Last weekend's third round matches were a predictable anticlimax
It took a foreign manager to say it but it badly needed to be said. The largely miserable attendances at the third round of the FA Cup, set out so starkly in the Daily Mail, told a dismal tale.
David Wagner, manager of Huddersfield Town, made eight changes to the team which went to Bolton to win 2-1. Afterwards, he said, “Unfortunately, from my point of view, it feels like just another game, even if everybody knows that the FA Cup is such a great competition. Because it was the fifth game in 15 days it means that you cannot give it the credit that it usually deserves.”
Phil Parkinson, manager of a Bolton team much weakened by absences, was somewhat less downbeat when he said: “Everybody was going to make changes this weekend. It’s just after a Christmas period that has been intense for everybody and it would be mad to go again with the same players who have played those games. But as the competition progresses, with Man City probably winning the Premier League, a lot of emphasis is going to be put on winning the FA Cup by those teams because all those sort of managers want to win a trophy.”
Not it seems Arsene Wenger, who took a virtual reserve side to Nottingham Forest, devoid of a permanent manager, lost humiliatingly 4-2 even if one of those four was a twice connected penalty, and virtually marginalised a competition which he and his club had won no fewer than three times; seven in all.
Wenger chose to blame his players rather than himself for such a resounding defeat. Just as a bad workman blames his tools. “We were not good enough anywhere. Not up front, not in the middle, not at the back and we paid for it. They looked sharper. I understand the selection will be questioned but we had eight or nine experienced internationals on the pitch, with all respect against a Championship team, and that would be the wrong excuse…”
How the ghost of Alan Hardaker must have gibbered with satisfaction when Wenger admitted that he picked a weakened team because he wanted to be at full strength just three days later when Chelsea were the opponents in the Football League Cup. A competition initiated by Hardaker, ex secretary of the Football League, embattled opponent of the FA with the ultimate purpose of undermining of the FA Cup.
Personally, in these days of crowded fixtures I am as convinced as I have always been that the League Cup should be abolished. At least the manager of little Newport County, conquerors of a much altered Leeds United, was a very happy man. Michael Flynn said: “I was pleased to see their team selection but we still had to beat them and they are still Championship players.
The answer surely is to advance the third round of the FA Cup by a week in the future. The present structure is a recipe for such secondary selections. For the moment, it is Hardaker’s ghost triumphant.
In this third round weekend, Aston Villa, still desperate to get back in the Premiership, made no fewer than 10 changes and in front of a greatly diminished crowd and contrived to lose at home to modest Peterborough. Arsenal made nine changes, as did Chelsea, held to a goalless draw at Norwich, and Leeds United. Bournemouth made eight changes and now face a replay at Wigan.
Brentford, a division lower, also made eight changes and I cannot remotely see why. Their chances of promotion are very slight but it at least let that doughty veteran Jon Stead add the winning goal to his long and impressive collection.
Bristol City, after their exhilarating victory over Manchester United in the League Cup suddenly unsurprisingly decided that the FA Cup did not matter, made seven changes and went out at Watford. What you might call a predictable anticlimax.
Insults continue to fly between Jose Mourinho and Chelsea’s Antonio Conte, who perhaps has been unwise to rise to the bait. To accuse Mourinho of having senile dementia was not only insulting but far, far wide of the mark. But now Mourinho has surpassed himself by talking of Conte and match-fixing which in a previous Italian managerial incarnation, he was wholly cleared of.
Ideally the Premiership should step in to rap both of them over the knuckles. After all, the reckless exchange of insults can hardly be doing the Greed is Good league any service.