24 January 2015

FA Cup 4th Round: Whiskey. Tango. Foxtrot. Arsenal had better mind its P's and Q's.

If you thought Man U's draw with Cambridge on Friday was nuts, you hadn't seen anything yet. Saturday brought us some stunning, stunning results. Chelsea, out. Bradford smashed them for four goals to win 2-4 at Stamford Bridge. Not to be outdone, Middlesbrough went into the Etihad and handed Man City their second consecutive loss at home, keeping a clean sheet in an 0-2 win. From there, the results may lose a bit of the drama but only by comparison. Tottenham lost 1-2 Leicester and Southampton lost 2-3 to Crystal Palace. At least Spurs and the Saints can point to their opponents being in the Prem. Cambridge, Bradford, and Middlesbrough haven't had a whiff of first division football in ages. It all augurs well for Arsenal. Then again, could we be the next ones to be out on our arses?

It would be easy to look at how lower sides have laid waste to bigger, more-expensive clubs and say to ourselves, "perfect." Yes, Man U and Liverpool still have replays and find their way through to the fifth round, but the larger picture we're peering at makes it feel like defending the FA Cup just got a whole lot easier. With Chelsea, Man City, and Southampton, we're rid of rivals who have bedeviled us. While we've fared pretty well against Man City, winning twice and drawing once, Chelsea and Southampton have all but had their ways with us. The ouster of Tottenham might actually be a let-down, as it deprives us of a chance to do the deed ourselves. Still, before we can go counting on chickens, we have a few Seagulls to contend with first.

If you think for a second that we're the only club looking Saturday's results and revelling a bit, find the closest blunt object and apply it forcefully to your forehead a few times. Brighton, already flying high after seeing off Ipswich on Wednesday, have to be looking at how many Goliaths were slain. Even if Cambridge and Bolton succumb to Man U and Liverpool in the replays, the energy that Brighton should draw from these results will be something. Part of the pageantry and magic of the FA Cup comes from how it gives minnows a chance to land a haymaker square on the chin of their supposed betters, laying low those who look down their noses at the unwashed masses from the hinterlands. Indeed, in each of the infamous results mentioned above, the away-fans who showed up at Stamford Bridge, the Etihad, and White Hart Lane helped to infuse the lads on the pitch with a passion, determination, and intensity that no amount of money can rent.

Make no mistake, the Gulls will gather strength from what we've seen. If we're distracted by the apparently imminent signing of Gabriel, well, so much the better for Brighton. And Hove Albion. As if we need no further reminder, we've had our own fair share of struggles against the B-sides. Birmingham. Bradford. Blackburn. Heck, Brighton themselves already had given us a scare the last time we squared off. We may be the cup-holders, but I sincerely doubt that they're going to cower in fear at our arrival. If we can't rise to the occasion and raise our game, well, we'll end up with just as much egg on our faces as our rivals have, perhaps even more because we've been served with ample warning.

I love the FA Cup for precisely the madness we've witnessed to this point, but I do hope the Fates have had their fill for one weekend. If we can take matters into our own hands and play with the kind of determination and focus we showed last week at the Etihad, the week before that against Stoke, or again the FA Cup third round against Hull, well, we should have no trouble going through to the fifth. Then again, when have we ever made it easy on ourselves?