Top-flight sides Brighton and Aston Villa lost to lower-league opposition in the third round of the FA Cup on Saturday, while Watford and Newcastle squandered first-half leads to teams in relegation trouble in the third tier to be taken to replays.
The upsets kept coming in the world’s oldest club knockout competition, as teams fighting to avoid relegation from the lucrative Premier League rotated their starting lineups after a packed festive schedule and came unstuck.
Sheffield Wednesday won 1-0 at Brighton, and Fulham – another side seeking promotion from the second-tier League Championship – beat Villa 2-1 thanks to a dipping, long-range winner from substitute Harry Arter.
Watford has been resurgent in the Premier League, winning three of its last four games to ignite hopes of staying up, but showed signs of its early-season poor form in slipping from 3-0 ahead after 34 minutes to draw 3-3 against Tranmere, who scored in the 65th, 78th and 87th minutes.
Watford also ended the match with 10 men following the 89th-minute red card to Argentina midfielder Roberto Pereyra.
Also facing a replay is Newcastle, after 40-year-old striker Aaron Wilbraham scored an 80th-minute equalizer for Rochdale in a 1-1 draw.
Newcastle, which has not gone beyond the fourth round since 2006. went ahead through Miguel Almiron’s 17th-minute strike – the Paraguay playmaker’s second goal in two weeks after having gone his first 11 months at the northeast club without scoring.
A replay, which is likely to take place on Jan. 14 or 15, was the last thing Newcastle or Watford needed after playing four games in 11 days over Christmas and the new year. Newcastle’s squad, in particular, was hit hard by injuries during the festive period and the team picked up two more injuries at Spotland as Almiron (groin) and Yoshinori Muto (hip) were forced off in the second half.
“We knew Rochdale would try and do something in the second half and they punished us,” Newcastle manager Steve Bruce said. “Credit to Aaron Wilbraham – he’s been around longer than I have!”
Burnley, Southampton and Norwich avoided upsets to book their places in the fourth round.
Burnley beat third-tier Peterborough 4-2, with striker Jay Rodriguez scoring twice, Southampton beat second-tier Huddersfield 2-0 and Norwich won 4-2 at Preston, with Irish striker Adam Idah scoring a hat trick.
Premier League teams entered the FA Cup at the third-round stage and there was one match between two top-flight rivals later Saturday, with Wolverhampton hosting Manchester United. Manchester City also began the defense of its title in a home match against fourth-tier Port Vale.
A one-minute delay preceded Saturday’s games to raise awareness of a mental-health campaign, “Heads Up,” which is spearheaded by English Football Association president Prince William.
Steve Douglas is at www.twitter.com/sdouglas80