Mouth-watering ties highlight the importance of an FA Cup run

Plenty of times in recent seasons has the credibility of the FA Cup been questioned, with a major argument being that the competition lends itself to the bigger teams having the chance to rest their first-team players. However, if the likes of Blackpool and Wolves have been seen to prioritise winnable league games over others, then by the same token shouldn’t the magic of the Premier League itself be questioned? It isn‘t, of course, and nor should the FA Cup, which has produced some real classics already this season, with few better than yesterday’s early kick-off between Birmingham and Bolton.

In a breathtaking game of end-to-end football the two teams – at very different ends of the Premier League this year – could each have won, but Bolton’s clinical edge and confidence from their handsome league position highlighted the fine lines involved in knockout competitions. Both teams, of course, had very opposing reasons for putting everything into a cup run, with the Blues looking for a further dose of consolation – in addition to the excellent League Cup win – to add gloss to a season that could well see them relegated. The Trotters, on the other hand, are aiming for a trophy to fully recognise their success so far this Premier League season.

In just one game we were treated to two of the reasons why the FA Cup is a vital part of the English football season. In earlier rounds we saw Crawley Town embark on the classic minnows cup run, ultimately coming within literally inches of taking the mighty Manchester United to a West Sussex replay. And today we will enjoy a battle between a stagnating Stoke City, who are hoping to find some form from somewhere, against a fast-improving West Ham side, who have successfully translated recent FA Cup form into league points.

Stoke, whose last three FA Cup wins have been followed by league defeats and whose fans are beginning to turn on the tactics of their manager, Tony Pulis, are beginning to slide towards the danger-zone of the Premier League and will be using today’s fixture as both a welcome distraction from the norm and as a chance to build some momentum for the ensuing relegation battle. The visitors to the Britannia, West Ham, have won both league games which immediately ensued their previous two FA Cup victories – impressively beating Blackpool away and Liverpool at home, each with a 3-1 scoreline – and the chance of a first FA Cup win for 30 years would be an extra way to prove a corner has been turned and for the 2010/11 season to be more fondly remembered. Try to tell the fans of either team this competition has been an unnecessary distraction.

Whatever a team’s reason for going for the cup, the vast majority this season have respected it as an important part of English football and, as such, the fans have been treated to some real classics – and, of course, some edgy displays too – which have shown the FA Cup truly does have the power to change seasons.

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