The 3rd round of the FA Cup is always one of the biggest days in England’s football Calendar. The chance for fans from smaller teams all over the country to see top clubs in action and hope for an upset. For neutrals, it also brings so much excitement as the non-league and lower-league clubs do everything they can to topple the giants of English football. Anything can happen in the Cup!
This weekend we saw many great examples of this. Wigan earned a replay against Bournemouth with a 2-2 draw at Dean Court, and now have the advantage going into that game on their home turf next Wednesday. Norwich also managed to hold out for a goalless draw against Chelsea, and Wolves showed us that they look ready for the Premier League with a dominant performance against Swansea which ended 0-0.
But the real magic of the cup was shared by the likes of Newport, Coventry and Notts County, who all knocked out teams a few league’s above them in the football pyramid. Coventry’s win over Stoke was the result of the day on Saturday. Mark Hughes was sacked after the game, after also losing five games out of seven in the Premier League, but the Sky blues deserved the win and it was a welcomed success for the fans who have been through some tough times lately.
Leeds United suffered another shock exit after their defeat to Sutton last season. This time around it was Newport who managed to come back from a goal down to win 2-1 with a late goal from Shaun McCoulsky. The goal took Newport into the FA Cup fourth round for the first time since 1979, before the club’s manager Michael Flynn was even born. The dramatic finish was exactly what the neutral wanted to see, with wild scenes in the home end and a frustrated atmosphere in the Leeds camp. It was a classic FA Cup 3rd round story.
Notts County are the world’s oldest club still playing at professional level, now in League Two under the management of Kevin Nolan. They travelled to Brentford who are two tiers above them in the Football League, and through a curling left-footed strike from Jon Stead, became the 1-0 victors.
It didn’t end there though, and Fleetwood Town and Shrewsbury both earned replays against Premier League opposition. For these clubs a replay is sometimes better than a win because of the finances the fixtures and TV money bring. Now they have to focus on getting the job done, and with nothing to lose the pressure and expectation will be on their opponents. That will allow them to play with freedom and for the players, it’s an opportunity to show their individual abilities in front of all the watching eyes.
The FA Cup draw has thrown up some more opportunities for giant killings too, with Newport facing Spurs at home and Yeovil hosting Manchester United.
We all know who the favourites will be in these games, but the beauty of the FA Cup is that anything can happen, and the big clubs might be in for an uncomfortable ride. The smaller, bumpy pitches, and tight dressing rooms can all work in the lower club’s favor on matchday. Ultimately it’s 11 against 11, and the team who wants it the most will come out on top.
The FA Cup is one of best competitions in football. The fact that it offers lower league and even non-league clubs the opportunity to cause an upset at Premier League stadiums makes for dramatic and captivating entertainment.
When these draws happen, it’s hard for the big club to keep their focus and concentration for 90 minutes. Every player has their off days, and they often happen in these matchups against smaller teams.
The best solution for the big clubs is to not allow the opposition any time on the ball, and press them really high. That way you force them to come out and take risks, which means you can get the ball back quicker.
If the bigger team allows the underdogs to play they will get a fitness test that they will remember for weeks. The low league clubs have different level of motivation as they have nothing to lose, so they will run the opponents off the park. Nothing other than a win is expected of the big team, but for the minions – If they win they did great, and if they lose they did great.
For them it’s an exciting day and an experience they will likely cherish for a long time; to play against world renowned stars who earn more and have already achieved more, who they watch on TV at the weekend.
It’s also a great moment for young, inexperienced players at Premier League clubs to go out there and show the manager what they are capable of, and fight for a regular spot in the team.
If your team is struggling in the league and you’re fighting to stay up, then you might not want a long cup run because fiscally and mentally it can take a toll on your players.
But never take anything away from the FA Cup. It has so much history, and winning it is still something that any player who has won it would love to win again.