Glenn Moore: It may have lost some glamour but Cup is looking trendy again

The FA Cup Dossier

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The Independent Online

There was an unusual addition to the television schedules on 18 November 1981: a live football match.

It was a World Cup qualifier between England and Hungary at Wembley, memorably won when Trevor Brooking's mishit shot struck Paul Mariner and went in. It was a big occasion, and not just because victory sent England to their first finals in 12 years. Live televised football was still a rare event three decades ago. In non-tournament years there was usually little more than the European Cup final, a schoolboy international, the England v Scotland game, and the big one, the FA Cup final.

This week a viewer with access to the standard satellite channels, Sky, ESPN and Eurosport, will have been able to watch 42 live matches, from Italy to Scotland, Germany to Gabon. More matches are available on the internet and in pubs with foreign decoders.

That is why, more than the rise of the Champions League, the financial imperatives of the Premier League, or Manchester United's flit to Rio in 2000, the FA Cup has been diminished to the stage where, last season, the final was overshadowed as Manchester United clinched their 19th title the same day. No matter how much prize-money the FA pours into it, or whatever glitz it adds to the day, the FA Cup will never regain its place at the heart of the nation's consciousness, no more than the Boat Race or the Queen's Christmas message.

However, the 140-year-old trophy is still a long way from following the Watney Cup and Texaco Cup to the scrap-metal dealers (even at today's prices). There are signs, seized upon by the Football Association chief executive, Alex Horne, on Thursday, that the Premier League clubs are taking it more seriously this season. Chief among these is the team selection for the third-round ties.

With all top-flight clubs carrying sizeable squads most managers make two or three changes from match-to-match, for reasons of suspension, injury, tactics and form, whatever the competition. Yet Chelsea, Sunderland and Fulham all named 10 starters from their FA Cup third-round XI in their next match in the Premier League. Aston Villa's Alex McLeish, who might have been expected to rest a few for the trip to struggling League Two Bristol Rovers, retained nine starters, while eight Everton players faced Tamworth on the Saturday, then Tottenham away on the Wednesday. Everton have injuries, which restricts selection, but some managers would feel that is another reason to rest key players. Of the 20 clubs, 16 retained more than half the starters for their next match. Only Liverpool, Tottenham and Wigan did not have at least nine players figuring, as either starters or substitutes, in both games.

McLeish, who was "rewarded" for his commitment with tomorrow's away tie at Arsenal, said before playing Rovers: "We would seriously love to do well in the FA Cup. Everyone dreams of having a bit of Cup glory. If you get to the later reaches, you see how important it becomes. It has been a long time for this club, but it can be done."

The value of a good FA Cup campaign is illustrated by the subsequent fortunes of last season's finalists. Manchester City's victory, the first silverware since the Abu Dhabi takeover, was undoubtedly a significant step in the club's progress, easing the pressure on players and management, and enabling the club to show potential signings City could offer medals as well as riches. For differing reasons three other big clubs, Chelsea, Arsenal and, notwithstanding their Carling Cup final appearance, Liverpool, could do with a similar boost.

Indeed, Chelsea's assistant manager Robbie Di Matteo said before the club's third-round win over Portsmouth: "When you have a Cup run it gives everybody confidence and can lift the supporters."

For Stoke City reaching the first FA Cup final in their history, followed by their Europa League march to next month's tie with Valencia, has announced them as an established top-flight club more effectively than any number of seasons of mid-table Premier League survival could have done. Wembley, and Europe, will certainly have played a part in encouraging players of the calibre of Peter Crouch, Jonathan Woodgate and Wilson Palacios to sign during last summer.

"We've got great and fond memories of last year in terms of what it brought the football club and what it brought for us individually and for the supporters," said the Stoke manager, Tony Pulis, yesterday.

Pulis fielded a good team at Gillingham in the last round and said he will put out a side at Derby County today which "will reflect what we think of the FA Cup," and it would be a "strong" one. However, he was disappointed that this round is followed by a full midweek Premier League programme. "As soon as the game is over we will be preparing for Manchester United away. With the FA Cup, you would like to have a bit of time after it and you haven't."

That is bound to influence team selection this weekend – as shown by Liverpool and Spurs in the third round. However, managers beware. Roberto Martinez fielded the weakest XI on third-round day and Wigan lost at League Two Swindon. When Mick McCarthy did the same for Wolves' replay with Birmingham he lost. Both also lost the following league game.

Five Asides

1. Chelsea call Uefa's bluff on Financial Fair Play

Uefa's top brass have reaffirmed the governing body's determination to enforce Financial Fair Play, even to the extent of banning clubs that fail to comply. In other news Chelsea, who already seem likely to fail FFP, reportedly offered £16.7m for Willian and £8m for Kevin de Bruyne. The only conclusion is that Chelsea do not believe Uefa is serious. Over to you, M Platini.

2. Politicians leave youth football in darkness

Many a youth football team is faced in winter with a choice between hiring expensive floodlit facilities, or not training, as it becomes too dark to put a session on after school. It is thus disheartening that a small group of MPs tabled a series of "wrecking amendments" to "talk out" a Private Members' Bill which merely called for consultation on introducing an extra hour of daylight saving. It is to be hoped Sir George Young, the Leader of the House, can find a way to re-table a bill which could help get kids away from their PlayStations and into exercise.

3. This is hands down the best suggestion of the week

The penalty given against Micah Richards at Anfield has prompted a suggestion from reader Ciro Castaldo, a referee. He said, as Richards raised his arms, handball was the right verdict, but added it was physically near-impossible for Richards to attempt the block without doing so. He noted in rugby union the sanction for a knock-on depends on intent. If accidental, a scrum is awarded with the put-in to the opposition; if the knock-on is deliberate, it's a penalty. His solution is an indirect free-kick where the ball has been handled accidentally. He added it would make the lives of referees "much easier". Maybe, maybe not, as I think there would still be controversy, and some referees would use it as a cop-out, but the idea is worth consideration.

4. Prize-money is stifling transfer-window activity

One reason for the lack of activity in this month's transfer window is the value of finishing positions in the Premier League. Each place is worth an extra £756,000, which is one reason Fulham, for example, appear happy to keep Andrew Johnson and risk him leaving in the summer on a free transfer. His goals may propel them up three places.

5. Guinea's cup progress has a hollow ring to it

It is difficult to feel much enthusiasm for the success of co-hosts Equatorial Guinea at the African Cup of Nations when only two of the 21-man squad that has reached the last eight was born there. Several players appear to have no family qualification and only a tenuous residential one, if at all.

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Glenn Moore's verdict on all the weekend FA Cup action

Bolton v Swansea City

Kick-off: 3pm (Highlights ITV1, 10.45pm)

Ref: A Taylor (Cheshire)

Odds: Home 7-5; Draw 12-5, Away 2-1.

Last FA Cup meeting: 1926 Semi-final, Bolton Wanderers 3 Stoke City 0

*Bolton Wanderers

Leading scorer: I Klasnic, 8

Team news: Tim Ream will have to wait for his debut as a number of Owen Coyle's squad suffer from a virus. Jussi Jasskelainen (thigh) may return in goal.

*Swansea City

Leading scorer: D Graham, 9

Team news: Alan Tate returns from a leg injury, but Steven Caulker is left out on parent club Tottenham's request. Josh McEachran could make his first start after his own loan move from Chelsea.

Derby v Stoke City

Kick-off: 3pm (Highlights ITV1, 10.45pm)

Ref: M Clattenburg (T & W)

Odds: Home 2-1; Draw 9-4, Away 5-4.

Last FA Cup meeting: 1938 third round, Derby County 1 Stoke City 2

*Derby County

Leading scorer: T Robinson, 8

Team news: Nigel Clough has doubts over forwards Nathan Tyson (groin) and top scorer Theo Robinson. On-loan Ryan Noble is also in contention.

*Stoke City

Leading scorer: P Crouch, J Walters, 8

Team news: Tony Pulis almost has a fully fit squad, with defenders Andy Wilkinson and Ryan Shotton available and only Mamady Sidibe (knee) absent.

Hull City v Crawley Town

Kick-off: 3pm (Highlights ITV1, 10.45pm)

Ref: S Attwell (Yorkshire)

Odds: Home 4-5; Draw 5-2, Away 7-2.

Last FA Cup meeting: Never previously met in competition

*Hull City

Leading scorer: M Fryatt, R Koren, 8

Team news: Liam Rosenior returns from an ankle injury for Nick Barmby's side. Robbie Brady could retain his place alongside Aaron Mclean after scoring the winner against Ipswich in the previous round.

*Crawley Town

Leading scorer: M Tubbs, 17

Team news: Sanchez Watt makes his debut after joining on loan from Arsenal, while Claude Davis (leg) and John Akinde (thigh) are in contention.

Leicester City v Swindon

Kick-off: 3pm (Highlights ITV1, 10.45pm)

Ref: D Drysdale (Lincs)

Odds: Home 4-7; Draw 11-4, Away 5-1.

Last FA Cup meeting: Never previously met in the competition.

*Leicester City

Leading scorer: D Nugent, 9

Team news: Nigel Pearson awaits updates on striker Paul Gallagher (back), while Michael Johnson is short of fitness and Danny Drinkwater is cCup-tied.

*Swindon Town

Leading scorer: M Ritchie, 9

Team news: Alan McCormack returns from suspension and could partner Aden Flint, in place of Joe Devera. Billy Bodin and new signing Luke Rooney are both Cup-tied for Paolo di Canio's side.

Millwall v Southampton

Kick-off: 3pm (Highlights ITV1, 10.45pm)

Ref: R East (Wiltshire)

Odds: Home 9-5; Draw 12-5, Away 7-5.

Last FA Cup meeting: 2003 fourth-round replay, Millwall 1 Southampton 2

*Millwall

Leading scorer: D Henderson, 15

Team news: Paul Robinson misses out with a thigh injury and Jordan Stewart has a groin complaint, while Shane Lowry and Alan Dunne are suspended.

*Southampton

Leading scorer: R Lambert, 17

Team news: Top scorer Rickie Lambert returns from suspension for Nigel Adkins' side, while new signing Tadanari Lee could make his debut. Jos Hooiveld (hamstring) and Adam Lallana (groin) are doubts.

Stevenage v Notts Co

Kick-off: 3pm (Highlights ITV1, 10.45pm)

Ref: N Swarbrick (Lancs)

Odds: Home Evens; Draw 9-4, Away 13-5.

Last FA Cup meeting Never previously met in competition

*Stevenage

Leading scorer: C Beardsley, 9

Team news: New manager Gary Smith is unlikely to make many changes for his first match in charge. Darius Charles impressed against MK Dons in midweek while Chuks Aneke is hoping for a recall.

*Notts County

Leading scorer: J Hughes, 13

Team news: Kieron Freeman is ineligible and could be replaced by the returning Julian Kelly (calf). Hamza Bencherif and Lee Hughes also hope for recalls.

West Brom v Norwich City

Kick-off: 3pm (Highlights ITV1, 10.45pm)

Ref: M Oliver (Northumberland)

Odds: Home 10-11; Draw 13-5, Away 11-4.

Last FA Cup meeting: 1982 fifth round, West Bromwich Albion 1 Norwich City 0.

*West Bromwich Albion

Leading scorer: S Long, 6

Team news: Paul Scharner is struggling with an ankle injury while Shane Long may be rested to protect his back complaint. Simon Cox could deputise.

*Norwich City

Leading scorer: S Morison, 9

Team news: Striker James Vaughan is set to make a return, while Elliott Ward (knee) and Marc Tierney (groin) are also back in contention. Tottenham have asked the club not to play loanee Kyle Naughton.

Brighton v Newcastle

Kick-off: 5.15pm (ESPN, Highlights ITV1, 10.45pm)

RefL L Probert (Wilts)

Odds: Home 11-4; Draw 12-5, Away 10-11.

Last FA Cup meeting: 1986 third round, Newcastle United 0 Brighton & Hove Albion 2

*Brighton & Hove Albion

Leading scorer: A Barnes, 8

Team news: Kazenga LuaLua is battling a hamstring injury to face his former side, while Craig Noone and Vicente Rodriguez may also return for this evening's game.

*Newcastle United

Leading scorer: D Ba, 15

Team news: Captain Fabricio Coloccini is doubtful after the defender picked up a groin injury in training. Demba Ba and Papiss Cissé will not be back from African Cup of Nations duty until next week.

Sunderland v Middlesborough

Kick-off: Tomorrow, 1.30pm (ITV1, Highlights ITV1, 10.45pm)

Ref: K Friend (Leics) Odds Home 4-6; Draw 11-4, Away 4-1.

Last FA Cup meeting 1975 fourth round, Middlesbrough 3 Sunderland 1

*Sunderland

Leading scorer: S Larsson, 6

Team news: Nicklas Bendtner (face) is missing for Martin O'Neill's side, though Fraizer Campbell could make a timely return from his knee injury, while Jack Colback (ankle) has returned to training..

*Middlesborough

Leading scorer: M Emnes, 11

Team news: Goalkeepers Danny Coyne and Jason Steele are doubts for Tony Mowbray's side, while Julio Arca and Kevin Thomson are suspended.

The Other Games

Last night

Everton v Fulham

Watford v Tottenham Hotspur

Today

(3pm ko unless stated)

QPR v Chelsea (12)

Liverpool v Manchester United (12.45)

Blackpool v Sheffield Wednesday

Sheffield United v Birmingham City

Highlights: ITV 1, 10.45pm tonight

Tomorrow

Arsenal v Aston Villa (4)

*The fifth-round draw will take place on ITV 1 after tomorrow's Sunderland-Middlesbrough match. Nuneaton Town captain Mark Noon and former Middlesbrough midfielder Gaizka Mendieta will make the draw.

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