The fourth round of the FA Cup is now complete after this week’s replays on Tuesday and Wednesday were completed. All three Premier League clubs involved were up against lower league opposition and while they all put up spirited fights there was no fairy-tale ending on this occasion. Chelsea’s game against Norwich was a real battle and there was plenty of controversy with the VAR system being used, or should I say not being used correctly or at all.
Ref Scott failed to use the system to determine two penalty and diving appeals and while he got the first one spot on booking Pedro for diving in the box, the second was allegedly a penalty when contact was made with Willian, but Scott disagreed to the disgust and frustration of Chelsea. It is clearly going to take time to bed the new VAR system in and for the officials to get used to it. I just hope they do get all the teething problems ironed out soon and the officials do use it properly and as much as possible going forward, as personally I’d rather see a game delayed for a minute or few if it means the majority of the time making the right decision.
The game was marred by further controversy as Chelsea had two players sent off in extra-time, as Pedro received a second yellow and sub Morata was booked for diving and immediately shown red for unsportsmanlike conduct. Chelsea looked to be heading for a 1-0 win in normal time but with more than five minutes of injury time added The Canneries made a last gasp attempt to equalise and their persistence and fight paid off when German Stiepermman flicked his header from inside the box into the top-corner. Nothing could separate the two teams in extra-time, which arguably had more excitement, incident and controversy than the proceeding 90 minutes. The tie eventually went to penalties and Chelsea emerged victorious as heartbreakingly Oliveira missed the only one for the visitors.
Leicester City had the edge in attack over Fleetwood and this showed with Iheanacho and Mahrez linking well upfront at times and the former Manchester City striker bagged both goals on the night, the second coming via the first ever VAR decision to check for offside. Nothing could separate West Ham and Shrewsbury at the London Stadium and it ended 0-0 after normal time. West Ham managed to find the net on 112 minutes, which proved to be the winner.
The Hammers recovery under Moyes continues to gather steam and the result extended their unbeaten run to six matches overall. Championship promotion contenders Cardiff City bounced back to form after a mini slump thrashing Mansfield 4-1 at Field Mill, Sheffield Wednesday were too good for League Two Carlisle winning 2-0 at Hillsborough and Reading rounded off a good couple of night for Championship clubs beating Stevenage 3-0 at the Madejski Stadium.
Swansea finally gave their fans something worth celebrating this season when they overcame a potential banana skin in Championship Leaders Wolves on Wednesday night at the Liberty Stadium. Swansea won 2-1 on the night thanks to goals from Ayew and Bony and it will be interesting to see if the FA Cup becomes a welcome distraction from the Premier League or a burden for the Swans. The Fourth-round draw is now complete and the games will be played over the last weekend of January.
The weekend’s domestic football gets underway tonight with the traditional Friday night Championship game and on this occasion, it could be a real cracker as it’s between top-six sides, second place Derby and fifth place Bristol City at Pride Park. On current form Derby should win as they’ve won six of their last ten at home in the league while Bristol City are experiencing a slump in form and they’ve lost their five overall. The weekends Premier League action gets underway at lunchtime on Saturday when Chelsea travel to Brighton.
Given Chelsea’s recent form, their troubles on and off the field and having played a gruelling match including extra-time and penalties midweek I think this could be a good opportunity to oppose them again, especially as Brighton are usually better at home and tougher to beat there. I also think Palace are playing well enough to give Arsenal a run for their money at the Emirates on Saturday and it could also prove profitable to side with Stoke, who are at home to Huddersfield, as the Stoke players will surely want to impress new manager Paul Lambert.
The tea-time televised game is between leaders Manchester City and Newcastle United at the Etihad. The reverse fixture ended 1-0 to City and I think Raffa will set his team up to keep things tight at the back again and play on the counter attack in the hope they can nick a goal. City should win this, but I don’t imagine it will be a comprehensive large margin victory and could end either 2-0 or 2-1.