The VAR was called upon on several occasions at Anfield on Saturday night and the evidence was clear – Liverpool are a team bereft of leadership, guts and game management. Roberto Firmino’s sumptuous sixth-minute goal seemed to be the perfect riposte to the stinging criticism from last week’s defeat to Swansea, but instead it was a mere bug that West Brom swatted aside within 65 seconds, Jay Rodriguez crashing to the net. The ex-Southampton striker soon made it 2-1 and there was time for VAR to disallow a third Baggies goal and later give Liverpool a penalty which Firmino failed to convert before, on the stroke of half-time, Joel Matip unluckily put through his own net to leave the Reds in serious trouble. Mohamed Salah pulled one back with 12 minutes to go and Liverpool rallied late on, but ultimately did not have the conviction to even salvage a replay. It was shocking all round from Jurgen Klopp’s team – feeble defensively, blunt in the final third and completely anonymous in midfield.
The standout upset from the fourth round saw League One pace-setters Wigan eliminate West Ham and yes, Will Grigg was on fire for the Latics. The Northern Ireland striker scored both goals in a 2-0 win for Paul Cook’s side and it was a result they fully deserved, as graciously acknowledged by David Moyes afterwards. The Hammers manager could barely conceal his disgust with Arthur Masuaku, who was sent off for spitting at an opponent, a disgraceful act which will earn him a lengthy ban of which he is completely deserving. West Ham had been improving notably in the league recently, but will this dreadful day scupper the momentum they had built up?
Wigan’s thunder was almost stolen on Saturday evening by Newport County, who were eight minutes away from sensationally knocking out Tottenham at Rodney Parade. The inclusion of Harry Kane in Spurs’ starting line-up seemed to indicate trouble for Newport, but the Premier League side were awfully flat and could have no complaints when Padraig Amond fired the underdogs in front shortly before half-time. Spurs upped the ante afterwards, summoning Dele Alli and Son Heung-min from the bench, and their pressure eventually told when Kane peeled away from his marker to tap home from a corner. Despite being pegged back so late, it was still a momentous day for Newport, who now have a trip to Wembley coming up for the replay.
Spurs weren’t the only Premier League outfit taken to a replay by fourth tier opposition – Swansea will also have to do it again after they were held 1-1 by Notts County. The top flight club hit the front on the stroke of half-time through Luciano Narsingh but were reeled in by veteran striker Jon Stead in the second half, the Notts County man scoring in four consecutive rounds of the competition. Swansea already had to overcome a replay in round three and, with Premier League survival to contend with, an extra game was the last thing they needed.
Manchester United showed Spurs and Swansea how to deal with League Two opposition as they eased past Yeovil on Friday night. The plucky Glovers almost got to half-time on level terms, only for a defensive mix-up to allow Marcus Rashford to steal in for a soft opening goal. United coasted through the gears in the second half and caught Yeovil on the break for their second goal, Ander Herrera with the finish. Substitutes Jesse Lingard and Romelu Lukaku added gloss to the final score with goals in the final five minutes as Alexis Sanchez enjoyed a cosy debut for his new club.
Manchester City’s bid for a clean sweep of four trophies remains intact after they saw off Cardiff 2-0 in the Welsh capital on Sunday. A crafty free kick from Kevin de Bruyne gave the Premier League leaders an early advantage and after having a goal disallowed in slightly contentious circumstances, they doubled their lead through Raheem Sterling near the end of the first half. Cardiff, to their credit, were not afraid to have a go at their illustrious opponents but nor did they leave themselves brutally exposed at the back. For Man City, it was a case of getting the job done efficiently and moving on to forthcoming challenges.
Chelsea needed a replay and a penalty shootout to overcome Norwich in the third round but they breezed past Newcastle at Stamford Bridge on Sunday. They were two goals to the good at half-time, both coming from the much-maligned Michy Batshuayi, and rounded off a comfortable win with a Marcos Alonso free kick in the second half. The Blues quickly put their Carabao Cup disappointment behind them while Newcastle once again made an early exit from the FA Cup, their sole focus now on staying in the Premier League.
Leicester required two goes at beating Fleetwood Town in round three but made light work of another League One outfit on Saturday, sticking five goals past Peterborough at London Road. January signing Fousseni Diabate helped himself to two goals on his debut for the Foxes, with Kelechi Iheanacho also registering a brace as he sent a reminder to Claude Puel of his potential contribution to the first team. Leicester were 3-0 up inside half an hour and ultimately ran out 5-1 winners, Wilfred Ndidi topping off the victory with a stoppage time goal.
Javi Gracia’s first game as Watford manager ended in defeat, with the Hornets going down 1-0 to Southampton in a largely uneventful outing at St Mary’s. The only goal came in the first five minutes, Jack Stephens getting his first goal for the Saints as they put their Premier League troubles behind them for the time being by advancing to round five. There are much bigger fish to fry for struggling Southampton, but a win in any form will be welcome for Mauricio Pellegrino.
The same can be said for Chris Hughton, whose Brighton team had been falling down the Premier League table prior to Saturday’s last-gasp win at Middlesbrough. The match at the Riverside Stadium was not a thing of beauty and neither was the winning goal, the ball rebounding off Glenn Murray and into the Boro net to deny Tony Pulis’ side a replay in the 90th minute. It’s the sort of luck Brighton have not had this season and that may have come at an opportune moment for them.
David Wagner’s decision to rest most of his first XI backfired as Huddersfield were held to a 1-1 draw by Birmingham on Saturday. The Premier League side were in a strong position after Steve Mounie gave them the lead, but Lukas Jutkiewicz equalised in the second half to earn Steve Cotterill’s men a replay and trigger the unfamiliar sound of boos at the final whistle at the John Smith’s Stadium. Meanwhile, Coventry followed up their humiliation of Stoke in round three by defeating MK Dons 1-0. Despite being a division lower than their opponents, the Dons’ current woes meant that it wasn’t any great surprise that Mark Robins’ Sky Blues progressed to round five.
The possibility of a Steel City derby in the fifth round remains intact after both Sheffield clubs won over the weekend. Wednesday defeated Reading 3-1 at Hillsborough on Friday night, with United following suit a day later with a 1-0 victory over Preston. Another all-Championship clash saw Nigel Adkins’ Hull get the better of Nottingham Forest, who couldn’t build upon their win over Arsenal in round three. At The Den, Millwall had to come from behind to earn a replay against League One strugglers Rochdale, the teams playing out a tumultuous 2-2 draw.
For the third year in succession, the fourth round is where Liverpool’s FA Cup campaign has been brought to a shuddering halt. Last year it was Wolves who came to Anfield and pulled the Reds’ pants down and this time it’s their fierce Midlands rivals West Brom who administered the punishment. Liverpool look set for a sixth successive trophy-less season after Saturday’s abject performance, one which surely must prompt Klopp to at least make an effort to add to his leaderless squad before Wednesday night’s transfer deadline.