By Site Reporter
Saturday 26 Jan 2019 20:21:00
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Some people will have you believe the FA Cup is on its last legs. Some have been trying to convince others of this for a good few years. Some want it scrapped and a new competition devised to replace it.

They're all wrong and misguided, of course. I've thought all along they were wrong. I thought before Pompey took on QPR (for the first time in the competition, by the way, despite having had 223 campaigns between them). And after an afternoon in the Fratton wind and rain, I'm more convinced than ever I was and am right. And maybe if some who thought the end was nigh for the Cup were there to soak it up, they will also now think otherwise.

It's certainly true that some big clubs don't take the FA Cup as seriously as they should. And when those few misguided club owners tell managers to play weakened teams and not worry about losing, of course plenty of their fans will vote with their feet.

But it is as true now as it has been for many years that if you pair up two clubs who do see the FA Cup as a proper competition, one they want to do well in, their fans will treat it in the same way, and you have a fair chance of 90 decent watchable minutes of football. It's simple really.

Today's Fratton Park FA Cup fare was fantastic, I thought. A packed stadium, more than a hint of tension before the game between the two sets of fans (it's a long time since I walked round past the south-east corner of the ground and along the back of the Milton End half thinking that things could kick off), a nice bit of traditional English FA Cup weather, two good, pacy teams who wanted to win, and no-one being too sure who was going to go through.

A draw, of course, was about the last thing Pompey wanted and the same is probably true for Steve McClaren and his team. Both camps can safely say their priority for the rest of the season is league matters. Pompey want to secure automatic promotion, QPR must still think they have half a chance of the play-offs. So, of course, a draw it was. Clearly, neither side was that desperate to get knocked out.

The first half was nip and tuck. Pompey had plenty of the ball but found QPR hard to break down, as you'd expect from Championship visitors. But it was all quite absorbing and you felt Pompey were giving a decent account of themselves.

The second half was better, as second halves this season have often been. Pompey had the bit between their teeth and Louis Dennis, now on the right having struggled to make an impression in a central role, was excellent. He did more than enough to suggest that, if called upon in what remains of the campaign, he won't let us down.

Dennis linked well with Gareth Evans down the right, as did Lee Brown with Ronan Curtis down the left. Brett Pitman covered much ground and perhaps with more match sharpness would have volleyed in the chance presented to him by Dennis's brilliant pass early in the second half.

Pompey's goal, one of the 'own' variety, created by Brown's teasing cross, raised the roof. That was not the noise of a set of fans indifferent about whether their team would be in the hat for the fifth round.

Incidentally, Pompey History Society's Graham Dubber, who I had a good pre-match chat with in Frogmore Road, believes this is the first time the Blues have been in the fifth-round draw as a third or fourth-tier club. He and I will be among those tuned into the JY Prog on Radio 2 at 12.30pm on Monday to hear football correspondent Bryon Butler take us into the committee room at Lancaster Gate, where Bert Millichip and Ted Croker will draw the balls out of the velvet bag with not a hint of showbiz in the place nor an ex-winner in sight.

You never felt particularly safe with a 1-0 lead and sure enough, the deep pink-shirted Hoops moved up a gear and got their equaliser through Nahki Wells. Certain Pompey teams of both the distant and recent past would have gone on to lose 2-1 in the face of higher-division opposition pressure, but this is a more resilient Blues outfit (one that again here suggested the Championship, if reached, needn't be feared) and if anyone looked likelier to grab a late winner, it was Kenny Jackett's team.

In fact the whole back-line deserve great credit for keeping a potentially tricky Rangers forward line pretty quiet, and giving Craig MacGillivray a quietish afternoon. Jack Whatmough was a popular choice as man of the match.

Afterwards Radio 5's man at Fratton, Jonathan Overend, was quite sniffy about the whole affair, saying it was unfortunate that the late mass brawl, sparked by a late tackle on Curtis, was the most memorable bit. He's entitled to his opinion, of course, but had he been sat nearer the pitch, affected by the swirling rain and wanting one side or the other to have won, I think he'd have enjoyed it much more.

And that's all it's about really. The FA Cup continues to give us a game or three off from the pressures of those league games where sometimes it feels like every week is must-win-at-all-costs, and continues to matter itself.

For that reason, the people who have been writing the Cup's obituaries in recent years have, I'm afraid to tell them, been wasting their time. There are plenty of fans including, I might add, a good number of the 'next generation' of supporters who love the Cup, love watching their team in it, and want them to get as far as they can in it. They range from fans of clubs who could win the thing, to supporters of teams who just want the occasional big tie or upset.

The authorities can scrap replays; mess about with days and kick-off times for ties to be played; they can wheel out their stupid, unwanted VAR when they fancy; they can try to call it by a sponsor's name. But it's the FA Cup and it's bigger than all of that - and it'll be going strong long after lesser competitions have been long forgotten.

Now then, when do replay tickets go on sale?

Pompey: MacGillivray; Walkes, Whatmough, Clarke, Brown; Naylor, Donohue (Close 80); Evans, Dennis, Curtis; Pitman. Subs not used: Bass, Burgess, Haunstrup, Morris, May, Maloney Referee:Gavin Ward Attendance:19,378 (2,881 away fans)

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