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Jan 8, 2012

Team of the Week

The FA Cup is alive and well and third round weekend threw up a plethora of heroic performances up and down the land. None more so than Nicky Weaver's display for Sheffield Wednesday as they sank Championship high-flyers West Ham. Weaver made a string of fine saves at Hillsborough, and repelled Sam Baldock's second half penalty. His reward? A trip to the seaside and Blackpool.

With Gary Cahill poised to move to Chelsea, Bolton must be hoping David Wheater fulfils the promise that led to his move from Middlesbrough. A typically tall and powerful defender, Wheater was ready made for the cut and thrust Wanderers encountered at Macclesfield and equipped himself well, aside from surviving a hopeful call for a sending off after a foul on Matthew Hamshaw. He also got his head on the end of a late Martin Petrov free-kick to secure a replay.

Crawley's trip to Manchester United was one of the highlights of last year's competition, and the Sussex side are at it again. Having won the Conference, Crawley are now a football league club but they still like the taste of the FA Cup. A 1-0 win at home to Bristol City was secured thanks to a resolute defensive display and Dean Howell was the stand out performer.

Stevenage conquered Newcastle last year but lost in the fourth round to Reading. Their 1-0 at the Madejski was sweet revenge then, and it was earned thanks to a precious clean sheet. Among many quality performances, Jon Ashton's stood out, as he marshalled Stevenage's defence throughout the game and sealed a fourth round clash with Notts County.

Bolton's fans will disagree but for the neutral, it's a shame that Arnaud Mendy's exquisite volley didn't seal an historic cup shock for Macclesfield. The midfielder had already tested Adam Bogdan's goal before the 68th minute when he spun on his own touch and lashed a volley into the top corner. It was a goal worthy of winning any game.

Swindon did manage to pull off a shock against Premier League opposition, with Matt Richie prominent in their demolition of Wigan's FA Cup dream (if they indeed had one). Clearly, manager Paulo Di Canio had instructed his players to get balls into the box and Richie delivered with quality time and time again, none more so than in setting up Alan Connell's equaliser. He had a hand in the winner too as his shot was diverted into the net by Paul Benson.

The Lancashire derby between Blackpool and Fleetwood was settled by a hat-trick of high class by Matt Phillips. The winger netted his first, and Blackpool's second, with a curler into the top corner, before a controlled volley made the game safe. And he completed his treble after a mazy run down the right wing, a step inside and a toe-poked finish.

Clint Dempsey can also lay claim to being an FA Cup hat-trick hero after he put Charlton to the sword at Craven Cottage. Playing the role of fox in the box, Dempsey opened the scoring with a cool finish from a deflected through ball, before he slotted home the second after a neat one-two with Bryan Ruiz. And when Ruiz was felled in the box, Dempsey gleefully accepted the chance to notch his third from the spot.

Swansea swerved a potential banana skin at Barnsley thanks to the clinical performance of Danny Graham. The striker saw off a brave Tykes fight back with a brace at Oakwell, firing his first past Luke Steele from fully 30 yards. His second was a more regulation finish after Nathan Dyer's run and cross as the Swans secured their place in the next round.

Just last week Simon Cox said he might have to leave West Brom in order to get more first-team football, but you get the feeling he might be seeing more game time after his lethal hat-trick against Cardiff. Cox potted his first with a close range header, then unleashed an unstoppable shot from the edge of the box for his second before polishing off Peter Odemwingie's cross for his third.

In a pulsating cup tie at Eastlands, Wayne Rooney put recent rumours of his disquiet firmly in their place with two goals and a cultured display. Manchester United had barely got over the halfway line when he grabbed the opener, a brilliant header from Antonio Valencia's pinpoint cross. And though Costel Pantilimon saved his penalty, Rooney was alert to tuck home the rebound. Apart from his goals, Rooney was everywhere, even helping out at the back during City's second half resurgence.

Everyone feels moderately cheated if there isn't a big shock in the FA Cup third round, and luckily for those who enjoy seeing the minnows best the big-boys, Paolo Di Canio's Swindon came through for us. The flamboyant Italian has overseen a run of just one defeat in 18 games and Wigan were powerless to resist the Robins. Matt Richie and Alan Connell starred, meaning Paulo could lap up the adoration of the home support.

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