Sheffield United pulled off the major shock of the FA Cup third-round weekend when the third-tier English side triumphed 3-0 at Premier League Queens Park Rangers on Sunday.
Rangers, struggling near the foot of the Premier League table, had more misery heaped on them at their Loftus Road home, with a second-half double from winger Jamal Campbell-Ryce sealing the emphatic victory for League One’s sixth-placed team.
Arsenal began their Cup defence with a fairly serene 2-0 win, reprising their 2014 final victory over Hull City, but it was really a Sunday for the minnows of England’s lower leagues to go hunting for Premier League Goliaths with particular relish.
Amid several frights for the bigger clubs, non-league Wrexham were 10 minutes away from winning at Stoke City before late goals from Marko Arnautovic and a couple from Stephen Ireland spared the Premier League side’s blushes with a 3-1 win over the Conference side.
Premier League champions Manchester City had to come from behind with two James Milner goals to celebrate his 29th birthday and seal a 2-1 win over Championship side Sheffield Wednesday in injury time.
One of the Cup’s most famed giant-killers, Yeovil Town, gave Manchester United a couple of serious scares in the first hour before a dazzling strike on the turn from Ander Herrera and a superb breakaway goal from Angel Di Maria sealed a professional 2-0 win at the Huish Park home of the League One strugglers.
Southampton, fourth in the Premier League, had to fight back to earn a 1-1 draw at home to Championship team Ipswich Town while only an 88th-minute Christian Benteke goal enabled Aston Villa to beat the Championship stragglers Blackpool.
Chelsea, the Premier League leaders, rested some big names but shook off the hangover of their defeat at Tottenham Hotspur by overpowering Watford 3-0 with second-half goals from Willian, Loic Remy and Kurt Zouma.
Shock of the day, though, was perpetrated by Sheffield United, who had already despatched Premier League teams Southampton and West Ham en route to the Capital One (League) Cup semifinals.
They struck through their top scorer Marc McNulty after 36 minutes before Campbell-Ryce twice cashed in on poor Rangers’ defending to make mockery of the 34-place gap between the two sides.
Wrexham, 97 places below Stoke, went ahead from Mark Carrington’s 73rd-minute header, offering 5,000 travelling Welsh fans the brief daydream of repeating their celebrated 1992 giant-slaying of the then champions Arsenal.
Stoke’s late fightback amply demonstrated the superior fitness levels of the big teams, something Manchester United also showed in wearing down Yeovil.
The home side, whose entire weekly wage budget of £37 500 is about the same as Radamel Falcao’s daily earnings, competed stoutly for an hour and even had the chance to take the lead before Kieffer Moore fluffed his lines in front of David de Gea’s goal.
Then class prevailed, with Herrera’s swivel and shot on the bounce from about 25 metres out a quite stellar finish.
Arsenal, welcoming back a sprightly-looking Theo Walcott a year since his last start before his serious knee injury, were always in control after Per Mertesacker’s first-half header.
Alexis Sanchez then capped another outstanding performance with his 16th goal of the season in the 82nd minute.
Manchester City left it late to come good, Milner, in a striking role, scoring twice in the last 25 minutes after City had shown a distinct lack of invention in trying to respond to Atdhe Nuhiu’s 14th-minute goal.
Alan Pardew, an FA Cup hero in his day at Crystal Palace, took over the reins at his old club with a double from defender Scott Dann setting Palace on their way to a 4-0 stroll at Conference side Dover Athletic.
Sunderland prevailed 1-0 against the Championship’s Leeds United, a goal from Patrick van Aanholt ensuring the result mirrored that of the teams’ storied 1973 Cup final.