FA Cup Fifth Round: Winners and Losers

Any knockout competition inevitably produces it’s winners and losers, and the FA Cup is no different – even if the process can be prolonged by a replay. And while some folks triumphed over the weekend, for one reason or another, others inevitably toiled even if the final result eventually went their way. So here’s a look back at the weekend’s FA Cup action with a rundown of it’s winners and losers…

Loser (again) – VAR

For the third round in a row, VAR has been arguably the biggest talking point of the FA Cup. It was ridiculed for missing a penalty in Chelsea’s Third Round draw with Norwich, criticised for taking too much time – despite eventually resulting in the right decisions – as West Brom won at Anfield in the Fourth Round and created controversy once again on Saturday due to some incredibly contentious squiggly lines.

Hawk-Eye have since insisted it didn’t use those seemingly hand-drawn markers to judge whether Juan Mata’s goal against Huddersfield was offside, which it was, and that BT Sport had shown the wrong images. But the damage has already been done and VAR’s credibility has taken another significant blow.

Winner – Olivier Giroud

You probably would have been sectioned for suggesting Olivier Giroud would be starting ahead of Chelsea’s club-record striker signing Alvaro Morata at the start of the season, not least because the Frenchman was still plying his trade with their bitter London rivals Arsenal. But while the Spaniard continues to recover from a back problem, the Blues’ January signing continues to impress at Stamford Bridge.

Two starts have now brought one goal and three assists, and that latter output highlights why Giroud is already proving so important for the west Londoners – he’s been devastatingly effective at bringing Chelsea’s attacking midfielders, namely Pedro, Willian and Eden Hazard, into the game around the penalty box. Seemingly suiting Chelsea’s 3-4-3 system better than Morata, Antonio Conte has a huge decision to make for Tuesday’s Champions League clash with Barcelona.

Loser – Carlos Carvalhal

“It was the last thing we needed, we don’t want another replay. It is like the Police Academy movies, there are too many. There is one, two and three and more.”

If the FA Cup was decided by which manager could make the best analogies, Carlos Carvalhal would already be a serial winner of the competition. Unfortunately though, a witty simile was the highlight of the day for the Swansea City boss upon returning to his former stomping ground – Sheffield Wednesday’s Hillsbrough – as he endured an uneventful ninety minutes that ended in a scoreless draw and cost him key centre-back Alfie Mawson, who was injured in the warm up.

Swansea will now need to prepare for their third replay in as many rounds in a competition that has no real relevance to them this season with Premier League survival clearly the priority. That’s a big burden for this time of the campaign.

Winner – Jonson Clark-Harris

One FA Cup performance can change a career and Jonson Clark-Harris will be hoping the 90 minutes he produced against Brighton can have a transformative effect on his. A story of unfulfilled potential, the striker first turned out for Coventry City as a 16-year-old but having failed to make an impression elsewhere, now finds himself loaned back to his boyhood club from Rotherham.

Still aged 23 though, Clark-Harris has time to revive his fortunes and an impressive display on Saturday that saw him get on the scoresheet after twice going incredibly close with a deft flick that whistled past the post and another effort that hit the woodwork, the Englishman will no doubt have caught the attention of a few scouts this weekend.

Losers (with a silver lining) – West Brom

After a week that saw two club executives sacked and warm weather training in Barcelona descend into a drunken taxi heist, there was an assumption that West Brom would start their FA Cup clash with Southampton looking to make a statement, especially in front of a surprisingly supportive Hawthorns crowd.

But the kind of performance silencing the haters was delayed until after half time and by the point the Baggies really got going, the visitors were already two goals up – in fact, they scored the opener with just eleven minutes gone.

Losing board room allies and winning just one of his 13 Premier League matches in charge, Alan Pardew’s job security is fast corroding. But if there’s one real positive to take from Saturday’s game, it’s that West Brom no longer need to contend with the FA Cup, whereas relegation rivals Southampton will have to play one more game in the competition at the very least. Whether that’s enough to overcome the seven-point gap between the Baggies and safety, however, remains to be seen.

Winner – Rochdale’s pitch

Apparently acceptable for Millwall’s Steve Morison but not Totenham’s Harry Kane, so much was made of Rochdale’s Baywatch-inspired pitch ahead of the Lilywhites’ visit to Spotland on Sunday that they were essentially goaded into laying entirely new one in the space of a week.

But even without the kind of leveller that is supposed to make the FA Cup such a special and unique tournament, Tottenham still couldn’t beat League One’s bottom-placed side in a performance of relentless defiance, symbolised perfectly by a stoppage time equaliser after Kane’s penalty had put Spurs ahead just minutes previously.

And there’s a beautiful irony in all of this; revenue from Sunday’s clash and the replay will likely cover what the club spent on their new playing surface.

Loser – Toby Alderweireld

And Sunday’s encounter was a particularly disappointing one for Toby Alderweireld, especially after being left out of the matchday squad that pulled off a heroic comeback against Juventus in midweek for reasons seemingly linked with his ongoing contract saga as much as his lack of match fitness.

It wasn’t a happy return to the starting XI for the usually commanding centre-back. Surprising nerves showed when he slipped on the wet surface early in the first half, albeit recovering quickly, and the Belgian was culpable for Rochdale’s late equaliser – his attempt at a clearing header looping straight over his team-mates and into Steve Davies’ path.

If Alderweireld was hoping form would see him disrupt Jan Vertonghen and Davinson Sanchez’s impressive partnership, he’ll now need to wait for another chance to produce it.