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16 April 2024

Swindon pull off FA Cup shock

Wigan Athletic's Ali Al Habsi looks on in despair as Paul Benson of Swindon Town celebrates scoring their second goal during the FA Cup third round match at the County Ground on Saturday in Swindon, England. (GETTY)

By Reuters

Italian manager Paolo Di Canio called fourth-tier Swindon Town’s shock 2-1 FA Cup third-round win over top-flight Wigan Athletic on Saturday the “best moment of my life”. 

Swindon, more than 50 places below Wigan in English football’s pyramid, stunned their Premier League visitors on a day known for its tradition, drama and incident.  

“This is something special,” Di Canio told reporters. “The best moment of my life, an amazing performance against a team three divisions above us.” 

Elsewhere, three players scored hat-tricks, several lower league teams frightened superior opposition and Newcastle United’s Hatem Ben Afra scored a goal his manager Alan Pardew described as the finest he had ever seen.  

In the day’s only all-Premier League clash, Newcastle beat Blackburn Rovers 2-1. Goals from Ben Arfa and Jonas Gutierrez delivered victory after David Goodwillie had shot the visitors in front. 
Pardew heaped praise on France forward Ben Arfa who beat five defenders before scoring.  

“It is technically the greatest goal I have ever seen - you can smash them in from 40 metres but to score a goal like that you have to be a special talent and it was an unbelievable goal,” said Pardew. 

Premier League title-chasing Tottenham Hotspur brushed aside fourth tier Cheltenham Town 3-0 while West Bromwich Albion put out second tier Cardiff City 4-2.  

Swansea City beat second tier Barnsley 4-2, Everton won 2-0 against minor league Tamworth, Fulham defeated third tier Charlton Athletic 4-0, Norwich City downed second tier Burnley 4-1 and Aston Villa triumphed 3-1 at fourth tier Bristol Rovers. 

It was Di Canio’s youthful underdogs who delivered the unexpected, though, prompting him to wish for a visit to Manchester United or Manchester City in the fourth round.  

“Yes, let’s go there now, straightaway,” said the volatile Italian. “These players have been fantastic because to play under me is so difficult.  

“I was, at first, too tough, but they are intelligent boys.”  

Trailing to a Callum McManaman goal for Wigan after 35 minutes, the home team hit back with a headed equaliser by Alan Connell and a fortunate 76th-minute winner that arrived when a shot by Matt Ritchie was deflected in off Paul Benson’s legs. 

Di Canio, 43, is one of the most colourful figures in the game and had an incident-packed career as a player with Juventus, AC Milan, Celtic and West Ham United among others. 

Counterpart Roberto Martinez was in a gracious mood after Wigan, second from bottom in the league, slipped to defeat. 

“Swindon deserved it,” said the Spaniard. “It was a typical FA Cup tie and of course we are disappointed.  

“They took advantage of everything they could and they had greater desire. That carried them through.”  
Premier League Bolton Wanderers (2-2) and Queens Park Rangers (1-1) were held to draws at fourth tier Macclesfield Town and third tier Milton Keynes Dons respectively. 

Bolton, 2-1 winners at Everton in midweek, went 2-1 down after a stunning 25-metre shot by Arnaud Mendy in the 68th minute but the visitors were rescued by a David Wheater goal in the 77th. 

QPR also struggled against Milton Keynes Dons, who had won nine of their previous 11 games and were seeking to reach the fourth round for the first time, after Dean Bowditch scored in the 65th minute.  

Heidar Helguson saved the London team’s blushes when he levelled in the 89th minute to set up a replay. 

Stoke City recovered from a 1-0 deficit at manager Tony Pulis’s former club as they ousted fourth tier Gillingham 3-1 thanks to Jonathan Walters, Cameron Jerome and Robert Huth. 

Three players scored hat-tricks, Fulham’s American striker Clint Dempsey leading the way with goals after eight, 61 and 81 minutes against London rivals Charlton.  

Wrexham were the only minor league survivors after drawing 1-1 at second tier Brighton and Hove Albion. 

On Sunday, holders Manchester City host Manchester United and 2010 winners Chelsea entertain second tier Portsmouth.