Two clubs with dubious ownership arrangements and a shared nickname ticked every regulation box in the ‘giant versus minnow’ category as the FA Cup once again took centre stage this weekend.
Thousands of people living somewhere near Crawley put their normal club affiliations to one side to make the day trip to Old Trafford as Conference side Crawley Town took on Manchester United.
By the time their coaches arrived in Greater Manchester, the 7,000 ‘fans’ that joined the 1,900 regular visitors to Crawley home games would have had a nice chance to learn the names of the players they were supporting.
As it turned out, Crawley gave Alex Ferguson’s second string an uncomfortable afternoon, Wes Brown’s first-half goal being the only thing to separate the two sides.
So after a nice adventure, Crawley can return their attention to gaining promotion to the Football League, their regular shirt sponsor can go back to having its name appear on the front of their shirts in place of a red-top newspaper that will have forgotten them just as quickly as it embraced them, and the media can divert its collective gaze towards Leyton in its quest to annually remind us of the magic of the cup.
Barry Hearn has kept just enough land in between the apartment blocks and an NHS centre to have a patch of grass and a football club at Brisbane Road, and with the recent furore surrounding the neighbouring Olympic Stadium it was fitting that the club nearest to it was able to gain the spotlight.
Leyton Orient left it very late to equalise against Arsenal, but they won’t care one bit and can take great pride in doing what Lionel Messi and Co couldn’t quite to
earlier in the week – holding on for a draw. A money-spinning replay at the Emirates awaits and if they can achieve the unthinkable, Manchester United sit on the horizon after that.
Amid all this it is easy to forget Saturday’s high-noon drama at Stamford Bridge as holders Chelsea’s peculiar season took another twist in their replay against Everton. After Frank Lampard had finally broken the deadlock in extra time, Leighton Baines left it very, very late to take the tie to penalties with a great free kick.
The defining moment in the shoot-out came when Ashley Cole picked out someone in the crowd who had upset him with his spot kick, leaving Phil Neville to settle the tie and present another headache for Carlo Ancelotti. In the weekend’s other replay, Manchester City put five past Notts County.
Almost slipping under the radar – but not quite – are Stoke and Birmingham, who quietly but confidently brushed aside their challengers from League One to progress to the last eight, while Bolton secured their own quarter-final berth courtesy of Ivan Klasnic’s strike at Fulham.