Is Side-tracking Getting in the Way of FA Cup’s Shock Value?

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It’s almost impossible, almost criminal in fact, to mention the FA Cup and not talk about its reputation for delivering shocks. Where else would you find a squad of part-timers and next-to-nobodies go full throttle against a team of superstars and come out on top? That teams don’t read the script has become the script of this competition, hence the prestige with which they revere it.

These days, though, the question is, do shocks really happen? That seems like a rather daft question: after all Lincoln City (from non-league) got to the last eight last season, beating Premier League Burnley on the way, the same season when League One side Millwall triumphed over then-Premier League champions Leicester City, and Championship struggling Wolverhampton Wanderers won at mighty Liverpool. Heck just three weeks ago, League Two’s Newport knocked out Leeds- two leagues above them- and Nottingham Forest were too much for Arsenal. But excuses keep popping up for most of those games, Burnley and Leicester would have been said to be relieved of the burden of an extra leg-tiring and wearing competition as they fought to survive in the Premier League, Liverpool were supposedly left to battle to keep their top four spot intact, while Arsenal’s loss at the City at the City Ground earlier this year, generated more headlines on the lacklustre squad and the future of manager Arsene Wenger than the Forest victory.

And over the years, it has kept happening. For almost a decade, of the three teams that get promoted from the Championship to the Premier League, only two have made it past the Fourth Round of the FA Cup (Hull City in 2016 and Huddersfield last season), both of which got promoted via the play-offs. For the rest, it has seemed like a case of ‘put it aside, we have much bigger business to attend to’. Arsenal have won the competition in three of the past four seasons, but before the run started, Wenger had emphasised the importance of finishing in the top four over lifting the country’s most prestigious, but least financially rewarding, competition. Wenger’s stance was echoed by Paul Lambert, then Aston Villa, who prioritised survival, while in 2014, Sam Allardyce fielded a weakened West Ham XI that was trounced 5-0 at Nottingham Forest.

So it was no surprise to hear David Moyes, current West Ham manager, prioritise league safety over the cup. Speaking about the fate of the Hammers upcoming opponents, Wigan, the Scot found it ‘a strange thing that they won the FA Cup and were relegated five years ago’. If you look back and ask Wigan if they’d rather have won the cup or stayed in the Premier League, I think their people would have rather stayed in the Premier League’. With West Ham facing a crucial home game against Crystal Palace on Tuesday after this, it’s clear what the target is for Moyes.

And who could blame him, or any of the managers treating this competition more of a burden than a chance of glory, with the financial benefits of getting to or staying in the Premier League ludicrously overwhelming. Wigan had their day in the spotlight following that FA Cup triumph over Manchester City at Wembley, but three days later they would lose their Premier League status. The following season they got to the Semis, and lost in the Championship play-offs, and they’ve suffered two further relegations since. Surely the Latics fans would have wondered what might have been if they hadn’t made it that far that season, how their fortunes might have been, if they hadn’t (ironically) won big on May the Fifth of 2013.

With Yeovil Town hosting Manchester United this weekend, alongside games involving Newport and Tottenham and Cardiff against Manchester City, there’s room for shocks. But with City fighting on four fronts (what seems like a ready-to-use excuse should they get knocked out of one), Cardiff having an eye on top-flight promotion, Yeovil battling to survive in League Two and Tottenham seeking to maintain their top four chase in the league, will there really be shocks, or simply, no matter the end result, fixtures to get out of the way?

 

 

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