Underdogs have their day

Above: Newport County's unlikely 2-1 triumph over the 2016 Premier League champions Leicester City in the third round of the FA Cup on Sunday exemplified the romance of the competition, leaving fans like this man struggling to contain his delight and
Above: Newport County's Padraig Amond celebrates scoring the winner against Leicester with teammate Mickey Demetriou. The humble Welsh club, who are former Uefa Cup quarter-finalists, have endured a chequered history and went bust in 1989, only to reform and climb back slowly from the lowest ranks of minor-league football.PHOTO: REUTERS
Above: Newport County's unlikely 2-1 triumph over the 2016 Premier League champions Leicester City in the third round of the FA Cup on Sunday exemplified the romance of the competition, leaving fans like this man struggling to contain his delight and
Above: Newport County's unlikely 2-1 triumph over the 2016 Premier League champions Leicester City in the third round of the FA Cup on Sunday exemplified the romance of the competition, leaving fans like this man struggling to contain his delight and disbelief. PHOTO: REUTERS

Newport, Barnet and Oldham show why FA Cup continues to thrill with giant-killing feats

LONDON • Try telling Padraig Amond, Shaquile Coulthirst or Callum Lang - an unlikely trio of footballing journeymen - that the FA Cup has lost its lustre.

Try persuading the fans of Newport County, Barnet and Oldham Athletic, who all rejoiced in classic giant-killing feats on Sunday, that the grand old competition has mislaid its power to amaze and delight.

The Cup will, once again, likely be won by one of the Premier League's big guns in May, but the traditional third-round weekend at the turn of the year offered a timely reminder of why it remains close to the heart of English fans.

After minor league Barnet had stunned four-time winners and Championship side Sheffield United 1-0 away with Coulthirst's penalty and fourth-tier Oldham beat Premier League side Fulham 2-1 with Lang's late header, the best was saved for last.

At Newport's rocking Rodney Parade, Amond's 85th-minute penalty sealed an unforgettable 2-1 win over 2016 English champions Leicester City.

The humble Welsh club, former Uefa Cup quarter-finalists, have endured a chequered history and went bust in 1989, only to reform and climb back slowly from the lowest ranks of minor-league football.

Two seasons ago, they seemed certain to slip out of fourth-tier League Two and back into obscurity.

But, under manager Michael Flynn, who took over with them 11 points adrift at the bottom, they have been transformed and now own a place in FA Cup folklore.

The club, 13th in League Two, came close last year when another Amond goal took them to within eight minutes of beating Tottenham before Harry Kane equalised and Spurs won the replay 2-0.

This time, Amond made sure Newport would not be denied as he tucked away a nerveless penalty, shortly after Leicester's Rachid Ghezzal's piledriver had cancelled out Jamille Matt's early opener.

Newport survived the anxious final minutes to record their first win over a top-flight club since beating Sheffield Wednesday in the third round in 1963-64.

"It's almost Roy of the Rovers stuff. It's the first time I've beaten a Premier League club as a manager so it's one I'll never forget," said Flynn, who joined his players for boxes of peri peri chicken delivered to the home dressing room.

"It's massive for the club to be in the fourth round again and to get some much-needed finances."

Darren Currie, handed the Barnet manager's job on a temporary basis last month, praised the fearlessness of his side after their shock win over Sheffield United, flying high in third place in the Championship.

It is the first time the National League side have reached the fourth round since 2008 and they were the lowest-ranked team in yesterday's draw.

"They've been brilliant. I was proud of them in the two previous games, but this takes it to a whole new level," Currie said of his team.

Oldham caretaker manager Pete Wild, who has been in charge for less than a fortnight since Frankie Bunn's exit, saw his side bridge a 59-place gap in the English league pyramid to upset Fulham.

"We're from a small town overshadowed by big neighbours and I'm so proud to give something back," he said.

Fulham manager Claudio Ranieri accused his players of lacking passion, saying: "We need the fire, the passion, the blood. We need everything if we want to be safe. That is the real problem."

THE GUARDIAN, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 08, 2019, with the headline 'Underdogs have their day'. Print Edition | Subscribe