FA Cup magic lives on, but are replays part of it?

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Photo by Carlos Yo (Wikipedia)

By: James Cox

James Cox takes a look at the shocks of this seasons FA Cup and the complex issue of replays.

The latest round of FA Cup replays starts this Tuesday with three fourth-round replays followed by one more fixture tomorrow.

The FA Cup is the oldest cup competition in world football, the first having been held in 1871. It has lost a lot of its appeal however in recent years with many of the top teams prioritising the Premier League and European competitions. This year’s competition has already done a lot to restore some of the famous old trophy’s magic with minnows such as Blyth Spartans, Bradford City and Cambridge United exceeding all expectations.

One criticism of the cup which has persisted is the controversial issue of replays. Up until the semi-final’s any game which finishes as a draw is replayed in the opposite team’s home ground. In theory this is meant to promote the cause of the smaller teams (something which is intrinsic with the values of the FA Cup) however it has drawbacks for both the big fish and the minnows.

Teams in the Premier League have 38 rounds of fixtures a season, and while everyone loves a cup run, the simple fact is the league will always hold more importance. Quite simply,  money talks. To put it into perspective, Liverpool topped the financial rewards in the Premier League last year with £97,544,366 whilst bottom club Cardiff pulled in a whopping £62,802,302 with the rest of the clubs earning fees from the league in between.

With money like this on the line it is understandable that the FA Cup becomes ignored, no manager wants replays on top of an already crowded fixture list. While the money in the lower leagues isn’t anywhere as significant as the huge sums discussed, the idea of Cup replays is much more appealing. However what this year has proved is that the lower league clubs are more than capable of taking on the big guns, and do not necessarily need replays.

The standout fixture of the round saw League One side Bradford City come back from 2-0 down to beat Premier League leaders Chelsea 4-2 at Stamford Bridge. In a cup-like twist the equaliser came from Filipe Morais who rejected a contract extension from Jose Mourinho as a youth to leave Chelsea ten years ago. Mourinho branded the Chelsea loss a “disgrace.”

Another shock result saw Manchester United held to a 0-0 draw by lowly Cambridge United at the Abbey Stadium. Cambridge are the lowest ranked team left in the competition and Manchester United manager Louis Van Gaal was clearly furious at the result even going as far as to claim “everything, even the pitch was against us.” This result encapsulated both the magic of the Cup and the question of replays. While tonight’s replay at Old Trafford is undoubtedly a dream for Cambridge United’s players and fans, there is also the question of what might have been if extra time had been allowed at the Abbey Stadium.

At 0-0 United were rattled and Van Gaal had selected a slightly weakened team, while Cambridge were taking advantage of the raucous atmosphere. They were at least a match for United, if not better over the 90 minutes.  At Old Trafford there is little hope of such a result: Van Gaal and his players certainly won’t underestimate Cambridge again.

While the question of replays will definitely be revisited soon, it has its positives and negatives as we have discussed. Followers of the FA Cup will definitely enjoy the current round with United and Cambridge tonight followed by Liverpool’s replay away to Bolton tomorrow. More giant killings may be in store.

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