In a week whereby the public feared a Manchester United crisis, and supporters questioned whether the FA Cup had lost it's charm, an intriguing set of third round results silenced the critics justifiably.
The Sunday lunchtime offering of the Manchester derby was a feast as United prevailed by 3 goals to 2, avenging their demons from the 6-1 demolition by City earlier on in October. Sir Alex Ferguson's Red Devils reached round four with some difficulty after a scintillating first-half display as they cruised into a 3-0 lead.
United led by this scoreline at half-time courtesy of talisman Wayne Rooney's brace, the latter a penalty rebound with a Danny Welbeck half-volleyed effort between these strikes. City's cause was not helped by a harsh 12th minute dismissal to their defensive linchpin Vincent Kompany for what referee Chris Foy deemed a two-footed lunge on Nani. Replays confirmed Foy's decision as harsh.
After the break however, Mancini's men responded brilliantly and found some early impetus for an unlikely comeback when one of Aleksandar Kolarov's trademark free kicks whistled past Lindegaard in the United goal. On 65 minutes a City comeback looked all the more likely with Sergio Aguero pouncing on a fumbled Lindegaard save.
Despite a City onslaught and a real claim for a penalty at 3-2 when a Kolarov cross rebounded clearly off Phil Jones' arm, a United side joined by the unlikely appearance of Paul Scholes on his return to the club had enough grit to maintain their lead and reach round four. United will meet none other than their old foes Liverpool in the next round who themselves defeated Oldham Athletic 5-1 on Friday night at Anfield.
Elsewhere, cup shocks were the order of the day at the County Ground and the Madejski as League Two Swindon overcame Premier League Wigan 2-1 and League One Stevenage defeated high-flying Reading of the Championship 1-0. An emotional Swindon manager Paulo Di Canio said of their feat 'My lads today deserve to have their names put on this stadium'. It was in fact the Premier League side that went ahead after Callum McManaman reacted quickest to a Ben Watson missed penalty which struck the Robins' post. Swindon's win was all the more impressive after Alan Connell's and Paul Benson's strikes either side of the half turned the tie and sealed their dream passage through into the next round.
Stevenage's impressive fate was sealed as a solitary Darius Charles effort won the game. Unlikely results also included Sheffield Wednesday's 1-0 win against West Ham and League One's MK Dons draw with Premier League QPR.
There were also great drawn efforts by non-League Wrexham who earned a replay at Brighton and Dagenham who will have another chance to spar with fellow Londoners' Millwall at the New Den.
Bowing out at this stage however are Blue Square Premier Fleetwood who went down 1-5 to local rivals Blackpool in the 'cod derby' aided by a Matt Phillips hat-trick. Tamworth's dreams are also over after a brave 2-0 defeat at Everton.
London giants Chelsea and Tottenham will be represented in round four after they defeated Portsmouth and Cheltenham respectively. Michael Appleton's Pompey did well to keep the scoreline 0-0 at half-time but the floodgates opened in the second half as Juan Mata, Frank Lampard and a Ramires' brace sealed the win. At White Hart Lane, Cheltenham couldn't spoil the current feel good factor at Spurs as Jermain Defoe, Roman Pavlyuchenko and Giovani Dos Santos strikes overcame the men from Gloucestershire.
There was also no shock at London Road as Martin O'Neill's resurgent Sunderland cruised to a 2-0 victory with a standout performance from their young Irish winger James McClean.
In terms of the fourth round draw, aside from the United-Liverpool tie, stand out fourth round fixtures include the Wear-Tees derby as Sunderland drew local rivals Middlesbrough and a potential tie between MK Dons and Chelsea if they can overcome QPR in the third round replay. What is sure is that the FA Cup is still as magic as ever, and the feats of Swindon and Stevenage serve as evidence that it will remain that way for a long time to come.
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