London (AFP) – FA Cup holders Arsenal beat Newcastle 2-0 on Saturday as non-league Chorley knocked out coronavirus-ravaged Derby and West Brom suffered an embarrassing third-round exit against Blackpool.
The rampaging Covid-19 virus is casting a lengthening shadow over football in England, with dozens of games called off and growing fears over whether the season can be completed.
Just one match has so far been called off in the FA Cup third-round — the stage at which the big guns enter the competition.
But a number of clubs have been forced to make radical alterations to their line-ups after suffering outbreaks.
Arsenal, 14-time FA Cup winners, continued their recent revival with a fourth straight win in all competitions.
Magpies captain Jamaal Lascelles made his first appearance in six weeks after being hit hard by the coronavirus as both sides made multiple changes.
Andy Carroll had a golden chance to win a disappointing match in the dying seconds of normal time but his shot was well saved by Bernd Leno.
Instead it was Emile Smith Rowe — who earlier had a red card overturned after a VAR check — who broke the deadlock, drilling the ball home in the 109th minute.
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang made the game safe with a late tap-in.
Earlier, Derby fielded a clutch of youngsters after their first-team squad and interim manager Wayne Rooney were ruled out following a virus outbreak at the Championship club.
Chorley, from the sixth-tier National League North, took advantage of Derby’s weakened line-up to reach the fourth round for the first time with a 2-0 win.
In freezing conditions, with snow cleared off the pitch before kick-off, Chorley took the lead after 10 minutes when Derby failed to clear a long throw and Connor Hall nodded over the line.
Chorley’s modest Victory Park ground is so homely that one fan was able to watch over their back garden fence, while two others used a cherry picker crane to get a glimpse of the action.
Those enterprising fans saw Chorley’s Mike Calveley seal their side’s memorable success when he poked home from close range in the 84th minute.
The cup upset was a welcome boost for Chorley manager Jamie Vermiglio, whose job as a primary school headteacher has been thrown into chaos by the coronavirus lockdown in Britain.
“It’s a very proud moment for us. Credit to our boys, they’ve been on a journey and we said it before the game, the journey can continue today and it has done,” Vermiglio said.
– Virus outbreaks –
Liverpool beat virus-plagued Aston Villa 4-1 on Friday, with their opponents missing the entire first-team squad and boss Dean Smith due to a Covid outbreak.
Southampton’s tie against Shrewsbury on Sunday has been postponed after several positive tests at the League One club.
A record 40 positive coronavirus tests were detected among Premier League players and staff in the week between December 28 and January 3.
Newcastle boss Steve Bruce and Leeds manager Marcelo Bielsa say there is a moral argument to suspend football, with health services struggling to cope.
For now, the FA Cup action goes on and Premier League struggler West Brom were victims of an upset at Bloomfield Road as third-tier Blackpool won 3-2 on penalties after a 2-2 draw.
After 21 winless games, Sheffield United finally earned a victory as Jayden Bogle’s strike clinched a 3-2 success against third-tier Bristol Rovers.
Leicester rested Jamie Vardy and James Maddison at second-tier Stoke but still won 4-0 as James Justin, Marc Albrighton, Ayoze Perez and Harvey Barnes all netted.
Everton needed extra time to see off second-tier Rotherham 2-1 at Goodison Park while top-flight strugglers Fulham prevailed 2-0 after extra-time in their west London derby at QPR.
Burnley edged past third-tier Milton Keynes Dons on penalties after Matej Vydra’s stoppage-time equaliser for the Clarets rescued a 1-1 draw.
In Saturday’s late match, Manchester United host Championship club Watford.
The highlight of Sunday’s fixtures is eighth-tier Marine at home to Jose Mourinho’s Tottenham, while Manchester City play Birmingham and Chelsea entertain Morecambe.