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William Wordsworth

'Methinks that there abides in thee, a love for the FA Cup round three!'

For some, the magic of the FA Cup has breathed its last. The once great competition is but a bloated, inconvenient corpse exuding a fetid stench of deathly decay amid more fragrant and important competitions.

But for others, the drama and romance of the world’s oldest cup competition lives on. That is why In Off The Ghost has decided to feature a round-up of the recent FA Cup third round ties from someone who can really appreciate romance, former poet laureate William Wordsworth.

‘Oh reader! The FA Cup returns! No competition in any walk of life that pits men against men in the game of football conjures the qualities in humanity that are so beautiful. The passion of the players, the joy of victory and the despair in defeat. From the Bescott Stadium to Bramall Lane, from Anfield to Sixfields. The FA Cup third round, above all other things, makes me wish with all my heart that I was alive again, to smell the atmosphere, to be a part of the unified voice of the common man in the sell out crowd. To hear them cheering their team on to impossible victory filled by hope’s perpetual breath. To witness that most wonderous of football phenomena: the FA Cup giant killing.

This year the third round has once again proven wrong those who doubt that the FA Cup is still the world’s premier football competition. There was a rollercoaster of wonder and excitement in the top tie of the round as the nation witnessed Man Utd 0-1 Leeds. Jermaine Beckford danced past the Man Utd defence with divine grace and rolled the ball past Tomasz Kuszczak to give the League 1 side a majestic scalp of the most sublime proportions. Dull would he be of soul who could pass by a sight so touching in its majesty!

Another tremendous encounter that my heart leapt up to behold was Reading 1-1 Liverpool. Simon Church’s goal had Rafa Benitez praying his side could redeem themselves as Grzegorz Rasiak wandered lonely as a cloud at the back post to provide the assist. However, salvation came in the form of Steven Gerrard, as he gracefully sent a shot skimming across the lush green turf of the Madejski Stadium to crush the tender hope blooming in Reading hearts.

Other results of note on this most magical of days include Portsmouth 1-1 Coventry, with another Championship side valiantly defying a Premiership outfit entry to the fourth round. The fact that the Premiership team was Portsmouth does not diminish this tremendous display of heroism and pride as a goal from City’s David Bell almost provided the upset we all expect to see from the famous FA Cup third round. But a header from Kevin Prince Boateng levelled the scores for struggling Pompey and sent the terraces into wild spasms of unmitigated ecstasy.

Finally, my heart cannot help but mention courageous Carlisle, who almost rocked the footballing world at Goodison park until being narrowly defeated as their game finished Everton 3-1 Carlisle.’

‘Here are the results in full of a momentous, magical, magnificent FA Cup third round:

Accrington P-P Gillingham
Aston Villa 3-1 Blackburn
Blackpool 1-2 Ipswich
Bolton 4-0 Lincoln
Brentford P-P Doncaster
Bristol City P-P Cardiff
Chelsea 5 – 0 Watford
Everton 3-1 Carlisle
Fulham 1-0 Swindon
Huddersfield 0-2 West Brom
Leicester 2-1 Swansea
Manchester Utd 0–1 Leeds Utd
Middlesbrough 0-1 Man City
Millwall 1-1 Derby
MK Dons 1-2 Burnley
Nottm Forest 0-0 Birmingham
Notts Co P-P Forest Green
Plymouth 0-0 Newcastle
Portsmouth 1-1 Coventry
Preston 7-0 Colchester
Reading 1-1 Liverpool
Scunthorpe 1-0 Barnsley
Sheff Utd 1-1 QPR
Sheff Wed 1-2 Crystal Palace
Southampton 1-0 Luton Town
Stoke 3-1 York
Sunderland 3-0 Barrow
Torquay United 0-1 Brighton
Tottenham 4-0 Peterborough
Tranmere 0 – 1 Wolves
West Ham Utd 1 – 2 Arsenal
Wigan 4-1 Hull

It has oft been said that nothing can breed such fear and awe, as that which falls upon us often when we see the FA Cup fourth round draw:

Southampton v Ipswich
Reading/Liverpool v Burnley
Millwall/Derby v Brentford/Doncaster
Bristol City/Cardiff v Leicester
Stoke v Arsenal
Notts County/Forest Green v Wigan
Scunthorpe v Man City
West Brom v Plymouth/Newcastle
Everton v Nottm Forest/Birmingham
Accrington/Gillingham v Fulham
Bolton v Sheff Utd/QPR
Portsmouth/Coventry v Sunderland
Preston v Chelsea
Aston Villa v Brighton
Wolves v Crystal Palace
Tottenham v Leeds’

(All material in this blog is entirely fictional and does not represent the views or opinions of anyone, alive or dead, other than those of the author.)

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In Off The Ghost Premier League Obituaries

'Ashes to ashes, Wigan to Wolves'

Friends, family and fans. The time has come for In Off The Ghost to pay its last respects to the final round of festive Premier League matches. Some of you will look back fondly at the good times. For others however, the pain will still be too fresh (our thoughts are with Wolves and Portsmouth fans in particular).

Aston Villa 0-1 Liverpool

A Fernando Torres goal at the death snatched a vital win for Liverpool against Champions League rivals Aston Villa, who will be left mourning Richard Dunne’s untimely stumble.

This match is survived by: A sense of sympathy for Villa and especially the impressive Richard Dunne, who did not deserve to be the fall guy.

Blackburn 2-2 Sunderland

Darren Bent

'Balls'

A Darren Bent brace was not enough to earn a much-needed three points for Sunderland as fan favourite and all round nice chap El Hadji Diouf provided a lifeline for Blackburn.

This match is survived by: Unease from both sets of supporters as early season promise dies a slow and painful death.

Bolton 2-2 Hull

Bolton threw away a two goal lead, conceding two Stephen Hunt goals in seven minutes after Ivan Klasnic and the evergreen elbows of Kevin Davies had given them the lead.

This match is survived by: Bolton’s search for a new manager after the news that Gary Megson’s reign as boss had bitten the dust. Megson spent a significant amount of the Trotter’s cash during his tenure, with nothing to show but a Bolton side that are as potent as Pele after an all night drinking session.

Chelsea 2-1 Fulham

Didier Drogba

'Argh, there's my plane!'

A masterful Didier Drogba performance and an own goal from debutant Chris Smalling put a resilient Fulham to the sword after Zoltan Gera had given the Cottagers an early lead.

This match is survived by: The feeling that Drogba going to the African Cup of Nations will be the worst withdrawal at Chelsea since Adrian Mutu went cold turkey.

Everton 2-0 Burnley

Two goals in the final ten minutes from James Vaughan and Stephen Pienaar sealed Burnley’s fate and condemned them to a ninth successive league game without a win.

This match is survived by: Burnley’s capitulation after an impressive start to the season, as their league form plummets faster than the house prices. Fortunately, Burnley’s good fortunes at their home show no signs of fading.

Stoke 0-1 Birmingham

Alex McLeish

'Hmmm, what else I can sell?'

A scrappy Cameron Jerome goal was the final nail in Stoke’s Christmas coffin as Birmingham marched on to an eleventh game unbeaten.

This match is survived by: The growing certainty that Alex McLeish must have sold his soul to turn City into contenders for European football.

Tottenham 2-0 West Ham

The returning Luca Modric and West Ham favourite Jermaine Defoe netted to finish off a lifeless West Ham.

This match is survived by: Confidence in the Spurs camp. After a day of returns, Tottenham show no signs of leaving the Champions League places anytime soon.

Wolves 0-3 Man City

Jody Craddock

'Oh God, here he comes again!'

Wolves were led to the slaughter by two goals from a rampaging Carlos Tevez and a cunning Javier Garrido free-kick. Craig Bellamy exorcised the spectre of Robinho by consistently slaughtering poor Jody Craddock.

This match is survived by: The need for someone to tell Roberto Mancini that it takes more than beating Wolves to turn a ragtag bunch of millionaires into title winners.

Portsmouth 1-4 Arsenal

A Fabregas deprived Arsenal murdered bottom of the table Portsmouth at Fratton Park, with Eduardo, Samir Nasri, Aaron Ramsey and Alex Song all accomplices.

This match is survived by: The feeling that despite the potential of Arsenal’s exciting young prospects, they will inevitably flatter to deceive. Portsmouth seem to be on their last legs and the vultures are circling. Both rival clubs and the administrators look set to be knocking on the door of Fratton Park in 2010.

Man Utd 5-0 Wigan

Titus Bramble

Hands up if you belong in the Championship.

Another trouncing for Wigan as they continue to haemorrhage goals. The champions maintain their recent good form thanks to goals from Wayne Rooney, Michael Carrick, Rafael Da Silva, Dimitar Berbatov and Antonio Valencia.

This match is survived by: Alex Ferguson’s belief that his side will only get stronger after this mauling. However, Fergie should take any result against a side with Titus Bramble and Emerson Boyce in defence with a large heap of salt.

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Premier League Review

'Now where did I put my scalpel?'

Now that this round of fixtures are over, the time has come for the resident In Off The Ghost pathologist to snap on a pair of rubber gloves, grab the scalpel and dissect the bloated corpse that is this week’s Premier League action.

Birmingham 0 – 0 Chelsea

Birmingham City held the league leaders to a scoreless draw at St. Andrews after an unfairly disallowed goal for Birmingham’s absurdly monikered Christian ‘ChuCho’ Benitez and some wayward finishing from Ancelotti’s outfit.

Deceased: Chelsea’s record of scoring in every game this season.

Cause of Death: The centre back pairing of Roger Johnson and Scott Dann accompanied by keeper Joe Hart did enough to starve the Londoners of a much-needed goal. Malouda missing a sitter late on added insult to injury.

Burnley 1 – 1 Bolton

David Nugent - Rubbish.

Burnley clawed their way back from the brink of defeat thanks to a David Nugent header cancelling out a lethal Matthew ‘Matty’ Taylor free kick.

Deceased: Those jokes about David Nugent being rubbish (well for a day or two at least).

Cause of Death: Nugent propelling his squama frontalis into a Wade Elliot cross. A stunning display of defensive rigor mortis from Bolton’s Gretar Steinsson was also a contributing factor.

Fulham 0 – 0 Tottenham

Stalemate at Craven Cottage as any decent opportunities were duly snuffed out by in form keepers.

Deceased: Tottenham’s swashbuckling, free scoring football.

Cause of Death: A well organised and hard-working Fulham rear guard action and some top-notch goal-keeping prevented anyone striking first blood.

Liverpool 2 – 0 Wolves

Steven Gerrard heads Liverpool's opener

How to get ahead.

Liverpool return to winnings ways after the horror show at Fratton Park, killing off a Wolves side weakened by the loss of Stephen Ward to a red card.

Deceased: Steven Gerrard’s recent poor form and Andre Marriner’s vision.

Cause of Death: Steven Gerrard turned in a glorious performance and got higher than heavenly Hendrix to head home Liverpool’s opening goal. Andre Marriner however must have been hoping for Anfield to swallow him up after booking Christophe Berra instead of Stephen Ward.

Man City 2 – 0 Stoke

Roberto Mancini’s Man City reign began with a victory as Martin Petrov (remember him?) and Carlos Tevez struck to seal Stoke’s fate.

Deceased: The Mark Hughes era at City was laid to rest at Eastlands.

Cause of Death: The spectre of ghoulish defending that has haunted Man City’s season so far was banished by a solid display from Vincent Kompany and Kolo Toure. Also the absence of Micah Richards for the first 66 minutes may have helped.

Sunderland 1 – 1 Everton

Marouane Felliani’s thumping 86th minute equaliser salvaged a point for Everton after cancelling out Darren Bent’s 17th minute opener.

Deceased: Steve Bruce’s composure appears to be on its last legs after seeing his Sunderland side booed off for drawing at home to Everton.

Cause of Death: In a game with more twists than Steve Bruce’s nose, Felliani and Stephen Pienaar were the stand out performers as Everton outplayed the Black Cats. Unrealistic expectations from some sections of the Sunderland faithful are only adding to the gloom at the Stadium of Light.

West Ham 2 – 0 Portsmouth

West Ham manager Gianfranco Zola

Just shave it off.

An Alessandro Diamante penalty and a bullet header from Radoslav Kovac fire West Ham to victory and blow a hole in Portsmouth’s survival hopes.

Deceased: The brittle confidence that Pompey had mustered after their win over Liverpool was smashed by defeat in this relegation six pointer.

Cause of Death: The midfield dynamism of Scott Parker coupled with the creativity of Diamante enabled West Ham to claim the points. The return of the influential Jack Collision will be welcome to a West Ham squad thinner than Gianfranco Zola’s hairline.

Wigan 1 – 1 Blackburn

Hugo Rodellega buried Maynor Figueroa’s cross to cancel out an early Benni McCarthy strike as the points were shared at the DW Stadium.

Deceased: Benni McCarthy’s barren run in front of goal bit the dust as he scored his first goal of the season.

Cause of Death: Transparent marking allowed McCarthy to ghost in behind the Wigan defence and score. A fine save from Chris Kirkland was needed to deny McCarthy an acrobatic winner.

Arsenal 3 -0 Aston Villa

Fabregas bags a brace for Arsenal

Let's talk about Cesc baby.

A 27 minute cameo appearance from Cesc Fabregas stopped Aston Villa dead in their tracks as the Arsenal captain bags a brace before limping off with a hamstring injury.

Deceased: Aston Villa’s run of 8 games without defeat and 5 games without conceding a goal comes to an abrupt end at the Emirates.

Cause of Death: The introduction of Fabregas served to unravel a resolute Villa defence and provided the best 30 minute Spanish show since the demise of Eldorado. Abou Diaby fired home a third as Aston Villa gave up the ghost, however Villa are still firmly in the hunt for the hallowed ground of fourth place.

Hull 1 – 3 Man Utd

Wayne Rooney had a hand in all four goals as the Champions overcame a spirited Hull City at the KC Stadium.

Deceased: Manchester United’s defensive worries appear to be coming to an end as both Wes Brown and Nemanja Vidic impress.

Cause of Death: Rooney scored United’s first before playing a catastrophic back pass which led to a penalty for Hull. Rooney made amends for his error in the second half by creating both of United’s subsequent goals. This mercurial performance was apparently spurred on by the fear of the famous hairdryer treatment from Ferguson. This comes as some surprise as he has told us before that he finds the sound of a hairdryer quite soothing.

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