F.A.Cup Roundup: 'Why the long face, Ruud?'

Last updated : 19 February 2006 By Aidan O'Byrne
...for one thing since the stadium clearly has no chance of being ready, but also because the two sides met this weekend in the fifth round, in a dreary tie that failed to produce a single shot of note, let alone anything as interesting as a white horse holding back a pitch invasion. Sam Allardyce has thereby extending his range of whinging from mid-week, when it was all about refereeing decisions not going his team's way, to cover the perils of fixture congestion as well – highly ironic in my eyes at least, because I'd lately been led to believe he hated whingers – but oh well; let's see how he does after the replay at the Boleyn.

If that was the historic one, with the current holders Arsenal already eliminated, the major tie of the FA Cup fifth round was between the two most recent non-Highbury-based winners of the trophy, Manchester United (2004) and Liverpool (2001), who contrived to produce a thrilling but all too tight contest at Anfield. Harry Kewell has surely cemented his come back in the eyes of the Kop by repeatedly taking out Gary “son of Neville” Neville aka the scouser-hater, the latter of whom was unimpressed when offered half a burger around the hour mark to revive his flagging performance, but who did nothing to make the FA look any more kindly on him at his forthcoming crowd-baiting disciplinary hearing. The result was settled as Crouch stooped to conquer for a 1-0 home win, though I guess the abiding image of the tie will be Alan Smith being stretchered off with a broken leg and dislocated ankle a few minutes from time, after a horrendous fall that the idiotic BBC commentary team initially seemed unable to analyse as anything other than his being winded by the ball he'd blocked, despite five different camera angles and slomo replays. Incredible; I know people sometimes accuse me of failing to see/mention certain things in my commentaries, but I would at least plead that I don't have that level of tech support, and still get it right more often. Top marks, mind, for Gary Lineker for producing an unexpected moment of comedy genius timing when he asked “Why the long face, Ruud?” in the pre-match buildup - maybe the licence fee is not entirely wasted after all!

Liverpool will see the result as a boost ahead of the resumption of their Champions League campaign in Portugal on Tuesday, though Chelsea are unlikely to be as happy with their own win over League One Colchester, despite the on-paper more encouraging 3-1 scoreline. For one thing, as I suspected last week might be the case, the anti-Barca pitch at Stamford Bridge seemed if anything to be helping the Essex side find a superior rhythm to that of the Premiership champions – therefore when Colchester took the lead through a fortunate own-goal from one Portuguese, it was no more than they deserved after having been denied only by the woodwork just beforehand, and when another Portuguese levelled in scrappy fashion ten minutes later, it was not a fair reflection of the theoretical difference in quality between the sides. In the second half, Mourinho finally called on the heavy guns, and in particular Hernan Crespo (whose weekly wages are roughly double the all time record Colchester transfer fee) to settle the game. I'd briefly enjoyed the spell of saves pulled off by my namesake in the Colchester goal – “Aidan saves from Didier, catches Joe's cross, dives at the feet of Hernan” etc – before a spilled Crespo shot fell kindly for the incoming Joe Cole and the home side went ahead. A further goal at the death did nothing to diminish the pride of the visiting fans in their team's performance, nor indeed much to dissuade Barca from the notion that they could do pretty well at the Bridge on Wednesday as long as they bring their wellies, even if they're likely to face a somewhat different starting eleven.

In the other ties which had kicked off ahead of Chelsea-Colchester, there was to be a similar lack of giant killing: Boro dispatching Preston in the second half despite a lacklustre start at Deepdale; Birmingham City sneaking past Stoke at the Britannia through Forssell just after half-time; Saints falling to a late Kieran Dyer strike as St James' Park, the Toon as ever owing a debt of thanks to Shay Given, and being emulated at the end of the game and the other end of the pitch by Dexter Blackstock, an enforced conversion to goalkeeper after three subs had already been used; and at the Valley, where Brentford showed just how much they are already missing DJ Campbell, a late Rankin consolation being no real help in recovering from three goals down to the Addicks.

Tomorrow's quarter-final draw is therefore the first for several years to contain only Premiership clubs, but more than a few people (including myself) who'd normally have an interest find their thoughts elsewhere – in my case, focussing on a forthcoming trip to Madrid, or for those who follow Manchester United, looking ahead to next weekend's League Cup final as the high point of the season and final chance of silverware.

What an odd feeling for all of us.