January 30, 2017 - 5:24pm
As the number of Premier League clubs knocked out of this season’s FA Cup by lower division opponents reached six on Sunday, debate intensified over whether the competition was being devalued by leading teams resting so many players.
Hull City and Watford joined Bournemouth, Liverpool, Stoke City and West Bromwich Albion in losing to sides from the second or third tier in this year’s competition, most of them making several changes to their strongest lineups.
Promotion-chasing Championship (second-tier) sides like Newcastle United, Brighton & Hove Albion and Leeds United followed suit against supposedly inferior opposition by suffering embarrassing defeats, the latter pair going out to non-League (fifth-tier) Lincoln City and Sutton United.
Leeds manager Garry Monk acknowledged he should not have made as many as 10 changes for a 1-0 humbling at Sutton, whose captain and goalscorer Jamie Collins said his side were given a huge boost when they saw the visitors’ team sheet.
Many managers, however, were influenced by the fact that there is a full programme of matches in the Premier League and Championship coming up in midweek.
That was no excuse, according to former England captain Alan Shearer, twice an FA Cup finalist with Newcastle United.
“Fans care about trophies,” he told the BBC. “I don’t get the resting of players and never have done.
“Liverpool as an example changed the team (for the 2-1 defeat by Wolverhampton Wanderers on Saturday). They’re not even in Europe. They’ve got 16 (Premier) league games left this season in four months.
“It’s just crazy, I don’t understand it. I’m all for bringing one or two young kids into the team but not six or seven of them.
“They (the clubs) are cheating the fans. Newcastle fans travelled 250 miles down to Oxford expecting their team to win. And he (manager Rafa Benitez) puts a weakened team out. It’s very, very disappointing.”
Fellow BBC pundit Phil Neville, who won the FA Cup three times with Manchester United, disagreed, however.
“I was at home (on Saturday) and loving all the upsets,” he said. “Every team’s making changes and I think it’s making the FA Cup better.
“A lot of Premier League teams are playing at home and so they’re making a lot of changes. It’s been fantastic for the Cup and I’m all for playing the kids. You find out whether they’re good enough.
“And Lincoln and Sutton are not thinking the FA Cup’s been diminished. They’re ecstatic they’re in the next round.
“I think the FA Cup’s alive and well more than ever.”