The FA Cup always gives players a chance to make a point. Some of them did make a point, but not perhaps the one they intended. The flip-reverse is here...
West Ham’s second string
Honestly, we could have done ‘Five West Ham players who fluffed their FA Cup chance’ and not struggled. But apparently that’s cheating and they have to come from different teams. So we’ll lump them into one. They were crap.
The Hammers are currently finding out what happens to teams from outside The Established Elite who suddenly find they’ve become quite good. Instead of getting easier with your new-found status, they get much, much harder. West Ham now have an excellent first XI, one that it’s tough to improve with players who won’t have more eye-catching offers elsewhere or at least the prospect of a bigger fish.
West Ham were thus unable to find any January reinforcements and yet the narrowly averted disaster at Kidderminster highlighted just how much they need them. In overly simplistic but not inaccurate terms, West Ham have the first team of Champions League challengers and the squad of a side battling relegation.
The timings of their goals at Kidderminster first catch the eye – hard to imagine crueller possible timings for equaliser and winner than 90+1 and 120+1 – but more significant really were the scorers. Declan Rice and Jarrod Bowen. Two fully paid-up members of West Ham’s high-class starting XI. West Ham needed their stars to bail them out because the second string weren’t cutting it.
Alex Kral made it only to half-time before David Moyes was forced to deploy Declan Rice to quell non-league opponents. Mark Noble lasted barely an hour. Alphonse Areola struggled and the absurdly gifted Andriy Yarmolenko remains a constant source of frustration in West Ham colours.
This could still be a monumental season for West Ham; they are in top-four contention as well as the last 16 of both the Europa League and FA Cup. But they are going to be relying on a small group of players if they are to deliver something extraordinary.
Leicester’s injury woes have handed Amartey an unexpected number of opportunities in their defence this season but how many more he’ll get is open to debate after Sunday’s awful mess across the East Midlands in Nottingham.
To stand out in a slapdash defence that ships four goals to opponents from a division below is almost impressive and that was Amartey’s fate. Coming so soon after Leicester’s astonishing late collapse against Spurs, you’d imagine that now more than ever they would be alive to the necessity of taking extra care over things in the immediate aftermath of conceding. So, for instance, you might think they would be avoiding things like blind backpasses into the penalty area 24 seconds after falling behind. You know, things like that. Try to avoid them. Okay? Daniel? DANIEL?
Remember when Henderson was going to displace David De Gea as United’s number one? Remember when at the very, very least Henderson was the penalty specialist Ole Gunnar Solskjaer should have subbed on for the Europa League final spot-kicks?
Ah, well. Nevertheless. Having had very little to do in 120 minutes against Middlesbrough, Henderson proceeded to dive out the way of all 26 Boro penalties in the shoot-out, in the process losing the one supposed remaining advantage he held over a rejuvenated De Gea, who now looks more secure than ever as United’s first-choice keeper. Henderson would have been better off not playing at all, which isn’t in fact all that far away from what he actually did on Friday night.
Manchester United appear to be on a one-club mission to disprove the enduring myth that shoot-outs are a freebie for keepers, that the goalies can only emerge as the hero and never the villain from The Lottery Of Spot-Kicks. We’re all for challenging convention, but that’s probably the point made now lads. Try and save a few, yeah?
The cups have been Podence’s major source of action for Wolves this season, and he’d done pretty well. He scored in both Wolves’ Carabao Cup games earlier in the campaign and twice against Sheffield United in the third round of this competition. They remain his only Wolves goals of the season and he was unable to carry that form into a desperately disappointing home defeat against Norwich.
Wolves were flat all over the pitch but nobody better exemplified their struggles than Podence, handed a chance up front but missing a couple of chances and most strikingly and tellingly dawdling so badly over one that he never even got a shot away.
A significant opportunity wasted for both player and club.
Brighton’s adaptability has seen them weather the loss of Ben White to Arsenal last summer with barely a murmur. Now they’re welcoming back Lewis Dunk while losing Dan Burn to Newcastle.
It’s a lot of flux for one defensive group to take, so this was a distinctly sub-optimal time for Adam Webster to throw in a horror show against Spurs.
He was at fault, calamitously so, for both the first and third Spurs goals. The opener came just seconds after Robert Sanchez had got away with giving the ball to Harry Kane, so Webster decided to have another go. The third came just after Brighton had hauled their way back into the match through Yves Bissouma.
Those two errors in isolation would be bad enough, but they came amid a whole defensive performance from Brighton that was strangely off-pace and fraught. Spurs are a good side, but Brighton – usually so good at nullifying their opponents’ strengths – on this occasion made them look better than they are.