By Jamie Dunn
‘The magic of the cup’ – a cliche and somewhat dated phrase trotted out by the television companies, used sarcastically by detractors to discredit the importance and entertainment of England's domestic competitions.
But even the most hardened of cynics must have afforded themselves a wry smile at the events of the past week in both the FA and Capital One Cups.
It all started on Tuesday. Could League Two side Bradford City capitalise on their shock 3-1 victory over Aston Villa to progress to the unlikeliest of Capital One Cup finals?
|A WEEK OF CUPSETS
|Aston Villa 2-1 Bradford (agg 3-4)
Capital One Cup
Swansea 0-0 Chelsea (agg 2-0)
Capital One Cup
Millwall 2-1 Aston Villa
Norwich 0-1 Luton
QPR 2-4 MK Dons
Leeds 2-1 Tottenham
Oldham 3-2 Liverpool
Yes they could. Villa won 2-1, but Phil Parkinson’s side held on despite a late Andreas Weimann goal to book a place in February’s Wembley showpiece – the first side from English football’s fourth tier to do so in over 50 years.
Bradford’s prize for toppling three Premier League clubs – Arsenal and Wigan being the other two – is a clash with Swansea, who themselves would have been considered outsiders to reach Wembley before the season started.
Michael Laudrup, in his first season in English football, guided the Welsh side beyond Chelsea over two legs with a 2-0 aggregate win after a goalless draw at the Liberty Stadium on Wednesday. Forget Eden Hazard and an over-zealous, 17-year-old ball boy; this was the real story of the night.
Just three days on from their Bradford humbling, Villa and Paul Lambert were cruelly kicked while they were down, this time by Championship side Millwall, who clinched a 2-1 win in the FA Cup fourth round against the Premier League strugglers, with a John Marquis header a minute from the end of normal time.
Millwall will meet another giant killer in the fifth round in the shape of Luton Town. The non-league outfit, who have tried desperately to make their way out of the Blue Square Bet Premier since a points deduction brought on by entering administration, beat Norwich on Saturday at Carrow Road in one of the biggest shocks of the round.
Meanwhile, Harry Redknapp saw his struggling QPR side dispatched out of the competition by League One side MK Dons. Karl Robinson's men, who were already one of the FA Cup's biggest stories so far this season having faced Wimbledon - the area from which the club relocated - were 4-0 up at Loftus Road before the hosts scored twice to add a modicum of respectability to the scoreline.
Beforehand, Redknapp had suggested the competition was not a priority as the club battle relegation, but his furious reaction to his players' poor display afterwards was telling enough.
And the shocks kept coming on Sunday. First, Brentford came within seven minutes of adding to Chelsea's Capital One Cup woes as they led 2-1 at Griffin Park, before the oft-vilified Fernando Torres scored in the closing stages to force a replay.
Tottenham, however, could rely on no such heroics. Spurs laboured for almost an hour against Championship club Leeds and fell two goals behind, and could not muster an equaliser after pulling a goal back through Clint Dempsey.
| FA CUPLATEST
|80/1||Leeds are 80/1 to win the FA Cup with bet365
"We're not famous anymore," sang the Leeds fans who, after an impressive display against Spurs, can be more than proud of their current status.
As can Oldham, who outfought Liverpool at Boundary Park and won 3-2 courtesy of goals from Matt Smith and Reece Wabara, and a resolute defensive showing at the death to keep out the likes of Steven Gerrard, Daniel Sturridge and Luis Suarez.
The financial rewards for reaching the final or even winning either of the two competitions is a comparative pittance to that of qualifying for the Champions League, let alone taking home the big-eared continental trophy, and thus the importance of such domestic titles has been played down.
You can bet, though, the likes of Rafa Benitez, Andre Villas-Boas, Brendan Rodgers and Lambert are hurting on Monday morning, while fans of the clubs they manage have to run the gauntlet of contemporaries ready to mock them at work or school.
Yes, the viewing public were subjected to a couple of less than enthralling ties in the shape of Manchester City's late win over Stoke and Manchester United's stroll past Fulham.
But the minnows have breathed life into the cup competitions once again.
Follow Jamie Dunn on