From the moment that Virgil van Dijk’s name was listed on the teamsheet for Friday’s Merseyside derby, it seemed inevitable that he would be the headline maker and so it proved, his late headed goal marking a dream Liverpool debut as Everton were eliminated from the FA Cup. It’s fair to say that the teams were more closely matched performance-wise in this encounter than in last month’s Premier League clash which ended 1-1, but Liverpool will no doubt be relieved to avoid a third consecutive replay at this stage of the competition. While the win was very satisfying from a Reds point of view and gives them local bragging rights yet again, a lot of the gloss has since been taken off the result due to the actions of two Brazilians. It remains to be seen if Roberto Firmino will be punished for what he might have said to Mason Holgate following the Everton defender’s unwarranted push, while if the Reds are to win silverware this season, they will do so without Philippe Coutinho, who is now going to Barcelona.
The standout shock result from third round weekend ended up costing a manager his job, with Stoke’s defeat to fourth tier Coventry resulting in Mark Hughes getting the chop. It was no real surprise that the Welshman was dismissed, given the Potters’ dreadful form and this embarrassing result. It was one that ought not to have happened, as Stoke had more than their share of chances to consign the Sky Blues to defeat. Whoever does come in at the bet365 Stadium can at least put all their eggs in the Premier League basket for the rest of the season.
FA Cup winners in three of the last four seasons, Arsenal’s defence of the trophy ended at the first time of asking in 2018 after they were defeated 4-2 by a Nottingham Forest side who hadn’t exactly been ripping up the Championship. Eric Lichaj proved to be an unlikely hero for Forest, scoring twice in the first half, before two second half penalties consigned the Gunners to a shock defeat and adding to a miserable start to the year for Arsene Wenger, who was powerless to prevent his team from crashing out at this hurdle for the first time since he took charge more than 21 years ago.
Stoke and Arsenal were the only top flight sides eliminated by lower division clubs, but Bournemouth were very lucky to avoid that fate after coming from 0-2 down to draw at home to Wigan. The League One pacesetters stormed into a two-goal lead in the first half and despite conceding shortly after the interval looked set to record an upset. However, Steve Cook netted in stoppage time to take this clash to a replay at the DW Stadium. Several other Premier League sides were taken to replays by lower league opposition, including Chelsea, who were held scoreless by Norwich at Carrow Road on Saturday evening. The Blues now have an FA Cup replay along with a two-legged Carabao Cup semi-final in January, a demanding schedule which did Liverpool no favours in the previous two years.
Leicester also have a busy month ahead after they were taken to a replay by Fleetwood Town of League One. Claude Puel rang the changes, meaning that Jamie Vardy did not play against his former club, and it backfired on the Foxes manager. Indeed, Fleetwood almost won it at the death, so in a way, Leicester could even be grateful for their second chance. West Ham, too, have another meeting with League One opponents, Shrewsbury holding them to a 0-0 stalemate on Sunday. Indeed, the Hammers were fortunate to even get a second chance, as they were dominated by the in-form Shrews. Swansea must also do battle once more against a Football League club, but given their struggles, they won’t be too disappointed to have drawn away to Championship leaders Wolves.
There was a surprise result brewing at the Etihad Stadium for a while on Saturday as Burnley led Manchester City, but once the Premier League leaders equalised barely 10 minutes into the second half, they ran riot to record a 4-1 victory that was far less comfortable than the scoreline might suggest. Sean Dyche, to his credit, fielded a strong Burnley side that was ultimately outclassed once City got into their groove. Across town the night before, Manchester United were reliant on two late goals to avoid a replay against Derby. Jose Mourinho’s men spurned a glut of chances until the 84th minute, when the in-form Jesse Lingard broke the Rams’ resistance in style. Romelu Lukaku added a second in stoppage time to ease any lingering nerves at Old Trafford.
There were multiple instances of Championship teams being stunned by clubs from lower divisions, including Brentford, whose FA Cup season is over after being dumped out on home soil by League Two high-fliers Notts County, for whom the veteran Jon Stead scored a fine goal. Aston Villa, finalists in 2015, also suffered a home defeat, going down 1-3 to Peterborough despite leading for almost 70 minutes at Villa Park. Leeds, not for the first time, came unstuck against a team from lower divisions, crashing out 2-1 against Newport County, who scored twice in the final 15 minutes to cause an upset.
QPR exited the competition early yet again after they lost at home to MK Dons, while Yeovil, the lowest-placed team in the third round, shocked League One play-off contenders Bradford 2-0 at Huish Park. Three Championship teams were taken to replays by League Two opposition, with Cardiff, Sheffield Wednesday and Reading held to 0-0 draws by Mansfield, Carlisle and Stevenage respectively.
For some Premier League teams, the third round was comfortable. Tottenham were kept scoreless by AFC Wimbledon for just over an hour at Wembley before three goals in the space of 10 minutes gave the final score a slightly misleading complexion. West Brom recorded their first win in any competition for almost five months when beating Exeter 2-0 on Saturday, first half goals from Salomon Rondon and Jay Rodriguez giving Alan Pardew a much-needed victory.
Newcastle made light work of beating League Two leaders Luton at St James’ Park, three first half goals taking care of business. Watford avenged their early season Carabao Cup defeat to Bristol City by thrashing them 3-0 at Vicarage Road, the Robins’ poor form continuing ahead of their titanic clash with Manchester City on Tuesday. Southampton’s 1-0 win at Fulham might not have been a headline-maker, but with the Saints on a dreadful run of form in the league, it was a very significant result for under-fire Mauricio Pellegrino.
Once again, the third round of the FA Cup saw several high-profile teams toppled by lower-ranked opposition or taken to very inconvenient replays. Liverpool, though, can rest easy in the satisfaction that they retain a chance of winning the trophy without the awkwardness of an extra game in January, a welcome bit of good news from an otherwise difficult weekend for the club.