08 January, 2006

The cup for thrills and humiliation

Just as I was moaning this breakfast time at the lack of upsets in the F.A. Cup* - the oldest soccer competition in the world (tm) - up pop Leyton Orient to down Fulham 2-1 and, horror of horrors, Tottenham crash out to struggling Leicester after going 2-0 ahead.

I can take it ::sob:: Tottenham were cruising at 2-0; let in a soft goal before half-time; missed a golden opportunity to go ahead 3-1; failed to clear a corner (2-2); then undone by sloppy defending to lose in the 91st minute. Truth be told, they deserved to lose. Rasiak, in place of the departed Mido, was at sea. I counted one challenge he won the whole game. Gardner and Dawson were always struggling with De Vries. Brown and Carrick were bossed out of midfield.

So, it's back to the "next game is the most important of the season".

Meanwhile, non-League Burton Albion held Manchester United 0-0**. The two sides are separated by 4 divisions or about 140 teams. Burton usually draw 2000 fans; United 65,000.

Not quite a "giant killing", but certainly a "cup shock".

No overtime or shoot-outs. It means the match is replayed at Manchester. That means another big payday for semi-pro Burton.

The big story out of this match involves Burton's player-manager, Nigel Clough. He is, of course, son of the late and legendary Brian Clough who managed Derby and Nottingham Forest to League Championships and the latter to two European Cup triumphs. Nigel was a thinking centre-forward late on in Clough's reign, before drink and illness drained Clough Snr. Nigel later played for Liverpool, then drifted at the fringes of the game as injury took its toll.

Today, as a manager, he comes from behind the shadow of his father. Unlike his father, he's a quiet unassuming character who puts family before career. It's said he has resisted moving from the part-time game to the heady heights of the Premier League because he prefers the pace and lifestyle he's developed at Burton. His players rewarding him this afternoon. Most of all, goalie Saul Deeney with a superb reflex save in the dying seconds to preserve the 0-0. Who Deeney, indeed.

* - the F.A. Cup is a single elimination tournament open to all senior English sides. Around 600 enter each year. There are 8 rounds in the competition proper, plus 4 qualifying rounds and a preliminary round (sometines also an extra preliminary round). Teams from the top two professional divisions - the Premier League and the Championship - get byes until the third round proper (played this weekend), but there is no other form of seeding. Pairings (what we call "ties" are drawn "out of the hat", lottery style. The third round is the traditional time of "giant-killing exploits". Though these seem to have waned since the Premier League days.

** - For those on the other side of the Atlantic, Burton's achievement is probably the equivalent of a Northern League team holding their own against the New York Yankees.


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