The experts reckon that the magic has gone out of the FA Cup. Big sides field reserve sides until they reach the last four of the competition and ties take place in half empty stadiums.
The prestige and allure of the world’s most famous cup competition has apparently deserted it.
Well, tell that to those heading to the Amex on Saturday. Visitors Coventry City sold out their 4,529 allocation in a matter of hours.
The Albion are having to open up additional areas of the stadium to cope with the demand for tickets from home supporters.
Chris Hughton could give full debuts to £20m worth of strikers if he teams Leonardo Ulloa with Jurgen Locadia. And this is the most realistic chance the Albion have had of making a first FA Cup quarter-final since 1986.
Or at least it should be. Most sides would be fairly confident taking on the lowest-ranked team left in the competition, some 64 places below them in the footballing pyramid. But this is Brighton and Hove Albion we are talking about and over the past 25 years we’ve slipped on more banana skins than you find on the floor at Monkey World.
The roll of inglorious defeats to lower-league opposition in the FA Cup, League Cup and EFL Trophy since 1994 reads thus; Lincoln City (x2), Newport County, Swindon Town, Luton Town, Mansfield Town, Shrewsbury Town, Bristol Rovers, Hereford United, Sudbury Town and Kingstonian. Not to mention needing penalty shoot-outs to squeak past the might of both Wrexham and Canvey Island.
Go back further into Albion history and it doesn’t get any better. The 1970s were a particularly good period for messing things up against opposition from down the leagues, In 1974, we lost 1-0 to Leatherhead.
Even Brian Clough, one of the greatest managers ever to sit in a dugout, couldn’t inspire Brighton to overcome inferior opponents. He presided over arguably the worst performance of the lot, a 4-0 home defeat in a replay to Walton & Hersham in 1973.
When the draw was made, some supporters saw Coventry at home as a guaranteed place in the last eight.
They were already talking about being only one win from a meaningful trip to Wembley.
With the likes of Arsenal and Liverpool already out, could we make the final or maybe even win the whole thing?
Well, we’ve got to get past the Sky Blues first, which history suggests won’t be as easy as it looks on paper. Taking on Crystal Palace and Middlesbrough reserves in games that neither side was truly bothered about is one thing; playing an in-form, full-strength side backed by nearly 5,000 travelling fans who will fancy their chances of an upset is quite another.
And that is why, no matter what the experts say, the FA Cup is still magical.
It’s going to be a cracking afternoon at the Amex and if Brighton manage to overcome their phobia of beating sides from lower divisions and book a quarter-final spot, then a cup fever endemic might be about to break out across Sussex.
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