The giant-killers are back in action and this is what makes the FA Cup extravaganza so enticing for soccer fans the world over - record books are shredded and the underdogs triumph over the Goliaths.
Without exceptions, the FA Cup Third Round saw several casualties. Everton FC was the latest club to suffer an ignominious elimination after losing 1-0 to third division Oldham Athletic. Three other Premier League teams, Birmingham City, Blackburn Rovers and Bolton Wanderers, were also displaced by lower league opposition.
A minor league club, Havant & Waterlooville, advanced into the fourth round after snatching a late 1-1 draw at third division leaders Swansea. No doubt the epitome of giant-killing if they clear all obstacles and progress to the FA Cup Finals.
Fortunately, the Big Four are as yet unscathed - an outcome which can affect the glamor and viewership of the competition. FA Cup holders Chelsea scraped through with a 1-0 win against Queens Park Rangers at Stamford Bridge. The Blues struggled to stamp their authority and when QPR gift-wrapped three points for them with an own goal by their keeper Lee Camp, Avram Grant took it with aplomb.
His relief is understandable considering how badly Chelsea squad is decimated. The African Nations Cup deprived them of their effervescent Ivory Coast striker Didier Drogba, his mate Salomon Kalou, Ghana's Michael Essien and Nigeria's John Obi Mikel.
Chelsea's skipper John Terry heads the injury list with three broken bones and is now on crutches, while vice captain Frank Lampard, Florent Malouda, Claude Makelele and Andriy Shevchenko are also incapacitated. The absence of Cech and Cudicini has allowed third-choice keeper Henrique Hilario to feature in three consecutive games (conceding two goals) but he did enough to keep Chelsea in the running.
The impending swop for Nicolas Anelka, a rumor at this stage, is practically certain. Manchester City may throw a spanner into the works as manager Eriksson needs a free-scoring forward to boost their chances of qualifying for Champions League. Darius Vassel, Emile Mpenza and Rolando Bianchi don't quite cut it. Since both clubs have sugar daddies to finance the transfer, Anelka can sit back and let them battle it out. His agent will be laughing all the way to the bank, having secured the seventh astronomical signing-on fee for his representative.
As for Manchester United, last year's runners-up, they had a 2-0 success at Aston Villa, thanks to goals from Cristiano Ronaldo and substitute Wayne Rooney in the last nine minutes. The other half of the Premier League Big Four, Arsenal and Liverpool, will see action later tonight, away to Burnley and Luton Town respectively, while struggling Newcastle United face a tough trip to Stoke City.
Everton's loss is baffling considering their excellent form. They have suffered only two defeats in their last 17 games and both at the hands of Manchester United and Arsenal. However, Oldham claimed their scalp with a Gary McDonald's 25-metre strike at the end of the first half. Everton fought back valiantly but was frustrated by a combination of bad luck and a stubborn Oldham defense. Their best chance came in the last minute but was denied by the post.
"To come to a Premier League ground against a team who are really flying at the moment was a great performance," Oldham boss John Sheridan told Sky Sports. "I told the players to really enjoy the occasion, because things like this might not happen to them again. I was so pleased and proud of them."
Coventry, also caused a major upset by winning 4-1 at Blackburn with two goals by Michael Mifsud and one each from Elliott Ward and Dele Adebola. Coventry, made a mockery of their precarious position (17th spot) in second division with this lop-sided result. They fought for every ball and paid little respect to Blackburn team. Maltese striker Mifsud said: "Every one of us played with his heart and gave his best to ensure we got the result."
Third division Huddersfield were also celebrating after a 2-1 home win over Birmingham, while Bolton, having rested Nicolas Anelka and most of the rest of their leading players, lost 1-0 at home to Sheffield United.
In other matches, Tottenham Hotspur, who beat Reading 6-4 last week, drew 2-2 with them at White Hart Lane. West Ham United and Manchester City drew 0-0 at Upton Park while Wigan Athletic won 3-0 away to Sunderland, whose performance left manager Roy Keane "ashamed."
Keane is in a rut-hole at the moment. Sunderland have make it a habit of losing and the commitment to fight for every point is missing. The hairdryer treatment, if Keane has not already done so, is needed to jolt his defense from their slumber. Wigan, also missing a few key players, look slick standing beside them.
The FA Cup may not rank highly in Sunderland’s priority but being relegated will be a serious setback. Sunderland’s next three Premier League home games against Birmingham, Portsmouth and Wigan will be the right opportunity to get back to winning ways.
I will have more reports on the FA Cup later. Till tomorrow.