With Manchester United’s Monday night victory over Shrewsbury Town on a cold night in Shropshire, the FA Cup 5th round came to a close alongside this edition’s chances of another giant-killing scalp from lower league teams.
Heading into the game the Shrews may have thought they had a chance at knocking out the 11-time winners after such an up-and-down season for the Red Devils, yet it wasn’t to be after United ran out comfortable 3-0 winners at New Meadow thanks to goals from captain for the night Chris Smalling, Juan Mata and Jesse Lingard.
The result must have been a relief from under-fire manager Louis van Gaal in what has been a disappointing second season in charge of the club. Before the game, the British media had once again been speculating that the Dutchman would be sacked with another defeat after successful defeats against Sunderland and Danish club FC Midtjylland respectively.
The reward for United is a tie with West Ham United at home after Slaven Bilic’s side battered Blackburn 5-1 at Ewood Park. Dimitri Payet once again ran the show and scored two goals; a sumptuous free-kick, which has become his trademark, before adding the fifth goal after a mazy individual run. The Hammers will more than fancy their chances in the competition after a fine season so far in which Bilic has assembled the best squad of players the club has seen for many years.
A debate has been raised recently about the need for replays in the FA Cup and whether they should be abolished in order to relieve fixture congestion. Steve Bruce is an advocate with the Hull City manager in favour of matches heading straight to extra time or penalties if they end in a draw after 90 minutes, but it is a replay his side will have to contend with after drawing 0-0 with Arsenal at the Emirates. The Tigers are top of the Championship and have their sights firmly set on automatic promotion so Bruce could perhaps do without the headache of another game, and with another game against Barcelona to come in the Champions League, Arsene Wenger might not be relishing a midweek trip to the KC Stadium.
A home tie against Watford awaits either Arsenal or Hull after the Hornets dispatched Leeds United at Vicarage Road thanks to a comical own-goal from Scott Wootton. It’s the first time Quique Sanchez Flores’ team have reached the quarter-finals since 2007 and the belief will be there that they can reach a Wembley semi-final after an impressive season of their own.
There were unsavoury scenes following the conclusion of the game between Reading and West Bromwich Albion as the Baggies midfielder Chris Brunt was struck in the face with a coin thrown from one of his own fans in the away end at the Madejski Stadium. The club’s longest serving player was left shocked and disgusted by the incident as he went over to salute West Brom’s travelling fans after the 3-1 loss to the Royals. It overshadowed a great win for Brian McDermott’s Championship side who will meet Crystal Palace at home in a bid to reach the semi-final for the second consecutive year.
Alan Pardew’s Crystal Palace side overcame Tottenham Hotspur at White Hart Lane thanks to a strike from right-back Martin Kelly; a result which gives the Eagles hope of resurrecting their season after a poor run of form in the league. Although Reading will represent a tough task, especially away from home, Pardew will see it as a great opportunity to lead his side out at Wembley in the semi-final.
Guus Hiddink will take his Chelsea side to Goodison Park in a repeat of the 2009 final where he lifted the famous old trophy at the end of his first interim spell at the club. The Blues easily overcame a Manchester City side full of kids at Stamford Bridge with goals from Diego Costa, Willian, Gary Cahill, Eden Hazard and Bertrand Traore. City youngster David Faupala had equalised for Manuel Pellegrini’s side following Costa’s opener, but Chelsea’s greater experience on the pitch soon told as they steam-rolled their opponents which featured other youth team players Tosin Adarabioyo, Manu Garcia, Aleix Garcia and Bersant Celina.
There was more coin-throwing controversy as Chelsea fans aimed shots at the celebrating City players following Faupala’s leveller. It is down to the FA to weed-out the culprits responsible and ban them to avoid any further acts of football hooliganism as the competition reaches the latter stages.
Pellegrini’s team selection highlights the apparent lack of respect the so-called “big clubs” have for the FA Cup, but the Chilean will point to two tricky ties against Dynamo Kiev in the Champions League to come and a raft of injuries to senior stars as to his reason for such decisions. In fact, his decision has somewhat been justified after leading a full-strength team to victory over the Ukrainians in Kiev – a notoriously long and difficult away fixture in European football.
Everton welcome Chelsea in the quarter-final clash thanks to a comfortable 2-0 win against Bournemouth at Dean Court. Eddie Howe’s Cherries are yet to secure their Premier League survival so they are now able to fully focus on doing just that thanks to a deflected goal from Ross Barkley and a strike from Romelu Lukaku following a corner. Roberto Martinez is tasked with halting Hiddink’s unbeaten run in the competition and preventing him from getting closer to lifting the trophy for the second time.
Can the Dutchman lead Chelsea to FA Cup glory once again? The competition is still full of sides that boast quality in their ranks so his task is not an easy one.