In 142 years of FA Cup history, very rarely have so many Premier League teams gone out of the competition on the weekend of the fifth round to lower league opposition.
The FA Cup has always had an air of magic and romance about it, but over the last few years the romance has been slowly dying – with very few lower league teams pulling off giant killing acts against Premier League opposition.
This weekend however, some of that old magic was restored with the following results –
Millwall (9th Championship) 2 : 1 Aston Villa (17th Premier League)
Norwich City (13th Premier League) 0 : 1 Luton Town (6th Conference Premier – Non-League)
QPR (20th Premier League) 2 : 4 MK Dons (8th League One)
Leeds Utd (11th Championship) 2 : 1 Tottenham (4th Premier League)
Oldham Athletic (19th League One) 3 : 2 Liverpool (7th Premier League)
There can never really be any excuse against loosing to these lesser teams; the last big shock was in 1989 when first division Coventry lost 2-1 to non-league Sutton Utd. Premier League clubs always used to field their full teams in order to get an easy win into the next round and up until recently getting to the FA Cup final meant something. There was the kudos associated of reaching the final, representing your club on the hallow turf of Wembley Stadium in the worlds oldest football competition, watching as the winning teams ribbons are tied around the cup, shaking hands with a member of the royal family before parading the trophy on an open top bus to the cheers of your adoring fans. Sadly that now appears to be a thing of the past, with the competition becoming staid and predictable and in danger of becoming little more than a sideshow.
Of all the five Premier League teams that went out this weekend, only Aston Villa fielded their strongest squad, but they play so poorly these days it came of little shock to hear of their loss. Liverpool decided to field a team of young players, made five changes, which included dropping their captain to the substitutes bench. QPR decided to give the players who have been ‘knocking on the managers door’ a chance, with the loosing result prompting QPR manager Harry Rednapp to describe the defeat as “disgusting”. Tottenham and Chelsea both made five changes to their regular teams, while Norwich made six changes against Luton Town, with the resulting loss earning them the title of the first top-flight team in twenty-four years to loose to a non-league side.
Clearly most of these Premier League sides have other priorities – claiming a place in the Champions League, or avoiding relegation. But if it is the case that Premier league teams and their star players now only view the FA cup as a side show and a practice session for fringe players to get a game, well that it a sad day for the competition indeed. However, what the shock results of this past weekend have done is to give the lower league sides and their fans hope, belief and joy in knowing that some of that old FA Cup magic has been restored.