There are some of Sir Alex Ferguson’s hunches that are never going to pay off. Bebe is unlikely to prove why Manchester United thought a footballer from the Portuguese third division might be worth £7.5m of their money. Anderson, we can safely say, will never become the Brazilian Roy Keane. As he destroyed and tormented a Stoke side that appeared pre-destined for the quarter-finals, you could imagine what the old dictator saw in Josh King, who scored one of the more remarkable hat-tricks in the FA Cup’s history.
King is not one of the game’s natural goalscorers. Before this, he had only managed seven in a career that began in Norway with Valerenga and taken in Borussia Mönchengladbach and Manchester United, for whom he did not make a senior appearance.
King, born to a Gambian father and a Norwegian mother, is still only 23 and the men who managed him all knew he possessed astonishing acceleration. The last two goals of his hat-trick, against a Stoke side reduced to 10 men after Geoff Cameron had been dismissed for trying to hold him back, were proof of that.
For Mark Hughes, asked for a wave and asked for the score by a jeering Ewood Park, this was an unpleasant and unexpected homecoming to a club where, as a player and a manager, he had enjoyed almost unalloyed success. Given that he had prioritised the FA Cup, defeat would have hit the Stoke manager hard, although amid the ruins of his ambitions, Hughes kept his dignity, refusing to argue that the penalty and Cameron’s dismissal had been unjustified.
“Blackburn executed their game plan better than we ever did,” he said. “We never dealt with the pace of their front guys and I have no complaints, Blackburn were the better side.”
More unpleasantly, there were disturbances in the Darwen End crammed with supporters from the Potteries. One woman was carried off on a stretcher after being taken ill with some Stoke fans alleging on social media that they had bottles thrown at them by Blackburn supporters.
On the pitch, Blackburn’s Ben Marshall broke down after a couple of minutes and was taken to hospital with a dislocated shoulder. Stoke’s Steven Nzonzi had his head bandaged after a collision.
Blackburn showed eight changes from the side that had beaten Rotherham in midweek. When Hughes ran Ewood Park, Gary Bowyer managed the under- 18 squad and for Bowyer to put out what seemed a reserve team, against a near full-strength Stoke, appeared an act of deference.
There were more than the 5,928 who had seen Blackburn overcome Swansea in the fourth round. However, the noise came from the Stoke fans when Peter Crouch’s long legs slid the ball home through a phalanx of players. And then Blackburn began fighting.
Marshall’s removal meant King was pushed up into attack alongside Rudy Gestede and suddenly became unplayable. His first contribution was to send a shot against the crossbar when it appeared easier to score. His second was to intercept Shane Duffy’s header just in front of goalkeeper Jack Butland and steer it into the net. It proved a reverse Stoke never came to terms with, and when Cameron dragged King back in the eight minutes of first-half stoppage time, Gestede calmly rolled the penalty home.
King was far too quick for Marc Muniesa, whose hamstring gave way as he pursued him but the finish, between Butland’s legs, was lethal. Five minutes later came another breakaway, another fabulously precise finish and the FA Cup’s extensive casualty list had been extended still further.
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