Has there been a more remarkable weekend in the FA Cup, the world’s oldest soccer competition, in recent years? This past fourth round weekend resulted in a host of English Premier League (EPL) teams falling to lower league opposition and, in one case, a non-league side. Call it January Madness as it’s like some number 16 seeds knocked off their no. 1 masters (and though they remain in the Cup, the likes of Chelsea and Arsenal also got an almighty scare in their games). TIME looks back on five reasons the magic of the FA Cup still endures.
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1. Oldham Athletic 3-2 Liverpool
The last game played over fourth round weekend threw up a stunning scoreline. Last season, seven-time FA Cup winners Liverpool rolled League One Oldham Athletic 5-1 in the third round of the Cup. As fate would have it, the two teams were drawn against each other again and, from the outset Sunday, Oldham made a mockery of their struggling status in a division two below the mighty Liverpool (56 places separate the sides). They hustled and harried the Reds and took an early lead through striker Matt Smith’s header. At the opposite end of the field, the far better known striker on display, Luis Suarez, quickly levelled the scores. But, with half-time approaching, the home side regained the lead as Smith ended up benefiting from goalkeeper Brad Jones’s error. A few minutes into the second half and, incredibly, Oldham had a two-goal lead as Reece Wabara scored a quite exquisite back-post header. Liverpool woke up. They had to. Manager Brendan Rodgers summoned talismanic midfielder Steven Gerrard from the substitutes bench and he joined illustrious colleagues such as Suarez, Daniel Sturridge, Fabio Borini and Raheem Sterling. Sure enough, the EPL side got one back, through Joe Allen’s volley but Oldham held on for a win which came 20 years on from their 3-2 victory over Liverpool when both sides shared the rarefied air of the top flight of English football. Incredibly, Oldham manager, the former player Paul Dickov, hasn’t been able to fully enjoy the win as his chairman, Simon Corney, told the BBC Monday morning that his job is “OK for the time being” due to the club’s poor league form. But if they manage to knock out Liverpool’s neighbors, Everton, in the fifth round, it may well be difficult for Corney to remove Dickov from his position.
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2. Norwich City 0-1 Luton Town
Not since 1989 has a non-league side knocked out a team in the top tier of English football when Sutton shocked Coventry. But on Saturday, Luton Town created history by not just beating Norwich City but doing it on the road. With 10 minutes to play, substitute Scott Rendell swept in the winner to cap a fine move and fantastic performance in a rematch of the 1959 FA Cup semi-final (which the Hatters also won). In truth, there looked little between the teams, despite the massive 85 places between Luton and their hosts. And fortunes in soccer fluctuate so quickly that, as recently as six years ago, they were playing against each other in the division just one below the EPL (the Championship). Since then, Norwich has gone from strength to strength while three successive relegations and financial problems have led to Luton’s decline, and this is their fourth season in non-league soccer (the Blue Square Bet Premier).
3. Leeds United 2-1 Tottenham Hotspur 1
Much like Norwich vs. Luton, it wasn’t too long ago that Leeds United were playing Tottenham Hotspur on a regular basis and would get the better of the Londoners. Leeds, in the words of former chairman Peter Ridsdale, were infamously “chasing the dream” of trying to become a European powerhouse by signing big name players on big time wages and paid the price, by slipping down the league pyramid. Under manager Neil Warnock, they’re trying to bring back the glory days by moving out of the Championship and back into the EPL and beating the likes of Spurs will certainly help their confidence. Playing at home, Leeds must have been helped by the intimidating Elland Road crowd and set about Spurs, not letting them play their usual brand of free-flowing football. While the EPL team missed a bunch of early chances, Leeds took their own, as Luke Varney opened the scoring with a calm run and finish before Ross McCormack doubled the home team’s lead with a composed turn past defender Steven Caulker before lashing the ball home. American star Clint Dempsey halved the deficit with a header but his team couldn’t find the equalizer to force a replay back at White Hart Lane. Leeds, who have already defeated Everton and Southampton in the Capital One Cup this season, have now made it into the fifth round of the FA Cup for the first time since 2003. And if they thought Spurs was a difficult game, Leeds must next head to Manchester City, the current EPL champions.
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4. QPR 2-4 Milton Keynes Dons
Despite being bottom of the EPL standings, QPR were unbeaten in 2013, going into a winnable home game against League One MK Dons. Manager Harry Redknapp left out a host of star names but still had seven internationals in his side so would have expected to progress. What he surely couldn’t have contemplated was falling 0-2 behind by half-time as QPR defender Armand Traore sliced the ball into his own net from a corner before Ryan Lowe latched on to a long ball to put QPR on the brink of elimination. Sadly for Rangers, whatever Redknapp said to his charges at half-time didn’t have the desired effect as the away side scored twice more through Ryan Harley and Darren Potter. And although QPR rallied with two late goals of their own, thanks to Jay Bothroyd and Fabio, it merely salvaged some pride on an embarrassing afternoon. Much like Leeds in the Cup, next up for QPR is Manchester City in the league on Tuesday. It goes without saying that they’ll need to defend better.
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5. Millwall 2-1 Aston Villa
On paper, a Championship side knocking out EPL opposition surely sounds like a shock result. But with the week, and season in general, that Aston Villa is experiencing, perhaps it would have been more surprising had they not succumbed to London team Millwall. A few days before last Friday night’s FA Cup game, Villa had been knocked out of the Capital One Cup by League Two Bradford so confidence was arguably brittle. But they took the lead at Millwall with England international Darren Bent giving some much-needed relief to the road team. But their lead lasted five minutes with Villa’s vulnerability at set pieces costing them yet again, with Danny Shittu heading in from a corner. It looked like Villa might hold on for a replay but, with a minute of normal time remaining, Millwall’s John Marquis headed in a rebound off the bar to knock Paul Lambert’s side out of their second cup competition in the space of 72 hours.