An FA Cup Fairytale is unlikely

It’s FA Cup Third Round weekend and the football mad public are scheduled to be engulfed in clichéd nostalgia.

The thought that “it could be our year” is whizzing round the mind of football fans up and down the country probably accompanied by images of Sutton United, Ronnie Radford and an appropriate piece of folklore relevant to their club (unless they are fans of one of the 695 sides already eliminated from the Cup).

The narrative can be developed further – Premier League clubs are more interested about the Top 4 or avoiding the drop. Three years ago, three out of four semi finalists were from the Championship. If we get some good draws we can make it to Wembley.

However, the tea leaves this season do not point towards another final appearance from a side like Cardiff. Not enough Premier League sides have been drawn against each other in the Third Round.

The only all Premier League tie is Manchester United v Liverpool. For the other 18 Premier League sides not to progress they will have to be beaten by lower league opposition, which some will undoubtedly do, but lower league sides can only progress to the latter stages of the FA Cup when the top tier teams eliminate each other.

In 2008, when Cardiff got to the FA Cup Final (and Barnsley and West Brom joined them in the Semi Finals), there were no fewer than five all Premiership ties in the Third Round.

Aston Villa v Manchester United

Tottenham v Reading

Sunderland v Wigan

West Ham v Manchester City

Stoke v Newcastle

That year Birmingham, Blackburn, Bolton and Everton also failed to make it past the Third Round, and with Premier League clubs only taking up 11 places in the pot for the Fourth Round it was no suprise that lower league sides progressed as far as they did.

Similarly in 2004 when Millwall made it to the Final fans remember that they were the first side in history to get to the final without facing top flight opponents.

They didn’t have to because there were five all Premier League matchups in the first round.

Birmingham v Blackburn

Leeds v Arsenal

Leicester v Manchester City

Aston Villa v Manchester United

Southampton v Newcastle

These are the only times in the Premier League era that a lower league side has reached the final.

In fact the correlation between all Premier League Third Round pairings and lower league success is so strong that in 2006 when there were zero top flight matchups in the Third Round – all lower league sides were eliminated by the Fifth Round.

We could be in for an FA Cup season without even a little guy to cheer along.

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