The beauty of the FA Cup is that the top-flight clubs are equals to those below them on the field at match time. For the Premier League, however, it turned into a bloodbath as five sides were knocked out by lower-level clubs in the fourth round — and it could have been worse.
Liverpool, Norwich City, Aston Villa, Tottenham Hotspur and Queens Park Rangers took the chance on focusing on the league — either for a European spot or to avoid relegation — and got burned. Chelsea, Arsenal and Everton needed late scores to survive against lower competition, and the round’s not over for Chelsea.
This weekend brought heroes into the history books of several clubs, another part of the FA Cup’s attraction.
It’s the story of Matt Smith, whose two first-half goals Sunday started League One side Oldham Athletic to a 3-2 home win over Liverpool. Two years ago, Smith was in a career comeback at just age 21. After he was released by Cheltenham three years earlier, Smith toiled in the Southern and Conference North leagues while he earned a college degree. He was spotted by Oldham 18 months ago and gave its fans a fifth-round home match with Everton.
Scott Rendell, at just 26 years old, had played for 11 clubs between the Conference Premier and Football League before he joined Luton Town this season. When he poked in a cross in the 80th minute to give the Hatters a 1-0 win at Norwich City on Saturday, it was the first time a non-Football League side defeated a top-flight club in 24 years.
Millwall, from the Championship, is seeking to relive the magic of the 2003-04 season when it reached the FA Cup final and UEFA Cup as Manchester United, which won 3-0, already had qualified for the Champions League. John Marquis kept that dream alive in the 89th minute Friday as the Lions dropped Aston Villa, 2-1. Millwall will travel to Luton in the fifth round.
The other two EPL clubs to drop were QPR, which lost 4-2 to League One side MK Dons on its home pitch Saturday, and Tottenham, which was dispatched Sunday, 2-1, by Leeds United of the Championship.
The EPL escapees included Arsenal, a 3-2 winner at Brighton and Hove Albion on a Theo Walcott goal in the 85th minute; Everton, which gained a 91st-minute score to win, 2-1, and avoid a replay with Bolton Wonderers, and Chelsea, in which the often-scorned Fernando Torres saved the Blues when his 83rd-minute score forced a replay, 2-2, at League One club Brentford. The draw avoided Chelsea from being eliminated from its second competition in five days, having been knocked from the League Cup by Swansea.
As an aside to the Chelsea match, Brentford made light of Eden Hazard‘s kicking of a ballboy at Swansea by having its ballboys form an honor guard as the players took the field, with each of them waving white flags in a sign of peace.
There will be a guarantee of two lower-level clubs in the FA Cup’s sixth round. Besides the Luton-Millwall match, MK Dons was drawn Sunday to host Barnsley of the Championship. A Brentford win over Chelsea would make it three as it would travel to Middlesbrough, also of the Championship.
The other EPL winners were Wigan, which held an early goal for a 1-0 win over Conference Premier club Macclesfield; and Reading, which took an easy 4-0 victory over Sheffield United of League One.