Is a cup run bad for league form?

It’s the FA Cup. Anything can happen. Teams from all leagues all over the country have the opportunity to face each other and the chance for a good old fashioned cup upset – but how far do good cup runs really impact negatively on form in the league?

There have, of course, historically been many cup runs which have proved fatal for the clubs involved. One example being Aston Villa sitting one place outside the relegation zone at the end of the 2014/15 season, one of their lowest finishes in the Premier League, with the FA Cup final defeat to Arsenal being played days after the closing game. And there is Wigan’s infamous cup win which coincided with their relegation from the Premier League in the 2012/13 season. Portsmouth also suffered the same fate a few years earlier, with their relegation in the 2009/10 season coming  as they came runners-up in the cup.

‘After drawing in the fourth round, Newport lost their next two league games’.

It seems this season teams have had a taste of the same medicine. League Two side Newport County reached the fourth round of the FA Cup for the first time in 40 years, and in this round drew 1-1 to Tottenham Hotspur at home on 27th January after losing their lead to a goal from Harry Kane which demanded a replay. However, after this cup draw, they lost their next two league games. The Exiles then played Spurs at Wembley on 7th February and lost 2-0, and after their exit from the cup they were hammered 5-0 in their next league game against Mansfield Town and have only won 1 in their last 5 league games since.

‘After this dramatic defeat, their return to the league saw them lose to bottom of the table’.

Another League Two team facing this same fate has been Notts County. After beating Championship opposition to get in to the fourth round of the Cup for the first time in over 20 years, their form also dipped. After not losing at home in the league all season, their two home games following their progression in the cup saw them lose 2-1 to Exeter City and the same score line rounded up the 90 minutes against Crawley Town. After going 1-0 down against Swansea on 27th January, veteran striker Jon Stead equalised for County, meaning he had scored in every round of the FA Cup and had earned the Magpies a replay to still be in contention for the fifth round. Before their visit to South Wales, they had one league win and one defeat, and then travelled to the Liberty Stadium eager to cause an upset. The only upsetting part of that game was County’s defence, as Swansea beat them 8-1 and could have easily scored more. After this dramatic defeat, their return to the league saw them lose to bottom of the table Barnet and fall out of the automatic promotion places. Since they crashed out of the cup however, their league form has improved as they find themselves back in the top three thanks to an up turn in form.

‘After their 3rd round win, they lost two on the spin to fall 2 points below the automatic promotion places’.

Alongside these tales, it has to be asked if Wigan are destined to repeat history. Before beating West Ham 2-0 to get into the fourth round of the cup, they were unbeaten in 10 consecutive league games and were 5 points clear at the top of League One. After this game, they won one league game but then lost two on the spin to fall 2 points below the automatic promotion places. On 19th February, Wigan miraculously beat Manchester City 1-0 in the fifth round of the cup. City had been tipped to take all four football trophies and their inability to make it to the quarter finals was shocking. There must be something in the water on the outskirts of Manchester, as Wigan have beaten Manchester City three times in the FA Cup in the last 6 seasons, and this is only the third time this season the sky blues have been unable to score. Wigan’s main aim of this campaign has been promotion, but is beating arguably the best team in Europe, if not the world at this current moment, enough consolation if they fail to get back into the Championship?

‘After drawing in the fourth round, Swansea beat Arsenal to escape the relegation zone’.

Although many teams league form dips when they have a prosperous cup run, we can’t talk about the cup’s effect on league form without mentioning Swansea City. After winning their replay to get into the fourth round of the cup on 17th January, they came back to the Premier League to beat 4th placed Liverpool 1-0. Then after drawing to Notts County in the fourth round, they again returned to the League on 30th January to beat 6th placed Arsenal 3-1, allowing them to escape the relegation zone for the first time since November. After thrashing Notts 8-1 in the replay, Swansea won their next league game against Burnley, which took them to 16th. Now they are happily through to the quarter finals after beating Sheffield Wednesday 2-0 after the draw in the first game took them to a replay, and along with this victory they currently sit in 14th in the Premier League, 4 points above the drop.

Many teams do see a dip in league form when they have runs in the FA Cup, and most place this on the strain of extra games, particularly if a team faces a replay or two. However, Swansea City have shown that this does not always need to be the case, with their league form improving exponentially since their cup run and their win against Wednesday came in their third consecutive replay in the cup this time round.

It has always baffled to see teams struggle in the league whilst doing well in the cup, as surely any good run of form must give confidence and momentum to the players, especially if cup wins come against higher opposition. Despite this, it is a trend one cannot overlook and brings in the prevalent question of late of whether the FA Cup is as prestigious as it used to be. With the continuous evidence of dips in league form during a cup run, managers often play a second or reserves team for many rounds of the cup and are accused of not taking it seriously.

However, if it changes league form or not, one would like to think the magic of the cup is still alive and kicking and that people love nothing more than a cup upset. Wigan will look so see how far they can go in both the cup and their attempts to secure a return to the second flight – perhaps associating their FA Cup successes with something more positive than the what accompanied their 2012/13 heroics.

Zoe Burgess

Featured Image courtesy of PhilosophyFootball via Flickr. License here.

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