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Joe Strange - Magic of the Cup is alive and well

Published: 25 Jan 2010 - 06:37:12

If you're one of those people who tend to believe what they read in the papers or see on TV, then you might be forgiven for thinking that the FA Cup is on a slippery slope into obscurity.

Despite its proud history and tradition, the Cup is not immune from criticism - and it's around this time of year that some within the media inevitably wheel out the old clichés.

"Big clubs don't care about it anymore", "we all know who's going to win it" and "it highlights the gulf in class between the leagues" - apparently.

That's not to say that the Cup's critics don't make some sense in the points they make.

After all, there has only been one winner of the FA Cup outside of Manchester United, Arsenal, Liverpool and Chelsea in the last 13 years - Portsmouth in 2008.

A lot of Premier League clubs, particularly those near the top of the table regularly field under-strength teams in the Cup, choose to prioritise league success over a day out at Wembley (see Arsenal's starting 11 v Stoke yesterday afternoon).

And as for the gulf in class between England's leagues - this season we\ve seen Chelsea beat Watford 5-0, Preston put seven past Colchester without reply and Leeds defeat Kettering by four.

So is the FA Cup losing the magic it became famous for?

Try asking that question to Leeds United fans this morning.

Yes, some clubs don't show the Cup the respect it deserves and we could definitely do with seeing a few more winners from outside the top four, but this season's competition is definitely going some way to silencing the critics.

Leeds turned in their second fantastic performance in the Cup on Saturday evening, coming away from Tottenham with a well-deserved 2-2 draw.

Spurs respected their opponents and the Cup with an almost full-strength starting 11 but United's hard work, desire and impressive play gave their 4,500-strong traveling contingent a day out they will never forget.

And that is what the cup is all about – moments like Jermaine Beckford's 96th-minute equaliser away at White Hart Lane or his winner over rivals Manchester United in the previous round.

But it's not just Leeds who have made this season's FA Cup one of the most entertaining and unpredictable for many a year.

Reading dumped Liverpool out at Anfield and then beat Premier League Burnley on Saturday lunchtime.

League One Southampton defeated Championship Ipswich Town, setting up a mouth-watering local derby with struggling Portsmouth in the fifth round – a winnable tie which could see them reach the quarter finals.

Brighton and Accrington Stanley pushed Aston Villa and Fulham all the way this weekend, while Crystal Palace and Notts County did brilliantly to force replays with Premier League sides Wolves and Wigan Athletic.

With three of the so-called 'big four' out of the competition already, Chelsea will be heavy favourites to lift their second consecutive FA Cup but with the drama and upsets we've already seen so far, don't be surprised if this season throws up one of the greatest underdog stories of all time.

READ JOE STRANGE EXCLUSIVELY AT FOOTBALL.CO.UK EVERY MONDAY

DSG


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FOOTBALL.CO.UK BLOGGER:joe strange
A product of Brighton University's prolific youth system, Joe Strange has boundless energy and the enviable ability to cover every blade of grass in his Monday blog. Joe has written for a variety of football websites and fanzines and is also a regular contributor to golf.co.uk. Despite being born and raised in Kent, 'Stranger' is a diehard Everton fan and counts his team's penalty shoot-out victory against Manchester United last season as his most memorable football moment. Follow Joe on Twitter @joe_strange.

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