Richie Towell catches Hughton's eye and more FA Cup talking points

Plus, Preston beaten by Arsenal but scope for Irish optimism.

Updated at 21.26

1. Richie Towell finally gets his chance

RICHIE TOWELL HAS had to be patient since joining Brighton from Dundalk just over a year ago.

A revelation in the League of Ireland as he netted 29 goals in Dundalk’s 2015 title-winning campaign, after moving to the Seagulls Towell has been very much on the periphery of the side.

There are mitigating factors, however. Brighton have been playing well — they’re currently top of the Championship — so it’s easy to understand why boss Chris Hughton is reluctant to make changes.

Moreover, Towell spent a substantial portion of the first half of the season injured, so his prolonged absence is not purely due to the manager’s lack of faith in him.

Today, however, the 25-year-old midfielder made just his third appearance and second start for Brighton, but Hughton was impressed by his impact in the 2-0 win over MK Dons.

“I thought he was very good,” the former Ireland assistant boss told reporters.

“He’s a fit lad, hasn’t had the games he’d have liked, got a whack towards the end, but I thought he covered a really good distance today.”

- Paul Fennessy

2. Preston beaten but scope for Irish optimism

Preston may have endured a heartbreaking late loss to Arsenal this evening, but there was plenty of reasons for optimism from an Irish perspective.

Aiden McGeady was particularly impressive, playing an integral role for the game’s first goal and proving a constant menace to the Arsenal defence. The 30-year-old winger was a regular outlet for a Preston side that more than made up for their technical inferiority with a highly committed display that deserved better than the unfortunate eventual outcome.

Meanwhile, Greg Cunningham enhanced his claims for an international call-up with a resolute display at left-back.

In addition, fellow Irish players Daryl Horgan and Alan Browne may not have had made the desired impact off the bench, but they will have gained invaluable experience by coming up against one of the best teams in Britain and did not looking out of place to boot.

- Paul Fennessy

3. Does the FA Cup still matter?

Eastleigh v Swindon Town - Emirates FA Cup - First Round - Silverlake Stadium PA Archive / PA Images PA Archive / PA Images / PA Images

There is no doubt that the FA Cup is not as prestigious as it once was, but in an era dominated by Premier League and Champions League football, there is a worry among footballing traditionalists that the competition could fade into irrelevance sooner rather than later.

Today, there was certainly plenty of evidence of the competition’s decline.

A number of mid-ranking Premier League sides fielded second-string sides and gave lacklustre displays.

There were times where it looked as if certain footballers would prefer the two-week break and chance of a mid-season holiday to Dubai rather than a place in the fourth round of the cup.

To cite a couple of examples of a growing trend, Arsenal in the first half looked under-motivated and almost disinterested at times against Preston, Bournemouth made 11 changes to their team, West Ham were going through the motions against Man City, while even Championship sides such as Brighton were reluctant to risk first-choice players.

Sadly, what was considered the pinnacle of English football has largely descended into a glorified exercise in giving reserve-team players a chance to impress.

- Paul Fennessy

4. Momentum building for Mourinho at Old Trafford

A stuttering start to life at his dream job had many pundits questioning if Jose Mourinho was the right man to bring the glory days back to Manchester United, but the former Chelsea manager has silenced his critics in recent weeks with the team’s dominant performances now turning into important wins.

Eight consecutive victories is the club’s best run since 2009, when Alex Ferguson was still at the helm, while it’s also 14 matches unbeaten.

Key to this return to form has been the introduction of Michael Carrick back into the first-team, with the midfielder failing to lose a game this season — featuring in 14 wins and two draws.

The England midfielder’s contribution in helping the defence look more settled and attack more potent can’t be underestimated.

When looking at the best bit of business of last summer, United agreeing a contract extension with the 35-year-old should not be overlooked. Another extension for next season must be a priority.

- Shane Costello

5. McCarthy among the managers to feel the heat after another disappointing weekend

Queens Park Rangers v Ipswich Town - Sky Bet Championship - Loftus Road EMPICS Sport EMPICS Sport

Pressure continues to grow on former Ireland manager Mick McCarthy at Ipswich Town after his side were twice forced to come from behind against non-league Lincoln to secure a replay and avoid an embarrassing FA Cup exit.

The Tractor Boys, who have not progressed past the third round of the competition since 2010, were once again booed off the pitch by the disgruntled home supporters, whose ire was mainly directed at the under-fire McCarthy.

“The boos will stop if we get players to play well and win, or maybe they won’t,” the Ipswich manager said after the game.

Despite operating on one of the division’s smallest budgets, the Championship’s longest-serving manager may be only really appreciated by the club’s supporters once he is gone.

The cup also failed to provide any relief for Slaven Bilic or Mark Hughes, who head into the second-half of the season with little up for grabs — except maybe their jobs.

Ronald Koeman will be another manager disappointed tonight after the Toffees lost at home to Leicester City. After a close season that promised so much, the job of transforming the Goodison Park club possibly looks harder now than it did when he agreed to leave Southampton in the summer.

- Shane Costello

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