As we approach the quarter-final stage of the FA Cup, what once looked like an extremely open draw has reverted to type.
Six of the eight remaining teams are in the Premier League, one was playing at that level last season, and odd ones out Millwall have been this far so many times in the 21st century that it has almost become boring.
That’s not to say it’s been dull every year, and we’ve selected some of the best and most shocking giant-killings in the competition in recent years.
5. Norwich City v Luton Town 2013
When we talk about non-league clubs beating superior opposition, we’re used to them edging past third or fourth tier sides, or occasionally getting the better of more pampered clubs by bringing them down to their level on a non-league pitch. Luton, however, did none of this.
The Hatters were in the Conference when they travelled to Premier League Norwich City for a fourth-round game in January 2019, having needed a late Scott Rendell equaliser just to stay in the competition back at the first round stage.
It was Rendell who popped up again at Carrow Road, where Norwich had got the better of Manchester United just two months earlier, while solid defensive work from Janos Kovacs and wasteful finishing from Harry Kane and Wes Hoolahan ensured the Hatters emerged victorious.
4. Leicester City v Wycombe Wanderers 2001
Wycombe’s position two divisions below Premier League Leicester was only part of the reason why this was such a momentous giant-killing: shortly before their quarter-final meeting, Wycombe were so desperate for a striker that they put a call out on Ceefax for anyone to step up and save their season.
If you don’t know what Ceefax is, imagine a slower version of the internet, accessed via your TV and giving you BBC stories which you could only read a few paragraphs at a time.
Roy Essandoh answered the call – well, to be more precise, he was the one making the call – after manager Lawrie Sanchez spoke to the BBC and got his appeal for a striker out to a wider audience. The Northern Irishman was back in the UK after spells in Austria and Finland, and had been without a club since leaving Rushden & Diamonds without a goal to his name.
And then, as if propelled by the power of narrative, Essandoh came off the bench with 16 minutes remaining and fired the winner past Simon Royce. Remarkably, it was the only goal he ever scored in a Wycombe shirt.
3. Wigan Athletic v Manchester City 2018
During the 2017-18 season, only five teams beat Manchester City in any competition: Liverpool, Manchester United, Basel, Shakhtar Donetsk, and Wigan Athletic. Only one of those teams lost at home to Blackpool in the same season, and it wasn’t the 20-time Swiss champions.
Wigan had a strong season under Paul Cook, falling just short of 100 points in winning League 1, but this was Manchester City. Wigan beating City in the 2013 final was a big enough shock, and the two clubs were in the same division that season. Wigan’s win at the Etihad in 2014 was impressive enough, but they at least still had a few of the previous season’s players.
This, though, was the sort of result you wouldn’t believe unless you’d witnessed it. Wigan even had to make do without suspended captain Sam Morsy, but Will Grigg’s late strike was enough to take them through to the quarter-finals.
2. Chelsea v Bradford City 2015
Antonio Conte’s Chelsea lost even fewer games than Guardiola’s City, and could have gone the whole season unbeaten at home were it not for the unlikeliest of opponents. When the Blues went 2-0 up against League One Bradford, it looked like the visitors were on course for a third straight defeat after less exciting losses against Rochdale and Yeovil in the league. After all, this was a Blues XI including Petr Čech, Didier Drogba, Ramires and even a young Mo Salah, while they’d won every single home league game up to that point.
However, you should never underestimate the narrative power of an academy player scorned. After Jon Stead had halved the deficit shortly before half-time, one-time Chelsea youngster Filipe Morais levelled things up with 15 minutes to play. Momentum was with the Yorkshire club and they struck twice more, before taking another Premier League scalp in the form of fifth round opponents Sunderland.
It was back to normal for Chelsea after that game – they went unbeaten at home throughout the rest of the season, with a further six wins and five draws in all competitions, and their only other defeat in any format came when they had already wrapped the Premier League title. If anything, that makes it even tougher to get your head around.
1. Lincoln City v Burnley 2017
Not only did non-league Lincoln need to beat Premier League opposition in 2017, but they went into the game knowing victory over Burnley would make them the first side from outside the top four divisions to reach the quarter-finals in more than a century.
On top of that, too, they knew there was the potential of facing fellow non-league side Sutton United in the last eight if the South London side could get past Premier League Arsenal.
In the end, Lincoln were the only one of the two to progress, and they did it the hard way. They withstood 89 minutes of pressure from the Clarets at Turf Moor before Sean Raggett popped up with a late winner from Lincoln’s first and only shot on target. If you’re going to get the better of Premier League opposition, it’s best to do it in the manner that winds up the most people on the other side – not least Joey Barton, who resorted to diving in an effort to win a penalty. Sometimes you fell the giant, but sometimes they do the work for you themselves.