Steve Bailey: FA Cup progress a help or hindrance for Albion?

Albion celebrate Beram Kayal's goal against MK Dons on Saturday. Picture by Phil Westlake (PW Sporting Photography)
Albion celebrate Beram Kayal's goal against MK Dons on Saturday. Picture by Phil Westlake (PW Sporting Photography)

There’s little doubt the magic of the FA Cup has lost its sparkle. It’s got to the point where it’s seen as an unwanted distraction by fans.

A third-round home tie with MK Dons drew little excitement for Albion fans. A crowd of just 11,091 watched the game, despite ticket prices as cheap as £12 for adults and £6 for under-18s. Low attendances were a theme throughout the competition, though, not just at the Amex.

Just 6,608 were at the all Premier League clash between Hull and Swansea and only 5,199 were at Cardiff against Fulham, although that game did have a ridiculous 11.30am kick-off on Sunday.

The games on television were not overly appealing either. Tottenham Hotspur at home to Aston Villa as the Sunday afternoon kick-off was a bizarre choice. I struggle to think of any neutral fans interested in it, while Sutton versus AFC Wimbledon – a match with many storylines – wasn’t even chosen as a televised match.

With the North Stand closed at the Amex on Saturday, the atmosphere was flat for much of the game. However, the match more than served its purpose from an Albion point of view.

Seagulls boss Chris Hughton made 11 changes to his starting line-up but spoke positively about the competition afterwards, saying he hoped for a home tie in the fourth round and wanted to progress further – a trip to Lincoln or Ipswich was not high on the agenda.

However, the plus side of another game – or more – in the competition is game time for fringe players and those coming back from injury.

Gone are the days when the FA Cup was a top priority for teams.

For Albion, Saturday’s match gave valuable game time to Beram Kayal. The midfielder had been out since September but made a goalscoring return and played 78 minutes.

Solly March completed his first 90 minutes for 13 months and the likes of goalkeeper Niki Maenpaa, defender Connor Goldson and several others got valuable minutes.

It was much needed for Goldson, who is likely to partner Shane Duffy in central defence at Preston on Saturday, with Lewis Dunk suspended.

More game time in the fourth round will keep him ticking over nicely, especially as Albion could need him to be match-sharp in future weeks or months in case of injury or suspension. The same applies to Maenpaa if David Stockdale has to miss a game or two.

Defeat at Hull in the third round last year was arguably welcome for Albion, who then had a smaller squad. This year, another game or two can only be beneficial. It will give squad members welcome game time and, if the likes of Stockdale, Duffy, Dale Stephens, Anthony Knockaert, Glenn Murray, etc; are rested or unused substitutes, what’s the harm in progressing another round or two?

While promotion from the Championship remains the ultimate goal, an FA Cup run isn’t the worst thing for Albion this season.

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