The FA Cup began its fifth round this weekend, turning up some considerable and unanticipated results.
The highlight of the weekend took place at Stamford Bridge, where League One side Bradford City stunned Premier League frontrunners Chelsea. The London side had taken an early lead and approached halftime two goals ahead, courtesy of Gary Cahill and Ramires. In the 41st minute Bradford worked their way back into contention when Jon Stead found the top corner from a well-implemented complimentary kick routine.
Spurred on, the contest was closer in the second half and Bradford found an equaliser in the 75th minute through Filipe Morais, who began his career at Stamford Bridge. Bradford completed their reversal seven minutes later when Stead wriggled free in the box to tee up the onrushing Andy Halliday to power the ball home. As Chelsea endeavoured for the equaliser Bradford ensured their victory, capping off a well-worked counter with a fourth from Mark Yeates.
Chelsea’s title rivals were also humbled by an unexpected result: away to Middlesbrough, who ran out 2-0 winners. Benefitting from the loan system, Chelsea up-and-comer Patrick Bamford put Boro ahead to show manager Mourinho his quality. Otherwise limited to playing in the league in which he has been placed, Bamford took the opportunity to prove he is capable of success at top-flight level – before Kike confirmed the win with a late second.
In an all-Premiership affair, bottom of the league Leicester won a well-earned victory over Tottenham with a famous 2-1 away win. A narrow game, Spurs had taken the lead with a 19th minute penalty in the first half. Both sides created chances throughout, though neither added to the scoreline until the final ten minutes, when Ulloa was the first to reach an errant effort from Jeffrey Schlupp and turn it home for a late equaliser. Buoyed by Ulloa’s goal, Leicester pressed and found a winner with mere moments remaining. Danny Simpson, finding space on the right, lofted a cross into the box, which Schlupp volleyed into the back of the net with great aplomb.
In his first full start for Leicester new signing Andrej Kramaric played an important role in the Foxes victory. In doing so, he sought to serve as a lesson to both fans and other teams as to how to effectively reinforce a forward line in the January window.
Additions to forward ranks are commonly requested during the winter transfer period, particularly in teams precariously positioned in and around the relegation zone. Often, however, these new forwards are bought in an attempt to superficially arrest concerns over goal scoring rather than aiding the team in the manner actually required – most often the improvement of creativity and build up play from deeper positions.
Kramaric, a proficient goalscorer arriving from Croatia at a record £10 million, may have at first appeared to be such a signing. However his utilisation in a supporting role behind Leonardo Ulloa – facilitating goalscoring by bridging the gap between the midfield and the forward line – has so far proved effective. Comprehending the nuances of introducing forwards in a successful manner, manager Nigel Pearson has demonstrated his ability to intelligently improve his side.
Lastly, League Two side Cambridge emerged with a famous draw from their match with Manchester United. Benefitting from the cup in terms of morale, their draw has an equally significant financial upside. By earning a replay to be played at the Abbey Stadium they stand to potentially double their yearly revenue in one game, a monetary gain wholly deserved by their staunch and resilient performance.
As the cup continues, the opportunities for sides to provide surprising victories continue with it.
How might teams build on their FA Cup successes, both in the cup and in their respective leagues?