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Tuesday, 07 January 2014

Aston Villa: Was Lambert's comments on the FA Cup wrong or just honest?

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Paul Lambert has spent the entire weekend explaining his recent comments - that the majority of top-flight clubs would rather not have the distraction of the FA Cup. 

Since the media swarmed on his words Lambert has claimed to have been misquoted or that his comments were taken out of context. Whether what he said was misquoted or not, it has raised a question that seems to rear its head every time the FA Cup reaches the Third Round and the so-called big teams enter the fray.

As money continues to dominate the game teams seem to focus more and more on simply staying the Premier League. It’s where all the money is and if a club has ploughed any decent amount of investment into their club or the infrastructure, it’s where a team needs to stay to ensure its survival.

The problems currently facing Aston Villa Football Club seem to be mirroring the problems facing the entire nation. While wage bills are constantly being slashed and players are brought in from the lower leagues or from abroad, the club and the players are expected to continue performing at the highest level.

Villa picked up a vital win against Sunderland before the FA Cup weekend came along and it was clear from the outset Lambert could not care less about how his team progressed in the competition. Luckily for him a team boasting pretty much a full squad, other than Jed Steer replacing Brad Guzan in goal, limped out of the cup with yet another inept home display.

Lambert dejectedThat means Villa are already out of all cup competitions and now have the joy of another five months battling to stay in the Premiership to look forward to. But if Villa are to stay in the Premiership - with their young, inexperienced and slim squad - is it better they can now focus purely on survival?

Last year the team battled its way to the semi-finals of the League Cup before being embarrassingly dumped out of the competition by Bradford City. No Villa fan complained at the time as the run had been a distraction and I’m sure no-one would have complained about an extended FA Cup run this season.

The chances of Villa, in their present form, making it further than the Fourth Round, had they progressed, were slim to none. But having something to focus on rather than the monotony of the league would have been a breath of fresh air.

As it stands Villa only have the visit of Arsenal to look forward to next – and what a hiding that could turn out to be.

Playing the odd cup game cannot, and would not, take too much out this Villa squad because you're not talking too many games. Fans may point towards Wigan Athletic being the first side to ever win the FA Cup and get relegated during the same season in 2013. But would they have stayed up without the distraction of the cup, or did winning the cup make an almost inevitable relegation that much easier to swallow?

Perhaps the reason why the FA Cup has a particular soft spot for Villa fans is because of the club’s history and affiliation with the competition – and also the fact we haven’t won the thing for 57 years! Victories in 1887, 1895, 1897, 1905, 1913, 1920 and 1957 meant Villa were always regarded as one of the best at lifting the most famous club trophy in the world for almost a century.

Fans like myself were not even born when Villa’s greatest triumph of all, lifting the European Cup, occurred in 1982.

Speak to those who were there that day, but were not around for the 1957 FA Cup triumph – which is quite a few – and they will tell you the FA Cup is the one victory they have yet to savour.

The FA Cup final in 2000 between Villa and Chelsea, which was the last at the old Wembley before it was transformed into the stadium it is today, was one of the worst in recent memory - especially as Villa lost 1-0. It was seen as Villa’s best chance to right the wrongs of the past but even the most pessimistic fan would not have thought 14 years on the club would be so far away from lifting the cup again.

Clubs that don’t take the competition seriously are often playing with fire because the cup still retains much of its appeal, especially with supporters. To see your club lift the trophy must be one of the greatest feelings in the world and sadly it's one Villa fans will not be experiencing for at least another year.

No-one expects a team like Villa to win the cup, but then again no-one really expected us to reach the League Cup semi-finals last year, which proved once again anything’s possible in cup football.

Lambert clearly has more important things playing on his mind at present – keeping his job after a run of awful home performances being top of the list – but perhaps he’ll regret giving the cup less than a second glance this year.

Article by James Fisher

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