The magic of the FA Cup?
As usual, there were some unexpected results in yesterday's FA Cup games. However, some Premiership clubs put out weakened teams, while attendances were generally low, in some cases because of supporter boycotts.
Reading fans faced paying £45 to see their team defeated by Manchester United, until their club stepped in to subsidise their tickets. In the past, clubs agreed ticket prices by mutual agreement, but now the home side sets the price beyond the qualifying rounds. The reason for this rule change was to stop smaller clubs who were not very attactive opposition demanding high ticket prices so that they got a pay day from their defeat.
Norwich City decided to charge £25 for their home fixture against Southampton. Canaries fans are among the most loyal in the country, if only because they have nowhere else to go, but they showed their disgust at the high prices by staying away in droves. The two teams ended up with a replay that neither of them wanted.
Canaries fans are very dissatisfied with the progress of their team in the Championship and some of them would like a change of owner as well as a change of manager. They should be careful what they wish for. Fans of clubs like Blackpool, Charlton and Coventry City would be delighted to have stable, cautious owners.
Another group of fans that are unhappy with the state of affairs at their club are those of Hull City and it was an eerie atmosphere with only 6,608 fans at the KCom Stadium to see their team under their new manager defeat Swansea City. The club's Supporters' Trust had called for a boycott and it was clearly successful, although some fans argued that the crowd woulld have been small anyway (but not that small).
Blackpool fans are deeply unhappy with their owners and the crowd of 4,875 was 69 per cent made up of 3,375 Barnsley fans.
The biggest attendance was at the one sided Premier League clash between West Ham United and Manchester City which was also televised (56,975). There was also a good crowd at Everton versus Leicester City (35,493). Only 17,632 were at Sunderland versus Burnley, but those that stayed away didn't miss much.
Some gates were boosted by away fans. Some 4,500 Newcastle United fans went to see their team draw at Birmingham City. Nearly 5,000 Imps saw their team draw at Ipswich Town. The travelling support of 4,838 broke the record for away fans at Portman Road which had been in place since 1992 when the ground became all seater. A good turnout of Glassboys boosted the crowd at Wycombe Wanderers, making up 35 per cent of the crowd of 6,312.
At Preston 6,000 Arsenal fans made up 27 per cent of the crowd. 23 per cent of the crowd at Rotherham United's New York Stadium was made of Oxford fans who enjoyed a win for their team.
The tactics of some teams were difficult to understand. One would think the FA Cup would be a useful target for a mid-table Premier League side like Bournemouth. They are in no real danger of being relegated, but nor are they likely to qualify for Europe through the league.
Instead, they put a completely changed side out against Millwall. This effective 2nd XI , even if they cost more than £40m, clearly did not know how to play with each other and they got thumped 3-0.
Eddie Howe's remarks afterwards made clear the pressures that the Premier League can put on a club: 'Do I regret making all those changes? In hindsight, yes, but our hands are tied a bit. The Premier League is so demanding. We need our best players available for later.'
On Sunday a Green Army of nearly 9,000 Plymouth Argyle supporters made the 600 mile round trip to Liverpool to see their team draw 0-0. Liverpool put out the youngest side in their history and ended up with a replay they could do without given upcoming fixtures.
At Cardiff just 5,199 turned out to see their side lose in the early televised fixture and they looked really lost in an impressive stadium. Manager Neil Warnock made six changes from the side that beat Aston Villa in the Championship, stating 'I think it is sad when you have to play a weakened team, but there are other priorities. We cannot afford to go down.'