FA Cup could belong to the little guys this year

It’s been the FA Cup of upsets in the 2018/19 season, with just a handful of Premier League (PL) sides remaining in England’s famous 148-year-old competition in the fifth round.

When you factor in that Chelsea play Manchester United tomorrow, it presents the very real possibility that a side from outside the top flight can win the prestigious tournament for the first time since West Ham United in 1980.

In close to a century and a half, just eight lower ranked teams have claimed the silverware, with at the time non-league Tottenham Hotspur being the lowest ranked side to claim it in 1901. That year, Sandy Brown was the hero as he scored three goals in total against Sheffield United even with the legendary William “Fatty” Foulke in goal.

Back to the present day, League Two Newport County were the lowest ranked team, but they faced Manchester City yesterday.

In today’s action, Championship side Bristol City take on Wolves, while League One Doncaster Rovers are at home to Crystal Palace. Second-tier teams Swansea City and Brentford also meet on the day.

With that said, it begs the question why so many PL sides have been knocked out this season in the earlier rounds. In terms of the other big guns, Arsenal went out to Man United in the fourth round, and Liverpool went out at the hands of Wolves. In addition, Tottenham Hotspur dropped out to Crystal Palace.

Everton, West Ham, Leicester City, Cardiff City, Southampton, Fulham and Huddersfield Town all lost to lower league sides. The implication seems to be that PL teams no longer value the FA Cup, instead focusing their energies on PL stability.

However, team selection suggests otherwise in the earlier round matches.

Trevor Brooking of West Ham FC scored the only goal in his club’s 1-0 win over their London rivals Arsenal in the 1980 FA Cup final at Wembley Stadium. Picture: Keystone / Getty Images

For Everton’s loss to Millwall, Wimbledon’s win over West Ham, Newport County’s shock defeat of Leicester, Gillingham’s success over Cardiff, Southampton’s loss to Derby County, Oldham Athletic’s triumph over Fulham and Bristol City’s win over Huddersfield – all PL sides apart from Fulham – played virtually full strength first elevens.

The Cottagers were without Aleksandar Mitrovic, Ryan Sessegnon and André Schürrle, who were all on the bench in the 2-1 loss to the Latics.

It appears that this year’s results could present nothing more than poor performances from PL teams and some rather inspired ones by the minnows.

A huge opportunity exists for a lower league outfit to emulate the West Ham class of 1980, who beat Arsenal 1-0 courtesy of Trevor Brooking’s header past Ray Jennings at Wembley Stadium.

Hope springs eternal and it could be a year for the underdog in this season’s instalment of England’s premier national cup competition.

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