Until 11 days ago, Pete Wild had been planning to cheer on Oldham as a fan with his pals in its FA Cup third-round match at Premier League club Fulham.
Wild was indeed at Craven Cottage on Sunday but in the dugout, rather than the stands, guiding the unheralded northern England team to victory in one of three so-called “giant-killings” on a classic day in the famous knockout competition.
Fourth-tier Oldham beat Fulham 2-1 at the same time as non-league team Barnet was stunning second-tier Sheffield United in a 1-0 win despite a gap of 84 places in English soccer’s pyramid.
A few hours later, fourth-tier Newport County eliminated Leicester , the seventh-placed team in the Premier League, after a 2-1 win at its atmospheric Rodney Parade ground.
Ruining the day for the romantics was Manchester City, which swept to a 7-0 victory over second-tier Rotherham in its biggest win under Pep Guardiola.
While Guardiola is arguably soccer’s most famous coach, Wild is still making his way in his managerial game and was Oldham’s youth-team manager until Dec. 26, when he was asked to take charge of the first team on an emergency basis following the firing of its manager after a 6-0 loss.
The 33-year-old Wild accepted the challenge, led Oldham to back-to-back wins in its league games, and has now masterminded one of the biggest FA Cup shocks in recent years .
“It is Roy of the Rovers stuff,” said Wild, referring to a now-defunct British cartoon about a fictional soccer player. “It is one you have to savor.”
Especially since the manager in the home dugout at Craven Cottage was Claudio Ranieri, the storied coach who led Leicester in its fairytale Premier League-winning campaign in 2015-16.
Ranieri’s Fulham was 1-0 ahead with 14 minutes left, only to concede goals to Sam Surridge and Callum Lang. Lang’s 88th-minute winner came moments after Fulham striker Aleksandar Mitrovic had a penalty saved off his first touch after coming on as a substitute.
“I did not see desire or passion,” Ranieri said. “I wanted to see desire — show me I am wrong, show me! I am not wrong.”
Aside from the embarrassment of losing to a team three leagues below it, the loss will not do Fulham’s confidence any good as the club from southwest London fights for survival in the Premier League. Fulham is on next-to-last place, four points from safety.
BARNET CUTS DOWN BLADES
Another of the day’s big upsets was also plotted by a caretaker manager.
It was an emotional afternoon for Darren Currie, who led Barnet to its victory over Sheffield United — the club where his uncle, Tony, is regarded as a soccer great and has a stand named after him at the stadium at Bramhall Lane.
“Naturally he’ll be hurting,” Darren Currie said. “He wants his team to go through, but he’s proud of me and what I’ve done today.”
Shaquile Coulthirst scored the only goal of the game, from the penalty spot, to ensure Barnet will be the only non-league side in the fourth round. It is in 15th place in the fifth-tier National League.
Sheffield United, which is in third place in the second-tier League Championship, could end up replacing Fulham in the Premier League but the clubs were united in misery Sunday.
NEWPORT STUNS LEICESTER
Nearly a year after holding Tottenham to a 1-1 draw in the FA Cup fourth round, Newport got the job done against another big team in the Premier League.
It felt like history would repeat itself when Rachid Ghezzal equalized for Leicester in the 82nd minute — the same minute that Harry Kane drew Tottenham level 12 months ago.
But this time, there was another twist as Leicester midfielder Marc Albrighton gave away a penalty for handball and Padraig Amond converted the penalty.
It rounds off a bizarre festive period for Leicester, which has beaten Chelsea, Manchester City and Everton in the league but also lost to struggling Cardiff in the league and now Newport in the cup.
Sixth-tier Woking, the lowest-ranked team in the third round, lost 2-0 at home to Watford. There were also wins for Queens Park Rangers, Doncaster and Millwall.
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Steve Douglas is at www.twitter.com/sdouglas80