FA Cup: Big boys all survive day of few shocks
FA Cup Third Round day did not supply its expected shock, if there can be such a thing, and the Saturday afternoon ties usually went with the club of higher league status on a day when Reading's draw with Liverpool and Coventry City's holding of crisis club Portsmouth were the only results containing any element of giantkilling.
Reading went a goal up on 24 minutes at the Madejski Stadium as Simon Church diverted the ball over the line from close range after a free-kick, but Liverpool avoided an embarrassing exit as Steven Gerrard's cross found its way into the net.
At Portsmouth, David Bell had put the Sky Blues up against a Pompey team who are still awaiting their Christmas pay packet but Kevin-Prince Boateng, linked with a move away from Fratton Park, got the leveller. A replay at the Ricoh Arena awaits.
Birmingham City are another Premier League team facing an extra match after their 0-0 draw with Nottingham Forest, whose hopes of emulating any past glories were ended by the profligacy of Robert Earnshaw, who ballooned a penalty over the bar.
Carlisle United had looked like providing something of a surprise as they held Everton, last season's losing finalists, after Kevan Hurst had levelled a James Vaughan goal. But Tim Cahill scored the goal to mean the tie did not return to Brunton Park for a replay and a late Leighton Baines penalty added further confirmation.
Barrow, once a league club but now in the Conference National, had high hopes of getting past the third round for the first time in their history and took 8,000 fans to the Stadium of Light. But Sunderland demolished any fairy story, courtesy of one goal from Steed Malbranque and a Fraizer Campbell double.
Championship strugglers Peterborough United aimed to put their league woes behind them but were despatched with ease by Tottenham Hotspur. Niko Kranjcar confirmed his recent run of form with a double at White Hart Lane before Jermain Defoe grabbed his customary goal and Robbie Keane scored a late penalty.
Another team made short work of was Colchester United of League One, who were thrashed within an each of their lives at managerless Preston North End. Preston won 7-0, including a Jon Parkin hat-trick. Still, always next year...
MK Dons of League One welcomed Burnley to their spanking World Cup stadium hopeful but the Clarets, with boss Owen Coyle linked with the vacant Bolton job, ran out narrow winners. Graham Alexander scored from the penalty, making it 71 out of 76 successful spot-kicks in his late-flourishing career. Steven Fletcher seemed to have guaranteed the result before a late MK surge through a Dean Morgan goal and siege of Burnley's penalty era made it a grandstand finish.
Bolton Wanderers, with Steve Wigley and Chris Evans in temporary charge after Gary Megson's sacking, also made the next round, courtesy of a quick salvo against Lincoln City. A Moses Swaibu own goal and a Chung-Yong Lee strike confirmed simple progress and a Gary Cahill header completed the rout.
There were only two all-Premier League ties, though anyone catching sight of an attendance of around 5,000 for Wigan Athletic's match with Hull City would have you believing this was a game between lower division clubs. Geovanni gave Hull the lead but Wigan stormed back. Goals from Charles N'Zogbia bookended an effort from the lesser spotted Scot James McCarthy on a freezing Lancashire afternoon. Scott Sinclair, another bench-warmer by usual trade, made it 4-1 in the last minute.
Fellow Lancastrians Blackburn Rovers travelled to Aston Villa and their task was hardly made easier by the reprehensible red-card tackle that saw El-Hadji Diouf removed for a foul on Habib Beye. By that point Villa were 2-0 up via goals from Nathan Delfouneso and Carlos Cuellar. A strike from Croatian Nikola Kalinic gave Rovers hope but a penalty won and scored by John Carew takes Martin O'Neill's men through to the fourth round.
Another team not completing their afternoon with a full complement of players was Blackpool, who had two men sent off against Ipswich Town. Both Ian Evatt and Rob Edwards were dismissed with the scores at 1-1 before Owen Garvan put the Tractor Boys into the pot for Sunday's draw at 6.10 GMT.
There were further tales of pitiful crowds at Middlesbrough, where just 12,000 hardy souls braved Manchester City's visit. Roberto Mancini had shuffled his pack ahead of the midweek Carling Cup semi-final with Manchester United and Benjani's goal rewarded that approach against a Boro team who were as empty of ideas as their stadium was of paying customers.
Fulham's season of Europa League progress may mean they place less emphasis on the FA Cup but they still squeezed past League One's Swindon Town. Bobby Zamora continued his hot streak but strike partner Andy Johnson had a penalty saved. The Robins could not pierce the defence of a slightly understrength Cottagers.
York City briefly seemed set to provide the shock of the day when Neil Barrett scored in a game delayed by 30 minutes by the late arrival of their team bus at Stoke City's Brittania Stadium. But it was 2-1 moments later as two goals - first a Daniel Parslow own goal and then one from Ricardo Fuller - came as a result of Rory Delap's throw-ins. Matthew Etherington scored from 30 yards as the dream swiftly died.
Four Championship teams looking forward to the fourth round are Scunthorpe United, 1-0 winners against Barnsley, Crystal Palace, who won 2-1 at another managerless club in Sheffield Wednesday, West Brom, 2-0 winners at Huddersfield Town and Leicester City, who beat Swansea City 2-1. From League One come 1976 winners Southampton, who thanked a Ricky Lambert goal for their progress at the expense of non-league Luton Town. Brighton & Hove Albion, 1983 finalists and fellow South-coasters from that division won 1-0 at Torquay United with Andrew Crofts grabbing the sole goal.
Newcastle United's recent faltering form saw them draw for the third time in a row, at Plymouth Argyle, where the best thing about the afternoon was the 2,800 members of the Toon Army who made an 800-mile trip to the far west of the country. Most of them will have had to get up at 3am to be there but can now watch the two teams in a replay back at St James' Park.
Also both in the draw are Millwall and Derby County who shared one goal apiece at the New Den, with Kris Commons' goal cancelling out the Lions' opener through Lewis Grabban. The early match between Bristol City and Cardiff City fell victim to the treacherous and freezing conditions that those fans who did attend FA Cup games will have had to brave. Reading's home tie with Liverpool is the late kick-off.