday.

The Magic Of The Cup Draw
Though Oldham will no doubt be looking forward to the visit of Liverpool and Luis SuarezâÂÂs hand, while Middlesbrough will be pleased (for very different reasons) with pulling Aldershot out of the hat, the Fourth Round draw on Sunday afternoon was about as exciting as, well, a Sunday afternoon.

Stand-out ties of the round are, erm, well Millwall against Aston Villa might be OK and Reading havenâÂÂt played Sheffield United for a couple of years. Then thereâÂÂs always the mouth-watering tie between QPR/WBA vs. Sheffield Wednesday/MK Dons.

Of course the draw is random, and we grow tired of the all-Premier League ties but you do get the impression that ESPN and ITV may spend the time between now and January 26th fighting over which ties not to show. Mind you, you wouldnâÂÂt be human if you werenâÂÂt looking forward to a rematch between Derby and Blackburn, who hotly contested a 1-1 draw back in Octoberâ¦whenâÂÂs the Capital One Cup back?