Up for the Cup

A great thing happened on Sunday. My faith in the Beautiful Game was restored, and not just by a little bit, but by a lot.

It’s been a very difficult time to be a Villa fan – we’ve not exactly been on fire in the league this year, and we’ve already failed to progress in the League Cup. Although we played well against Bristol Rovers on Saturday, a typical thump of the self-destruct button towards the end did nothing to allay my fears that we are rapidly becoming an average-at- best side. Perhaps the only silver lining is the fact that all three of our goals came from Academy products – Albrighton, Clark and Agbonlahor who seem to be leading the way for us at the moment.

So, with a scene of hearty pessimism set, I elect to watch another sample from the greatest cup competition in the world. I must be honest, I never expect a lot from the Third Round – there’s always one shock result, this season ably provided by Roberto Martinez and company, but it’s largely a par-for-the-course affair.

But City vs United raised the bar for entertainment in the first weekend in January.

For starters, we had the return of a legend, Paul Scholes returning on a short-term deal to plug the gaps left by a swathe of injuries. It seems that even the United players were unaware of this surprise – so how Roberto Mancini must have felt when he saw that name on the opposing team sheet I can only imagine. You’ve got to feel that Sir Alex wasn’t feeling similarly about being reunited with Owen Hargreaves, who found his way onto the City bench. The entertainment had already begun.

Then came the game, and City were dominant – it’s hard to remember if United even touched the ball in the first nine minutes, but a first-time cross from Antonio Valencia, on the break, was powered home past Pantilimon. Of course it was Rooney to apply the finish, and he celebrated gleefully. The home side were stunned – but the game had what it needed, something to chase after, something to fight for.

We then had the regulatory refereeing decision, sure to capture the headlines. Kompany dismissed, Mancini furious, City on the back foot. They were rattled, dazed and confused, and they paid for it with two more goals. Rooney added a second and Welbeck grabbed a fine goal to put the tie beyond all doubt.

The half-time interval allowed the mind to wander back to that 6-1 drubbing – could we see a repeat?

The answer came quickly, and the fight back came first through Kolarov, then Aguero – two goals from a side determined to make amends. They pressed hard in the second half, but couldn’t find a way through a resolute United defence a third time, but as a neutral, that didn’t matter. The fairytale ending would have been almost too much in a match that seemed to have it all.

If Villa can show half as much determination to succeed over the rest of the season as Man City did in one half of football, we’ll be fine. If we show half as much skill with a football as United did in the first half, we’ll be fine. There was drama, there was outrage, and there were plenty of superb goals. I’ve always loved the FA Cup, and on Sunday the FA Cup provided me with the best Third Round tie I’ve ever witnessed.

Arsenal or Leeds await us in the next round, with Liverpool drawn against United, and I can’t wait.


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