Magic of the cup? It’s fair to say the spell has been broken
An Irish man losing a tooth was the most exciting thing from three dull FA Cup matches
Fangless task: Josh Cullen of West Ham United, who lost a tooth in his team’s turgid draw with Shrewsbury. Photograph: Catherine Ivill/Getty Images
When a considerable chunk of the full-time analysis of the BBC’s FA Cup game on Sunday was devoted to a player losing a tooth, with Ian Wright and Alan Shearer tasked with talking us through slow-motion replays of the gnasher flying through the air, you had a notion what class of game the viewers had just endured.
And Shrewsbury v West Ham was the third FA Cup game in a row that some of us had watched live, Fleetwood v Leicester and Norwich v Chelsea being the others. Between them they produced a grand total of zero goals. And only marginally more successful passes between players wearing the same colour shirt.
And all three games felt as interminable as a DFS sale, the final whistle in each proving to be an act of mercy. You wouldn’t even need to be a very stable genius, then, to figure out that some of us weren’t feeling the Magic of the Cup™.
“West Ham just look like they don’t want to be here,” Alan said at half-time, and you sensed he felt exactly the same. Gary Lineker, meanwhile, brought us news of the day’s first major shock, Newport County beating Leeds 2-1, but their training ground had gone on fire and the entire squad had been ill, their manager told us, so they had a decent enough excuse.
West Ham had none. Apart from Ireland’s own Josh Cullen, the front tooth-losing victim, the lad heroically playing on while, Steve Wilson told us, his tooth sat in a cup of milk waiting to be reattached after the game. That was something for him to look forward to, then, apart from the replay.
The whole viewership: “Bet someone will say West Ham have been toothless.” Danny Murphy: “It’s been toothless from West Ham.”
Gary could have resisted, but he didn’t. “West Ham couldn’t manage The Taming of the Shrew,” he concluded. “There’s small choice in rotten apples.” Which was the perfect description of our selection of live games up to this point.
You can’t win
On Saturday another comedy of errors had seen off Stoke, Coventry’s triumph coming as no surprise to the BT panel, not least Tim Sherwood. “Stoke need to win this game,” he had told us before the match. “Mark Hughes cannot win. The only time he can win is by winning this football match.” John Hartson, sitting beside him, is possibly still scratching his head.
Come evening, Hughes was in the same boat as Sherwood, looking for a managerial job, a position a growing number of Arsenal devotees would like to see their gaffer find himself in after their defence of the FA Cup ended 90 minutes after it started against Nottingham Forest.
At last we had ourselves some goals, courtesy of an Arsenal defence that proved as generous as Santy and played with much the same level of composure as demonstrated by Robbie Savage in the BT commentary box, each Forest goal increasing the likelihood of commentator Darren Fletcher’s eardrums being perforated.
“We’re f***ing shit,” sang the Arsenal faithful in tribute to their team’s efforts, but Wenger had somewhat signalled his disinterest in the game by picking a team that included Theo Walcott. Perhaps, the suggestion went, he was focusing on the Carabao Cup. Although if you tried using that line to comfort your Arsenal-loving buddies, you might have lost them as friends.
Banished to the stands, having been suspended for being rude about a referee, Wenger appeared to have taken up a new seat every time the camera zoomed in on him, and somehow the same man was behind him every time: David O’Leary. He wasn’t wearing an “Available for Hire” baseball cap though, lest you wondered.
Full-time and Wenger didn’t even seem all that angry when Paul Dempsey cornered him for a chat, just weary. If he wasn’t Arsene Wenger you’d imagine he was about to throw in the towel.
Out on the pitch Forest’s Eric Lichaj was chatting about his two goals, the second of the peachy variety. “My wife told me that if I scored a hat-trick this year I’d get a dog,” he said, ruing the fact that he wasn’t allowed take either of his team’s penalties. We note from the records that Eric has never scored more than two goals in a season, never mind in a single game, so Mrs Lichaj would have gone through hell during the 46 minutes that followed his second.
It probably felt as long as a DFS sale too.