Chris Holt: Sam hope of Premier League sides respecting the FA Cup

Sunderland manager Sam Allardyce
Sunderland manager Sam Allardyce
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There was a time when the third round of the FA Cup was a Saturday in the footballing calender that warranted bringing out the big red pen.

For many fans, that remains the case, but for the bean-counters among the game’s elite in England, it represents an unwanted distraction from more financially-rewarding appointments.

Lip service is given to the competition, they ‘love the FA Cup’, ‘of course we want to win it’ but statements such as these come with a caveat, a ‘but’ that may not be said publicly, however it looms large. The Premier League as an organisation will come out and offer their support of the historic tournament but in reality all they care about are their teams and when they can get back to business.

That is made evident by the decision to put on a full programme of Premier League fixtures in the midweek immediately after the third round.

Many of the Premier League clubs will genuinely want to give their all in the FA Cup. Put out the strongest team possible and have a right go at it, showing respect to the opposition and give their fans hope that despite where they are currently situated in the league, the hopes and dreams of a trip to Wembley can remain.

On Saturday, Sheffield United travel to Old Trafford to take on the might of Manchester United.

It will still be a great occasion for the Blades and for their fans in particular who have been in the lower reaches of the Football League ladder for far too long.

But is Louis van Gaal overly bothered? Will he put out a team against Nigel Adkins’ side, as strong as the one he did against Swansea last week?

The Dutchman may be under a fair amount of pressure but should the Blades cause a shock - not beyond the realms of possibility - he can be safe in the knowledge that as embarrassing as it may be in the short term, his pay masters will be more concerned with how the side fare on Tuesday, when they travel to Newcastle.

Sam Allardyce hammered the Premier League this week over the same thing.

It was self-serving of course, as you would come to expect, offering the Sunderland boss an excuse to field a weakened side when his relegation-haunted team travel to face Arsenal at the weekend, but his point stands. When asked whether he would make changes at the Emirates, Allardyce said: “If the Premier League decides to put a stupid fixture midweek when they don’t bloody need to, then I haven’t got much choice.”

He added: “If you want us to respect the FA Cup, don’t put Premier League fixtures in the midweek just after new year. Don’t give me stick when I change the side at Arsenal. Give the Premier League stick, not the managers. It’s a game to be enjoyed, not a game to be destroyed and we destroy the game by asking the players to do too much in this period.”

Allardyce isn’t universally popular but he’s not far wrong on this one, even if it suits him to take this particular stance.

You can’t expect teams with Premier League priorities to give credence to the FA Cup if their minds are already looking beyond the knock out tie ahead of them.

And Arsenal are the same. They may have won it two years in a row, but in those seasons they were a fair bit off challenging for the Premier League.

Not this time. Arsene Wenger’s men are genuine contenders for the title and face a tricky trip to Liverpool on Wednesday night.

Of course they have a decent sized squad to cope with the rigours of a challenge on more than one front, but having been shining the trophy at home for a couple of years they’d almost be forgiven for saying ‘we’ll give that one a miss this time’.

So we end up with two under-strength sides turning out in the football equivalent of the episode of Father Ted when Ireland decide they can’t afford to host the Eurovision Song content anymore and pick Craggy Island’s finest to represent them.

It’s sad that a competition is left like this, but on the other hand, try telling Blades fans at Old Trafford on Saturday it doesn’t matter anymore.