Norwich City and Tottenham Hotspur's FA Cup exits to non-league Luton Town and Championship outfit Leeds United respectively were among the upsets of the Fourth Round. The managers of the two Premier League clubs have both publicly welcomed the Wednesday night meeting between their sides coming so soon
"It’s good to have a game so quickly, it gives us an opportunity back in the Premier League and in a situation like this, the quicker the game comes, the better," Andre Villas-Boas told his club’s official website.
Chris Hughton echoed that sentiment in quotes on the Canaries’ site.
“What I’d like to expect is to see a reaction from my team. Whether that will see us put in a performance that we need to get a result that we want, we’ll only know that on Wednesday, but I’m quite sure it won’t be through a lack of effort.”
For differing reasons, both could really do with coming away from the midweek clash with three points.
It is a tough time for several of the bigger Midlands based clubs in English football right now.
Wolverhampton Wanderers and Birmingham City are both toiling at the wrong end of The Championship, the latter also contending with serious financial issues. In the Premier League Aston Villa are enduring some particularly lean years, and currently find themselves in the relegation zone.
The one club from the region with anything to shout about are West Bromwich Albion who is enjoying their longest stay in the top-flight for some time. And they could make Villa a whole lot more miserable this weekend with a derby win.
Both are actually on quite dismal runs right now. West Brom is stuttering after a bright first few months to the campaign and has not won a game since Boxing Day. Villa’s last league win (admittedly a good one at Liverpool) was followed by that humiliating run of 15 goals conceded in three games.
A FA Cup Third Round defeat of Ipswich Town served as a brief respite only for Bradford City to win their Carling Cup semifinal first-leg 3-1.
Reading came back from two goals down to beat West Bromwich Albion 3-2 this past weekend. It was a performance and result that has strengthened belief in the Royals’ ability to beat the odds and stay up this season.
The scorer of their unlikely winner was Pavel Pogrebnyak, a player in need of a confidence boost himself.
A Russia international, Pogrebnyak signed a four-year contract with the 2011-12 Championship winners last summer. Having made his bow in English football during a loan spell with Fulham a few months previously, he was swayed into joining Reading ahead of the Cottagers.
That Reading is owned by fellow countryman Anton Zingarevich undoubtedly contributed to Pogrebnyak’s decision to move there. After making an immediate impression at Fulham (scoring six times) he will have also been keen to prove he was not just a flash in the pan.
Doing so has not proven easy for the striker.
Life at a Premier League club scrapping for survival is not so conducive to seeing one’s name in the limelight, not when there are more immediately pressing priorities.
The first Premier League match of 2013 featured two strikers who are enjoying particularly fine seasons.
No, not Robin van Persie and Luis Suarez, they would have to wait a few hours and a day respectively to enter yet another entry in campaigns that are shaping up to be among the best of their careers.
Instead, in the early afternoon of 1 January it was Romelu Lukaku and Dimitar Berbatov’s opportunity to enjoy a few hours with the focus on them, with the latter’s Fulham side beating West Bromwich Albion 2-1 at The Hawthorns.
Compared to the aforementioned rampant reds (and indeed a few others) Lukaku and Berbatov have hardly been prolific in the goalscoring department this season —though seven apiece in the league is respectable enough.
Their value extends beyond goals however, that much was clear on Tuesday, as was the fact that they are two of the most entertaining performers in England.
These different but equally remarkable talents really were at the centre of so much of what was good about their respective teams.
There is a line in Hud, a 1963 movie starring Paul Newman that springs to mind when contemplating Tottenham Hotspur’s talented but conscientiously suspect winger Gareth Bale.
“Little by little the look of the country changes because of the men we admire,” reflects Melvyn Douglas’ character Homer Bannon. “You're just going to have to make up your own mind one day about what's right and wrong”.
Both sentiments apply somewhat to Bale and Tottenham, and were evident in actions on and off the pitch at the Stadium of Light on Saturday with their 2-1 defeat of Sunderland.
After a Carlos Cuellar own goal and a fine individual effort by Aaron Lennon cancelled out John O’Shea’s opener, the Welshman created the talking point of the final half hour when he went down under the challenge of Craig Gardner.
In the opinion of the home crowd and referee Martin Atkinson it was a dive, with the latter giving the offender his fifth booking of the campaign (meaning he’ll miss the next game against Reading).