Manchester City and Manchester United left it late to avoid embarrassment at the hands of lower-league opposition in the FA Cup on Sunday, leaving third-tier Sheffield United to deliver the biggest shock of the third round.
On the day England’s top teams entered the fray in world football’s most famous domestic cup competition, there were a slew of close calls for Premier League sides but only Queens Park Rangers fell at the first hurdle.
QPR lost 3-0 to Sheffield United, which is making a habit of producing so-called ”giant-killings” in cup competitions. The team belied its lowly league placing to reach the semifinals of the FA Cup last season and has advanced to the same stage of the League Cup this season, where it takes on Tottenham over two legs this month.
”I don’t think people will take us lightly,” United coach Chris Morgan said. ”In the last calendar year, we’ve beaten five Premier League clubs.”
Man City looked like going the same way as QPR, only for James Milner – a midfielder playing as a makeshift striker – to score in the 66th minute and again in injury time in a 2-1 win over second-tier Sheffield Wednesday. City, the joint leader in the Premier League with Chelsea, beat the same opposition 7-0 in the League Cup this season.
”I am relieved,” City manager Manuel Pellegrini said. ”We play very badly, except the last 20 minutes.”
Man United was also unconvincing against Yeovil, which is bottom of the third tier, and needed goals in the final 26 minutes from midfielders Ander Herrera and Angel Di Maria for a 2-0 win. Herrera’s strike was a brilliant volley on the turn from 25 meters, a goal that lit up a poor-quality match at Huish Park.
”We battled for 60, 70 minutes and then Ander scored a spectacular goal,” United midfielder Darren Fletcher said. ”Sometimes that’s what it takes.”
Stoke avoided what would have been one of the biggest shocks in the cup’s 144-year history, scoring three times in the final 10 minutes to beat non-league Wrexham 3-1.
Chelsea also relied on a second-half revival, scoring three goals in a 14-minute burst through Willian, Loic Remy and Kurt Zouma for a 3-0 win over Watford. In another late show from a Premier League club, Christian Benteke’s 88th-minute strike earned Aston Villa a 1-0 victory over Blackpool, which plays in the second tier.
Arsenal had it more comfortable, with the defending champions beating Hull 2-0 in a repeat of last season’s final thanks to goals by Per Mertesacker and the superb Alexis Sanchez.
Also Sunday, Southampton was held to a 1-1 draw by second-tier Ipswich, Crystal Palace – managed for the first time by Alan Pardew – thrashed non-league side Dover 4-0 and Sunderland beat second-tier Leeds 1-0.
Liverpool and Tottenham play their opening matches of the competition on Monday, with the third round – one of the highlights of the English football calendar as the big teams get challenged by lower-ranked opponents – spread over five days this season.