In the week following Valentine’s Day, the much-vaunted romance of the FA Cup appeared to experience something of a rekindling. While the fire in the loins of the world’s oldest football competition was subsequently dampened by “Pie-gate” (as to which, Sports Shorts’ thoughts are here), the FA Cup quarter-finals will see their first non-league representative since 1914 following Lincoln City’s defeat of Burnley at Turf Moor. Together with Sutton United’s courageous efforts against an Arsenal side 105 places above them in the league pyramid and Millwall’s humbling of three Premier League sides in the last three rounds, there appears to be life in the old competition yet.
Despite this, the FA Cup’s detractors still point to the fact that many clubs treat the competition with a lack of respect, playing reserve or youth team players until they reach the latter stages of the tournament, at which point full strength teams are picked. Long gone are the days when elite clubs would pick their strongest teams in the early rounds of the competition. While Arsenal fielded a strong (albeit not first-choice) eleven against Sutton, Southampton were eliminated in the previous round after playing a first eleven lacking any recognisable first team players. Southampton’s team selection raised a number of eyebrows in the football world. At the time of the Fourth Round fixtures, Southampton were safely ensconced in mid-table safety and had already qualified for the EFL Cup Final. What would be its reason for picking a weakened team? Continue Reading