By Henry Edwards, Sport Editor and third year History student
Mid-table Championship side Bristol City will face Bolton Wanderers in the Fourth Round of the FA Cup after overcoming a toothless Huddersfield side at Ashton Gate. A Josh Brownhill goal proved to be the defining moment in an entertaining match on Saturday night.
Let’s not be kidding ourselves, however. This was not a giant-killing for the ages. Huddersfield’s recent struggles have been well documented, and, rather predictably, the Premier League’s bottom-club put in a performance befitting a team yet to win since November. As I overheard one City fan comment to his son as he exited the stadium: 'looks like we’ll definitely be playing them again next season'.
But that should not detract from Bristol’s efforts. Lee Johnson’s side is quickly building a reputation as a club unafraid of Premier League customers. This time last year they only narrowly lost out to Manchester City for a place in the final of the Carabao Cup, having beaten four top-flight sides (Watford, Stoke, Crystal Palace and Manchester United) to get to the semis.
Bristol’s centre-back partners, Wright and Webster, were the standout performers on the night. Huddersfield don’t exactly boast pedigree up top, but nevertheless City’s defenders completely nullified Terriers strikers Mounie and Depoitre.
Bristol are favourites to overcome Championship strugglers Bolton in the next round. Hopefully more fans will come down to support the side; I was disappointed by the turn out for the Huddersfield match, which perhaps served as a sobering reminder of the FA Cup’s dwindling appeal.
A much more historic upset came just over the Severn Bridge the following night as League Two’s Newport County triumphed over 2016 Premier League champions Leicester City.
I was lucky enough to watch the spectacle unfold in Rodney Parade, a highly intimate and atmospheric ground. A towering header from striker Jamille Matt put the Welsh side ahead inside ten minutes, before Leicester finally found a way past keeper Joe Day in the 82nd minute.
An inexplicable hand-ball from winger Marc Albrighton just minutes later gave Newport the chance to win it from the penalty-spot. Padraig Amond duly tucked it away to seal the most dramatic victory of this round of the competition.
The Leicester fans sat just a few seats away from me should have every right to feel aggrieved. Having received criticism for fielding a weakened team for their Carabao Cup quarter-final match against Manchester City, Foxes boss Claude Puel left key players Jamie Vardy, Kasper Schmeichel and Wilfried Ndidi out of his match day squad altogether.
The decision to leave former non-league forward Vardy at home backfired massively; Newport’s centre-backs, Frank and Demetriou, were imperious on the night, but Vardy’s pace and irritating graft would have caused far more problems than the indolent Iheanacho up front.
Not for a second should this detract from Newport’s efforts. The Amber Army, who returned to the Football League as recently as 2013 after 25 years in the comparative wilderness, find themselves in the FA Cup Fourth Round having scored twice past a starting back four with six Premier League titles between them.
They coped admirably with the threats posed by young England international prospects Maddison, Choudhury and Gray. As alluded to earlier, former Manchester City striker Kalechi Iheanacho, signed by Leicester for £25 million in 2017, was made to look redundant in contrast to the effectiveness of his opposite numbers Matt and Amond.
Rather disappointingly, Newport have been drawn to face Middlesbrough at the Riverside Stadium in the next round. That is meant as no disrespect to the Championship side; their lofty position in the division is born out of a direct and effective style of play instilled into them by boss Tony Pulis.
Middlesbrough’s focus, height and power should make them overwhelming favourites, particularly as Newport will find themselves playing away from their personal fortress.
It was a fantastic weekend of FA Cup action. As a proud Welshman and University of Bristol student, the underdog performances of these two sides provided me with abundant cheer to kick off 2019 in style. Long live the magic of the FA Cup.
Featured image by Epigram / Henry Edwards
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