Why aren't mid-table Premier League sides bothered about progressing in the FA Cup?

Why has the FA Cup become a second-rate competition?

The FA Cup has provided football fans with countless, everlasting memories over the years. Once a tournament which carried so much clout and importance, slowly as the season's have passed by it has turned into an unwanted distraction for teams who have decided to focus on different season objectives over obtaining the trophy.

The world's oldest cup competition was for years viewed as a massive achievement for sides who progressed in it; not just for the bigger teams participating from the Premier League/First Division, but also for the smaller clubs battling it out to try and cause an upset.

These days though, the Premier League's bigger sides are solely focussed on either a title challenge or ensuring they obtain a top four finish to gain entry into the Champions League the following season, while the first tier's smaller clubs put all their efforts into staying in the top flight and avoiding relegation.

This is of course an understandable tactic for sides who find themselves in the aforementioned positions, however why are teams who are safe from the drop come January and nowhere near the top six still not bothered with a decent cup run and possible day out at Wembley for their fans? It's baffling and insulting to the competition as a whole.

Mid-table PL sides aren't up for the fight

This season alone we've seen the likes of Everton, Leicester and West Ham all subjected to 'giant killings' by lower league opponents.

Bar Everton, who actually put out an almost full-strength side to face Millwall and were deservedly beaten after an extremely poor performance in South London, both Leicester and West Ham gambled by putting out a second-string sides against League Two Newport County and League One basement dwellers AFC Wimbledon.

Granted, a Premier League's reserve team should still have enough to beat a side from two/three divisions lower, but it wasn't just about the quality of personnel on show, but also the complete lack of desire to go to a small ground with a poor pitch on a Saturday/Sunday evening and show everyone exactly why they play for teams in the Premier League.

Leicester, Everton and West Ham weren't up for it at all and complete credit has to go to the sides who knocked them out as they wanted it much, much more and proved their worth whilst the rest of the country watched on in awe.

With all three of those teams from the Premier League currently occupying the top 12, almost certainly safe from the drop but comfortably outside of Europa League contention, the fact that they all neglected a run in the FA Cup is an absolute travesty - what else are they playing for this term; just for the sake of it to make up the numbers?

With only three sides from the top six remaining in the FA Cup this time out - Manchester United, Chelsea and Manchester City (soon to be two as United & Chelsea face off in the next round) - this season's competition is set up for one of the top flight's second-rate sides to at least reach the semi-finals and give their fans a trip to Wembley, but the desire simply isn't there and it's a massive shame.

Marco Silva Everton
Marco Silva's Everton crashed out to Millwall in the last round.

Wolves through by the skin of their teeth

In the cup's fourth round, we saw Wolves only just manage to overcome League One strugglers Shrewsbury Town. Once again, Nuno Espirito Santo fielded what looked to be a strong side on paper, with the likes of Ruben Neves, Conor Coady, Matt Doherty and Adam Traore all lining up against the Shrews in the first round at the end of January.

It was clear from the outset which side the tie meant more to however, and it's wasn't the Premier League outfit as Shrewsbury took a the lead in the 47th minute before going 2-0 up 20 minutes from time.

Luckily for Wolves, two late goals from substitute Raul Jimemez and Matt Doherty rescued a draw for the visitors, with a replay at Molineux earlier this week deciding that the tie would end in Wolves' favour.

Tuesday night's second leg clash was played out in an almost identical fashion to the first one though, as Shrewsbury found themselves two goals to the good at half-time.

Again, goals from player of the season Matt Doherty (2) and Ivan Cavaleiro saw Espirito's men scrape through to the next round, but why did they make it so difficult for themselves?

Manager Nuno Espirito Santo only named four players from the side which beat Everton 3-1 in the league last Saturday in his starting lineup on Tuesday evening, clearly opting to give his squad players a chance to show what they can do.

However, after the club only just managed to squeeze through the first leg, wouldn't it have been better to field the strongest side possible and avoid any sort of scare in the replay?

Wolves are 7th in the table as things stand but do find themselves nine points behind 6th placed Arsenal, so it's highly unlikely that they'll break into the top six this season.

They do have had a great chance of obtaining a spot in the Europa League by reaching the final of the FA Cup though, as the winner earns qualification into Europe's second biggest club competition next term, and the runner-up also earns that spot if the club they lose to in the final have already guaranteed a spot in Europe by finishing in the top six.

As things stand, Wolves are in with a great shout of going the distance after their dramatic (second) comeback against the Shrews on Tuesday. But with a tricky away tie against in form Championship side Bristol City in the next round, the West Midland outfit could find themselves dumped out if they're once again not up for the fight and don't take it seriously.

Matt Doherty Wolves
Matt Doherty rescued Wolves on both occasions against Shrewsbury.

Middlesbrough a prime example of neglect for the cup

It's not just Premier League sides who have decided that a run in the FA Cup isn't a priority however. Championship side Middlesbrough are a prime example of completely bottling it when they went up against the lowest ranked side still left in the competition - Newport County.

Firstly Tony Pulis' side were seconds away from securing their place in the fifth round a fortnight ago, leading Michael Flynn's minnows 1-0 until the 93rd minute at the Riverside, before a last minute equaliser from Matthew Dolan forced a replay earlier this week.

Take absolutely nothing away from Newport County - who have been the FA Cup's allocated giant killers this time around - beating Leicester in the last round before putting in two fantastic performances against Boro.

Flynn's men were horrible to play against, tough to break down on Tuesday night and the Championship playoff chasers were simply not up for the battle at Rodney Parade, which in the end led to an embarrassing 2-0 defeat.

Middlesbrough are gunning for promotion this term and have a crunch game against Leeds to contend with on Saturday, so that was obviously at the forefront of their minds which is completely understandable.

However what is not understandable nor acceptable is the manner in which they crashed out of the competition; it was quite frankly pathetic especially considering how far their loyal fans travelled to support them - it's not only disrespectful to the club, but also hugely disrespectful to the competition.

Read more about how Boro fans were left fuming with their side after players seemed to mock them following the final whistle.

Newport now have a dream cup tie on their hands when they host Pep Guardiola's reigning Premier League champions Manchester City in the fifth round, which is exactly what this magical tournament is all about. Can they do the unthinkable and provide a third successive upset against the highest-ranked side still left in the competition?

Television rights have turned the competition into a cash cow

It's not only the teams who are guilty of disrespecting the FA Cup, but the organisers too. The competition has now turned into a commercial entity existing purely for financial purposes, just like the League Cup has been for years. There used to be such a hype surrounding FA Cup weekends, with almost every single match kicking off at 3pm on a Saturday afternoon - just like it should be.

Now, only a small selection of fixtures take place on Saturday afternoon at prime time, with the fourth round seeing two matches played out on Friday evening, one match played at 12:30 on a Saturday lunchtime, seven matches kicking off at 3, one match played at 5:30 and one played at 7:45 on Saturday night. Alongside this, a further two games took place on Sunday and one took place on Monday night.

In the third round, as many as eight matches took place on a Sunday, with seven games kicking off on Saturday lunchtime (12:30). Just ten of the 32 matches were played on Saturday at 3pm. This is all down to the money brought in by TV rights - there is such a vast amount of capital to be made from televised football in the modern age and it simply has to be accommodated for or else the whole system will collapse.

The final now kick's off at 5:30 on a Saturday afternoon as opposed to 3 and semi-final's are also played out at Wembley, which although does give more fans an opportunity to experience a trip to the national stadium, does take the gloss off the exclusivity of reaching the final.

On the whole, sadly the FA Cup just isn't what it used to be and it doesn't look like anything's going to change anytime soon. With Championship and mid-table Premier League teams now fielding weakened sides for their games in the competition, just like the big guns have done for the past 7/8 years, what hope is there to revitalise a tournament that was once deemed to be such a proud achievement to win?

The FA Cup used to mean so much to every club, now it's just a cash cow lacking any real substance.