After a cracking FA Cup third round, COPA90 took a look back at some of the rising stars who broke onto the scene and made headlines.
The FA Cup in recent years has become synonymous with managers rotating their teams, playing different and much younger squads than usual. Opinions on this are mixed but, more often than not, it’s widely ridiculed as clubs playing their ‘kids’ and not taking the competition seriously.
As we enter a new decade, a new generation of players are on the rise who are using the FA Cup as a stage to seize opportunity and showcase their talent. These starlets are ballers, and definitely ones to watch over the coming years…
We’ll kick things off with an obvious one: after scoring that goal against Liverpool's historic rivals at Anfield – first at senior level no less – Curtis Jones was always going to be included. Playing a total of 14 minutes in the Premier League during a 3-0 win away to Bournemouth, Jones made his first start and scored the only goal of the contest for the Reds against Everton.
Goals have proved easy to come by at youth level for the Scouse midfielder, who’s demonstrated a knack for finding the net with eight goals in 12 appearances for the U23s during the first half of this season.
Liverpool currently boast their strongest side in years, with a first Premier League title now firmly on the horizon. With players like Jones making their way through the academy only strengthening the squad, Liverpool look more and more powerful by the day.
What an incredible start to the year it’s been for the 18-year-old forward. He made his league debut against Crystal Palace as a substitute on New Year’s Day and followed it up with only his second club start against Preston, where he made FA Cup and Norwich history.
Idah is the youngest player to score a hat-trick for the Canaries, and indeed in the FA Cup from the third round onwards since Ian Lawson in 1957. It was a respectable hat-trick, too: the first a calm and collected low strike within the first 90 seconds, followed by a long distance effort after the keeper made a poor clearance. The third came after half time, when he was brought down in the box for a penalty, which he duly converted with aplomb.
Originally, Idah was set to go out on loan this January transfer window, however, Norwich may well now wish to hold tight on that decision. One thing for sure is that this hat-trick hero took far more than just the match ball away from this game.
Despite making 10 changes to the side that bested Tottenham in their previous game, Southampton entered their third round clash with Huddersfield in high spirits. The first half ended goalless despite Shane Long finding the net, after a well-placed through ball from Smallbone was adjudged offside by VAR.
Shortly after the break, though, Smallbone blasted a strike so far into the back of the net not even VAR could save it. The academy player was awarded later Man of the Match for his impressive performance in the 2-0 win, in front of a home crowd who saw their team progress comfortably into the next round.
"It was a special moment for me to make my debut and to mark it with a goal made it even better. All I wanted was to celebrate in front of the fans. My mum was here, so it was special for her to see.”
After 29 games on the bench, Bielsa finally saw it fit to hand Robbie Gotts his debut. A senior appearance at the Emirates against Mikel Arteta’s newly reinvigorated Arsenal was always going to be a challenge.
Leeds dominated the first half with Gotts contributing to his side’s excellent performance from attacking midfield. He racked up a respectable 60 minutes game time and, despite the result, was still impressive, which was recognised as well as appreciated by the fans.
His on-pitch opportunities should increase with Bielsa at the helm, with the vetran coach likely to take a shining to his versatility.
From working his way through the academy ranks at Reading, to occasionally featuring in the first team squad, Danny Loader has been hungry for more game time and to find his second goal – and what a way and moment to do it.
2-1 down to Blackpool, the Championship side needed a goal to keep them in the game. This will be the calmest equaliser you’ll ever see; a lovely little flick which brushed past the fingertips of the keeper.
After an overhit panenka from Blackpool failed to win the game, the score ended 2-2 with a replay scheduled for Tuesday, 14th January at Bloomfield Road. The reserve fixture could well present Loader with another chance to step up and prove his value to the team.
Finally, Osaze Urhoghide demonstrated one of the reasons why we all love football. It’s probably one of the best interviews he’ll ever do and we can’t get enough of it. After being released from his one-year contract at AFC Wimbledon, he found himself without a club.
That is until Sheffield Wednesday offered him a trial, which he passed with flying colours before signing a deal with their U23s. He made his debut at right back in the 1-0 win against top tier side Brighton.
The FA Cup remains a place where dreams are made for younger players, and all who feature on this list undoubtedly have bright futures ahead of them.