FA Cup's enduring spirit lives on
The enduring spirit of England’s beloved domestic competition has witnessed something of a rebirth. Coventry City, a team that has known only suffering for the past few years, is into the fifth round. So is Wigan Athletic after knocking off West Ham. League Two Notts County earned a replay at Swansea City. While not quite giant killings, these are upsets nonetheless. The Premier League's financial might makes such contests akin to a pit bull taking on a chihuahua.
Although the rags-v-riches narrative has tediously embedded itself into the FA Cup storyline, it still holds an ounce of allure. It is always compelling to see a true underdog face up to a club rich with glamour, talent, and, indeed, finance.
No match on the weekend epitomised that so much as Michael Flynn and Newport County’s incredible one-goal draw with Mauricio Pochettino’s Tottenham Hotspur. This was a true FA Cup fourth-round tie. A brave, battling, and ambitious performance from County laudably earned a replay at Wembley. The home support sang the traditional serenade to a finals appearance, ‘Que sera sera’, tongues firmly in cheek. They deserved the moment.
From the off, the Exiles were dauntless. They pressed in packs, hunted in groups, attacked in number, and otherwise ganged up on their Premier League visitors. Buoyed by a record capacity at Rodney Parade, also home to the Dragons rugby side, the home side didn't quite spit fire. On the rare occasions Spurs punched them in the mouth, though, they simply spat out the rattled teeth and pressed on. Mike Flynn’s men grasped their opportunity in the lime-light with two hands, refusing to kowtow to Spurs' quality.
Pochettino fielded a competent starting eleven with Harry Kane spearheading the attack. It was his goal that salvaged a replay. After knocking one off the frame earlier, Tottenham's golden-haired knight rode to the rescue once again. With less than ten minuted in the match, he burst County fans' dream of an historic upset. The club will be very happy with living to fight another extremely lucrative day, however.
The Spurs manager spoke before the match of "no excuses." The pitch was visibly scarred by rugby and weather but was good enough, "better than St. Mary's." The Argentinian refreshingly paid the Cup the respect it deserves, doing his due diligence.
Poch's preparedness made the outcome even more astonishing. Spurs cannot be accused of complacency, reduced effort, or laissez-faire attitude. They followed their usual routine and were still given all they could handle.
Commendably, the boss kept his word, offering no excuses.
We cannot use [the pitch] as an excuse. We were so poor in the first half and we were aware about how Newport play and their quality and I think never in the first half did we match their level.
Remember, this was a team battling for football league status on the last day of the 2016-17 season. Poetically, it was a last minute goal that saved it. Flynn has done a marvelous job at County, forging a genuine promotion push this season. His side sit just a few points from the playoffs.
Had he managed to orchestrate a magical win, he may well have been given the keys to the city, appointed honorary mayor, and never have to pay for his food and drink again.
He has injected his passion, identity, and affiliation with the city into this side. It shows.
For all the pomp, the criticism, the commercially driven aspects, the magic of the FA Cup still endures. Just ask Pochettino:
I hear after five years here that this competition is magic and it is magic because you have a Premier League team and a League Two team and today, to be honest, I didn't see too much difference.