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How long does a half last in football? Forty-five minutes, right? Plus, of course, added time … so why does a referee wait 15 seconds beyond added time to see how an attack by a team might end? That’s what happened in the Manchester United versus Reading FA Cup Fifth Round tie at Old Trafford on Saturday, and during those 15 seconds, Michael Carrick scored (an admittedly brilliant goal with a long range shot). It put Manchester United in front at half-time. Fortunately for justice, Reading equalised midway through the second half with a header from Icelandic defender Brynjar Gunnarsson, but the question remains: is the referee the best person to control time played, seeing that he has so much else to look after during the game? In basketball, the time of the match is controlled from a table on the sidelines. Isn’t it something the fourth official could do in football? What else does he have to do, besides telling the coaches to keep to the marked coaching area and supervising the entrance of substitutes?
The Reading versus Manchester United tie will have to go to a replay next week. In some countries, Cup games are decided on the day, with extra time and penalties, if necessary. But the English model allows for a smaller club to take a big club back to its own ground for the replay: the outcome is less certain, and the small club gets the money from the extra game. Reading, who played several of their reserve players on Saturday in a gesture of confidence and lack of awe of the so-called ‘Theatre of Dreams’, will surely field a stronger side for the replay; the arc of the new Wembley Stadium beckons, and for a club that has achieved few honours, this may be a chance to write its name in the history books.
It was a round without great upsets. Chelsea dispatched Norwich 4-0; the Championship (second tier) team from East Anglia resisted until the 40th minute, during which time they could have gone ahead but hit the post instead. Then Shawn Wright-Phillips sent in a speculative shot that deflected off a defender and past David Marshall in the Canaries goal. If you go one down against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge, you have an uphill struggle on your hands. And so it proved.
Tottenham Hotspur travelled from north to south London to beat Fulham by the same score, with Robbie Keane and Dimitar Berbatov both scoring twice; the Bulgarian could say that he was slightly better than the Irishman on the day, though – he got his two in the space of only a quarter of an hour at the end of the game after coming on as substitute.
As if by magic, the draw for the Quarter-Finals matched the two teams that had won 4-0 in the Fifth Round: Chelsea versus Tottenham Hotspur, arguably the most attractive tie of the round. Whichever team wins the Reading versus Manchester United replay will travel to the winner of the West Bromwich Albion versus Middlesborough replay. Manchester City will have to wait to see who their hosts will be: Blackburn or Arsenal. And relative minnows Plymouth Argyle, the only Championship side left in the Cup, will be at home to struggling Premiership side Watford.
Sticking its neck out, the British Council Blog predicts that the following teams will go through to the Semi-Finals: Chelsea, Reading, West-Bromwich Albion and Plymouth.
There’s no change in the Scottish Premier League, where Celtic (2-1 winners at Aberdeen) maintained their surely insurmountable 19-point lead over Rangers (2-1 winners at home to Falkirk, in front of a crowd of 50,000). The scene is becoming very familiar, with Rangers now seven points ahead of Aberdeen and … Hearts … whose Chairman, Vladimir Romanov, featured here last week, called the critical Scottish press “monkeys” before the 1-1 home draw with St. Mirren. And just in case they didn’t get the message, the club served them nuts and bananas at the game … and the music played in the stadium was by the 60s pop group … the Monkees.
by Phil Town