THE Christmas decorations are usually coming down as opposed to being put up when the FA Cup third-round weekend is staged.
In a marked departure from the norm, it was a somewhat different – and a slightly incongruous – sight for football followers two decades ago as one of the landmark dates in English football was held in mid-December.
The move was planned as a permanent innovation to ease fixture congestion later in the 1999-2000 season, unlike the other more controversial change to that year’s FA Cup.
That centred on the absence from the competition of holders Manchester United due to the World Club Championship in January 2000, with the FA reacting to what they viewed as a temporary aberration by promoting a “lucky loser” from round two to enter the third round.
Step forward Darlington, who were handed a trip to Aston Villa.
There were no shocks at Villa Park, even if the Quakers gave Villa a scare in a narrow 2-1 reverse- and there was not too much cup romance on show for Yorkshire sides either.
There had been expectation and enchantment in the air for Huddersfield Town and Hull City ahead of plum home ties against Liverpool and Chelsea, respectively, but there was to be no bewitching cup fairytale.
Hope was abound for Town, flying high at the top of the second-tier under Steve Bruce, but after the game, the north-easterner was left to bang on about the mantra of ‘concentrating on the league’ after a 2-0 exit in front of a bumper crowd of 23,678.
Two spectacular goals saw the Reds progress with Titi Camara opening the scoring with an overhead scissor-kick which beat goalkeeper Nico Vaesen on 35 minutes.
The Guinean set up Dominic Matteo for the killer second just before the hour after the Terriers carelessly coughed up possession from a free-kick.
It was a dismal afternoon for the third-tier Tigers, who suffered a 6-1 home reverse to Chelsea. It was the club’s biggest FA Cup loss, with future Leeds assistant manager Gus Poyet netting a hat-trick.
Top-flight Middlesbrough also had a sobering day, losing 2-1 at famed FA Cup giant-killers Wrexham, while Sheffield United were forced into a tricky replay after drawing 1-1 at home to Rushden.
The tie was eventually settled on penalties in United’s favour after a 1-1 draw in the second instalment at Nene Park.
Barnsley bowed out 1-0 at Wimbledon, but there were home wins for Leeds United and Sheffield Wednesday against Port Vale and Bristol City, respectively.
Premier League Bradford City won 2-1 at Crewe, thanks to a late goal from Dean Saunders.