FA Cup hits and misses: Underdogs and upsets light up third round; is there any way back for Tanguy Ndombele at Tottenham?

Ndombele loses fans as Spurs labour

Image: Tanguy Ndombele walks straight down the tunnel after being substituted during Tottenham's FA Cup win over Morecambe

The last time Antonio Conte fielded a second-string side, in the Europa Conference League against NS Mura, a humiliating defeat left him bemoaning the quality of the squad he had inherited. “At this moment, the level at Tottenham is not so high,” he said.

After Sunday’s FA Cup third-round clash with League One strugglers Morecambe, he must have had similar thoughts. Spurs emerged victorious in the end, but only after the introductions of Harry Kane and Lucas Moura from the bench.

Before that, they were dismal, falling behind to Anthony O’Connor’s first-half opener and eventually requiring three goals in the final 16 minutes to overcome a side sat 21st in the third tier.

  • Tottenham 3-1 Morecambe – Match report

The anger of the home fans was mostly reserved for Tanguy Ndombele, who was loudly booed as he walked sulkily off the pitch when he was substituted in the second half.

The Frenchman, who stormed straight down the tunnel, may struggle to get Spurs fans back on side but he was not the only one who failed to impress.

Matt Doherty, Japhet Tanganga, Dele Alli and Giovani Lo Celso also struggled. In fact, the same could be said of every one of Tottenham’s starters with the exception of Harry Winks, who scored the equaliser.

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Spurs will face Brighton in the fourth round as Conte bids to finish his first season at the club with silverware but do not expect him to put his faith in his second string again any time soon.

Ndombele and the rest have done little to earn his trust.
Nick Wright

Gordon draws comparisons with Owen

Image: Kaide Gordon celebrates after scoring Liverpool's equaliser against Shrewsbury

Kaide Gordon became Liverpool’s second-youngest goalscorer in the 4-1 third-round win over Shrewsbury and the way he took his goal was in a fashion which drew comparisons with the man he replaced in the youngest-scorer rankings. Michael Owen was 17 years and 144 days old when netting his first career goal for Liverpool at Wimbledon in 1997 but he is now down to third as Gordon, at 17 years and 96 days, showed Anfield his exciting finishing ability with Owen-like quick feet in front of the Kop.

  • Liverpool 4-1 Shrewsbury – Match report

The way in which he controlled the cross into a crowded area from Conor Bradley – another of the five academy players in the starting line-up – and had the composure to turn his body and pick a spot beyond goalkeeper Marko Marosi, belied his inexperience. Liverpool have a natural-born finisher on their hands.

It was a moment that showcased his ability of delivering game-changing moments at key times in matches, something those watching him play in Liverpool’s Academy can vouch for.

Since arriving from Derby County less than a year ago for £1m, his impact around Melwood has alerted the interest of Jurgen Klopp and he was given a 90-minute debut in the Carabao Cup at Norwich City back in September. Despite his slight frame, he did not look out of place that night on the big stage and revelled in the spotlight at Anfield. He is one to watch.
Lewis Jones

Arsenal’s youngsters outshone by Forest’s

Image: Arsenal's Eddie Nketiah reacts after a missed chance

Arsenal’s young stars have won plaudits this season but they fell well short of their recent standards in the Gunners’ insipid 1-0 loss to Nottingham Forest at the City Ground.

The first-half withdrawal of Nuno Tavares, who had endured a dismal opening half-hour, summed up Mikel Arteta’s frustration and there were also sub-par performances from Eddie Nketiah, Gabriel Martinelli and Albert Sambi Lokonga, among others.

  • Nottingham Forest 1-0 Arsenal – Match report

Their struggles contrasted sharply with the performances of their Forest counterparts. The 20-year-old James Garner was excellent for the hosts in midfield, while right-back Djed Spence, 21, and winger Brennan Johnson, 20, were even better.

Spence, on loan at Forest from Championship rivals Middlesbrough, shackled Martinelli impressively and caused Arsenal problems defensively with some marauding runs forward, while the pacey Brennan proved a dangerous outlet throughout, underlining why a number of Premier League clubs are said to be interested in signing him.

While that trio enhanced their reputations, the young players in the Arsenal line-up did the opposite. They were not helped by the underperforming senior players around them but Arteta needs them to start delivering on their promise more consistently.
Nick Wright

Upsets and underdogs make third round sparkle

Image: Cambridge United's Joe Ironside (obscured) celebrates his opener at St James' Park

And to think, people had openly declared the FA Cup had lost its magic.

Few eyebrows were raised when the balls were drawn from the hat in last month’s draw, but from Tyneside to Turf Moor, Kidderminster to Boreham Wood via Oakwell, the 2021/22 edition of the FA Cup third round proved to be a memorable one – and it’s not done yet!

This dramatic day ticked every box an FA Cup traditionalist could possibly wish for.

A plethora of homemade, foil-wrapped cardboard trophies on the terraces ahead of kick off? Check. Archetypal cup ties packed with incident, great goals, late goals? Check. Lower-league opposition scything down Premier League giants? check. An utterly ridiculous nine-goal thriller? Err, check. You name it, this round of matches had it.

The only downside was that this thrilling third-round Saturday had to come to an end – after all, all good things do. But with Cambridge United, Kidderminster Harriers, Boreham Wood, Hartlepool and so many more through to round four, this may just be an FA Cup campaign to remember.
Jack Wilkinson

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Kiddersminster owner Richard Lane says the whole club is buzzing after drawing a Premier League opponent – West Ham – in the next round round of the FA Cup.

West Ham go strong and go through

In his pre-match press conference, David Moyes had vowed he would “do everything I can” to deliver success for West Ham in the FA Cup and on Sunday he backed up those words by playing his big guns against Leeds. In a team of just three changes, Declan Rice, Tomas Soucek, Jarrod Bowen and Michail Antonio all started.

There was a moment in first-half stoppage time when the risks of that move were on show, with Antonio receiving treatment after stretching for a cross. If West Ham’s Champions League push was derailed by them losing their only real central striker to injury in a FA Cup tie there would have been regrets.

  • West Ham 2-0 Leeds – Match report

But instead, when Bowen made it 2-0 moments before the full-time whistle blew, Moyes will have been feeling validated, with the London Stadium bouncing and his side’s re-found momentum fuelled by an impressive performance.

Rice, Soucek, Bowen and Antonio all played their part and are likely to be asked to go again on Wednesday against Norwich before facing Leeds in the Premier League next weekend. It is a demanding schedule.

But Moyes has seen how their triumphs over Manchester United and Manchester City in the Carabao Cup added belief to the first half of their campaign. Now the FA Cup – where they will go to Kidderminster next – and the Europa League could inspire a memorable run-in – both in the league and in those cup competitions.
Peter Smith

Newcastle desperately need a replacement for injured Wilson

Image: Eddie Howe during Newcastle's 1-0 FA Cup Third Round defeat to League One side Cambridge United

The afternoon began with Newcastle supporters welcoming new signing Kieran Trippier for his debut. It ended with fans trudging away from St James’ Park after a bad upset, well aware their club desperately need plenty more signings this January if they are to stay in the Premier League.

A first FA Cup campaign under their new owners has ended at the first hurdle at the hands of League One Cambridge – and there will be more disappointment to follow in the league if they don’t address their clear weaknesses during this transfer window.

Once again, their leaky defence was cut open all too easily, with Joe Ironside applying the finishing touch to grab an unlikely victory.

  • Newcastle 0-1 Cambridge United – Match report
  • FA Cup fixtures | FA Cup results

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Cambridge United head coach Mark Bonner felt a disciplined performance and a bit of luck contributed to their FA Cup win against Newcastle

But the underdogs had other chances too, with Jack Lankester seeing a strike ruled out for offside, and Harvey Knibbs unfortunate not to be awarded a penalty when he went down under a first-half challenge from Matt Ritchie.

However, Newcastle’s lack of cutting edge at the other end was on display here, too. Without Callum Wilson, there was no target for their crosses into the box and no focal point for their attacks.

Newcastle have failed to win 18 of the 20 Premier League games he’s missed since he joined the club and his calf injury – which could keep him out for a couple of months – surely puts a centre forward high up Eddie Howe’s shopping list.

Trippier looks like a smart addition – but Newcastle need to make more if they are to avoid days like this in the future…
Peter Smith

Exciting talent Olise inspires Palace comeback

Image: Michael Olise equalises for Crystal Palace

Last weekend, he scored and assisted against West Ham in the Premier League. This weekend, he scored and assisted against Millwall in the FA Cup. While his double against the Hammers was in vain, his impact at the Den turned the third round FA Cup tie Crystal Palace’s way.

All of those four goal involvements from Michael Olise have come in a similar fashion, with the 20-year-old delivering real quality with his stronger left foot from the right channel. As with top wingers of the past, knowing what’s coming is one thing; stopping it is another.

  • Millwall 1-2 Crystal Palace – Match report

And Olise’s rise looks unstoppable right now. He lit up the Championship last season with Reading, and Palace’s £8m deal to bring him to south London looks like a real coup already.

He qualifies for France, Algeria, England and Nigeria on the international stage and you can imagine all four nations will be eager to have him to call upon in the future if he continues on this trajectory. The next steps of his exciting rise will be fascinating to watch in the second half of the campaign…
Peter Smith

Ziyech the answer to James conundrum for Tuchel?

Image: Hakim Ziyech has slotted in nicely in the absence of Reece James down Chelsea's right

One of the key duties a top-level manager has to face in his job is fixing problems when injuries or loss of form affect the overall output of a team. Thomas Tuchel is having to show his problem-solving skills at Chelsea with influential wing-backs Reece James and Ben Chilwell both nursing injury problems of varying seriousness. James’ torn hamstring could see him ruled out of action for up to two months whilst Chilwell’s knee surgery means he is done for the season.

Like-for-like replacements that possess the same all-round game as those two players are thin on the ground for Tuchel, so he’s had to be flexible in veering away from his trusted 5-3-2 formation that has led Chelsea to such riches in his 12 months in charge.

Against Tottenham in midweek and Chesterfield on Saturday, Tuchel managed to shoehorn Hakim Ziyech into a role as a flexible right-wing back. With the ball, Chelsea are more of a 4-2-3-1 with Ziyech pushing on as the right winger, but they are equally adaptable at moving back to a 5-3-2 without the ball with Ziyech dropping in to support the right-sided centre back.

That was on show against Spurs, where Ziyech put in a man of the match showing as he stuck to his defensive duties in disciplined fashion. He was given another chance to showcase his talents in that position against National League Chesterfield and although the level of opposition meant he wasn’t overly tested going back towards his own goal, it was another promising performance. It was his cross-shot that led to the opening goal from Timo Werner, sending Chelsea on their way to a 5-1 win, and the Moroccan rounded off the scoring himself from the penalty spot.

His tendency to cut in off the right and find team-mates with his defence-splitter of a left-foot is a weapon that has yet to be consistently used since his arrival from Ajax. However, in this role, where he has three forwards to seek out, Chelsea look a greater creative force. Teams will need to find a way to stop him.
Lewis Jones

Palmer ready for the big-time

When you have talent like Phil Foden and Cole Palmer progressing from the youth team into the first team, it perhaps explains why Pep Guardiola rarely gets too worked up about not signing players to beef up his forward line.

  • How the teams lined up | Match stats
  • Swindon 1-4 Man City – Match report

Playing on the right of the City attack that yet again featured no out-and-out centre forward, the 19-year-old put in a performance beyond his years in what could have been a tricky environment at the County Ground. He was the most inexperienced City player on the pitch but turned in a man-of-the-match showing.

Palmer’s first influential act came on 14 minutes when dancing past his marker and serving up a tap-in for Bernardo Silva. Always positive and tricky with his play, Palmer was a constant outlet and showed his eye for goal in the second half with two rasping strikes that grazed the crossbar. His moment would come, though, when he whipped a ferocious effort into the far corner to make it 4-1.

“Hopefully he enjoyed it,” Palmer told ITV when asked about what Pep Guardiola would’ve made of his performance.

“I’ve just got to keep working hard. Got to keep going and try and get more minutes and help the team out.”

Make no mistake, Palmer looks ready for a run in the City side. With Riyad Mahrez away with Algeria, Guardiola looks to have a like-for-like replacement to slot in. Would a start against Chelsea next Saturday be too much too soon? Guardiola has that decision to make. Lewis Jones

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