FA Cup shocks prove Premier League standards are slipping

Jan 28, 2013

Have upsets given cup competition the 'kiss of life' or embarrassed English football?

IT WAS a weekend of carnage for Premier League clubs in the FA Cup, as seven top flight teams bit the dust, five of them at the hands of lower-league opposition.

The rash of giant killings this weekend means that there are more Championship sides left in the competition than teams from the Premier League. But the experts are split on whether it is a good thing, amid concerns that standards in English football are slipping.

League Two minnows Bradford laid down a marker in the Capital One Cup last week when they killed off Aston Villa to make it to Wembley, and Villa were the fall-guys again on Friday, when they were beaten by Championship Millwall in the FA Cup.

Then Luton became the first non-league side to shock a top flight outfit for almost a quarter of a century when they knocked out Norwich on Saturday. And MK Dons were unfortunate that their win against QPR was overshadowed by results elsewhere.

Then on Sunday, Oldham overcame Liverpool, Leeds beat Spurs and Brentford almost stunned Chelsea.

Alan Hansen in the Daily Telegraph said the shocks had given the FA Cup the "kiss of life". "This was the weekend when the FA Cup got a shot in the arm and I hope that will continue for the remainder of the season, and beyond," he wrote.

But for Alan Shearer, a fellow Match of the day pundit, writing in The Sun, the results are ominous and suggest that the quality of football in the Premier League is slipping.

"For excitement, passion, commitment and the atmosphere in the grounds, the Premier League is great," he argued. "But... the quality of the football is falling.

"The standard simply has not been up to scratch this year."

Non-league midfielder Sam Wedgbury, whose Macclesfield side gave Wigan a tough match, had another take on events. He accused the top sides of relying on the referee.

After his side's narrow 1-0 defeat he told the Daily Mail: "There were one or two challenges where at our level it’s play on but at their level it's a free kick.

"I think the game’s a bit soft... The higher up you go, it becomes more of a non-contact sport."

Writing for Sport.co.uk, Tayler Willson, argued that the English game does not promote skill.

"The Premier League is the best league in the world for excitement, week in week out there are defensive errors, shock results, goalkeeping howlers and goals galore, it is this rather than great football that makes the league so special. For the neutral, the Premier League is a fantastic watch, but if it's top draw football you are after, [Spain's] La Liga is the place to go."

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Shearer et al are most likely reading too much into a short spate of giant-killing (the plural of "anecdote" is not "data"), but the claim that premiership sides rely more on the ref to give free kicks for nancy-boy injuries and outright dives may have more in it. Worth noting that the Premiership has more players from the continent where diving is the second national sport.