Belfast Telegraph

Thrilling games shows there's magic left in the FA Cup

By Steven Beacom

There's a lot wrong with the FA Cup. For starters numerous managers not playing their strongest teams and the third round of the competition crazily taking place over FIVE days to placate television.

Tuesday night's classic replay between West Ham and Everton, though, showed there is some life in the old dog yet.

What a game. Couldn't take my eyes off it.

Unrelenting pace, controversy, brilliant goals, chances galore, a red card, cracking atmosphere and a nerve-shredding penalty shoot-out eventually won 9-8 by West Ham, with their goalkeeper Adrian netting the decisive strike.

It was the best game of the season in England so far with both sets of players desperate to deliver their team a fourth round place.

Credit to Everton who fought back from a goal down and a man down, after Aiden McGeady's dismissal, to draw level thanks to an outstanding free-kick from Kevin Mirallas before the 90 minute mark.

Extra time was just as thrilling with the sides swapping goals before a sensational shoot-out on an evening neither club deserved to lose.

After he had got his breath back, West Ham boss Sam Allardyce said post-match: "It has been a long time since I experienced such highs and lows in one game. Such excitement. Both teams went out and played and tried to win it. It was end to end from the first whistle - nothing like a Premier League game."

And that's the thing, it was nothing like the vast majority of Premier League games.

You couldn't turn this one over to watch Celebrity Big Brother!

Don't get me wrong there can be drama in the Premier League, and yes that old chestnut about everyone being able to beat each other still has a grain of truth in it, such as when Newcastle defeated Chelsea and Stoke won at Manchester City, but too often this season I've found myself feeling short changed by England's top flight rather than inspired.

Last season was fascinating with the unexpected entry of Liverpool under Brendan Rodgers into the title race and all that was going on at Manchester United following Sir Alex Ferguson's exit. Lift off has yet to take place this term though.

So many of the fixtures have turned into chess matches and are about as interesting. You rarely get two sets of footballers playing with the sense of freedom that they did at Upton Park on Tuesday night.

You also rarely hear criticism of the Premier League because the TV rights holders have so much invested in it. Sky Sports are never shy to inform us how glorious it is yet the lack of overall quality is evidence that it does not merit such a mantle.

Take Chelsea and City out of the equation and maybe even Southampton, who have impressed this season, and the rest aren't up to much and that includes big hitters like Manchester United, Arsenal and Liverpool, who have major improving to do in the second part of the campaign.

United have been average from August and are fourth!

In terms of truly world class players, the Premier League has at most a handful... compared with say Real Madrid, Barcelona and Bayern Munich, who you could argue have a minimum of five apiece.

It was telling that at the Ballon d'Or earlier this week - which the Irish FA clearly decided was too small fry for them and couldn't be bothered to send their voting application in on time - in the 2014 World XI selected by players from around the globe only one Premier League star made the cut... Manchester United's Angel di Maria.

And that was for what he did in helping Real Madrid win the Champions League and his World Cup displays for Argentina rather than the little he has produced for the Red Devils since arriving in the summer.

The Premier League may be the biggest on the planet with all the revenue and massive worldwide audiences, but it is not the best.

In terms of knockout competitions though, more games like West Ham's victory over Everton and the FA Cup might just win back its crown of best cup competition in the world. The Eastenders nailbiter was a throwback to the days when the trophy really mattered. We can only hope that in the rounds to come, other teams follow their exciting and uplifting example.

Belfast Telegraph

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