How Magic Was the FA Cup Third Round?

How magic was this season's FA Cup third round? We've looked at some of the ties that promised significant cupsets and assessed their magical output.

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11 January 2016, 4:55pm

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Think the FA Cup is just another domestic knockout competition? Then you're probably some kind of free-thinking anarchist who needs locking away. As the BBC Sport Twitter account and it's bantertastic, Emoji-obsessed operator never tired of telling us this weekend, you've got to love a bit of the FA Cup. After all, it's magic.

But just how magic was this season's third round? We've looked at some of the ties that promised significant #cupsets and assessed their magical output.

OXFORD UNITED 3-2 SWANSEA CITY

League Two side Oxford United dispatched Premier League strugglers Swansea with a 3-2 win on Sunday afternoon, punching up three divisions to heap misery on the South Wales club. It was among the most magical moments of this most magic of rounds.

What's weird about this one, however, is that if you wind the clock back to the mid-80s, this result would have been looked at very differently. Back then, Oxford played in the top tier and the Swans were in the old fourth division, the opposite of today's scenario. Oxford should perhaps dwell upon those wisest of words: "Time may change me, but I can't change time." They can also look forward to a place in the fourth round.

MAGIC FACTOR: David Blaine in his perspex box

EXETER CITY 2-2 LIVERPOOL

This game got the full BBC treatment, so we really knew it was magical. They laid it on impressively thick, with studio dwellers Gary Lineker, Alan Shearer and Ian Wright-Wright-Wright talking up a classic #cupset. It was all topped off by Guy Mowbray's final words before kick-off: "This feels like a real throwback."

And yes, it did. A throwback to the last time Liverpool faced an away tie at a struggling League Two side in the third round of the FA Cup, which was a full year and three days earlier when the Reds took on AFC Wimbledon at Kingsmeadow. That game was live on BBC television and the commentator was Guy Mowbray. You have to wonder if Guy applies such criteria to other yearly events. When Mrs Mowbray sets the turkey down on the table for Christmas dinner, does Guy clasp his hands together and boom, "This feels like a real throwback"? I think he must. And I wonder how Mrs M. copes.

It was actually a really good game, with Liverpool's youngsters battling back twice to earn a replay and leave Jurgen Klopp bemused at how much football we insist on playing in this country.

MAGIC FACTOR: Sabrina the Teenage Witch

WYCOMBE WANDERERS 1-1 ASTON VILLA

Some commentators have suggested that Villa should accept their fate and start preparing for life in the Championship. Nonsense. On the basis of this, they'd better start preparing for life in League Two. Their boss Remi Garde is still winless in England, and their captain has his hands full arguing with disgruntled fans. Being horrifically shite is a sad way to end more than two decades of bland mediocrity.

Was this result magic? Weirdly, it feels a bit of a missed opportunity. Villa are so, so bad that Wycombe should really have killed them off in the home tie. The Premier League side will presumably sneak a 1-0 win at Villa Park, handing Oxford an easy fourth round fixture. Every cloud...

MAGIC FACTOR: Paul Daniels, but no Debbie McGee

EASTLEIGH 1-1 BOLTON WANDERERS

Similar vibes here. Bolton are rock bottom of the Championship and in the most spectacular of money trouble, their financial future looking about as rosy as Woolworth's. Despite the obvious gap, National Division promotion chasers Eastleigh should have done the job first time around, gone for the jugular, stuck the knife in, and other needlessly violent images. It's hard to begrudge Chris Todd's boys though, and we can't deny that there was a touch of magic in the air on Saturday. Actually, no, it was rain. Loads of horrible rain.

MAGIC FACTOR: Two rabbits, one hat

MANCHESTER UNITED 1-0 SHEFFIELD UNITED

It's entirely possible that Alex Ferguson made a deal with the Devil some time in 1990, when he was on the brink of being sacked by Manchester United. It's wholly feasible that Fergie went out to a crossroads, met Lucifer himself, and asked to manage the greatest football side England has ever seen. And the Devil, agreeable chap that he is, took Fergie's tactics book and wrote some drills in it in red biro, and from that day onwards United morphed into the team that would eventually rule our domestic game.

Now, however, with Fergie gone, the Devil is exacting his revenge. Principally by making United an absolute horrorshow to watch, even against League One opposition. On Saturday they were turgid and toothless, eventually winning thanks to a late penalty dispatched cooly by Wayne Rooney. That did little to quiet the dissenters, however. Magic-wise it promised much, with Sheffield United agonisingly close to earning a replay at Bramall Lane, but eventually fell short. The devil, of course, is in the detail.

MAGIC FACTOR: A dead otter