The opening match of FA Cup third round weekend ended with victory for Championship side Brighton & Hove Albion against Premier League Newcastle United. This was hailed at the time, and throughout the day, as a giant-killing. But was it and if it wasn’t, which team should receive the biggest plaudits?
Firstly, let’s look at the dictionary definition of giant-killing:
“In sport, when a weaker team or competitor beats a much stronger, well-known team or competitor, their success is sometimes called a giant-killing.”
On table position alone, Brighton & Hove Albion are indeed a weaker team as they are a division below Newcastle but that difference was more than wiped out by the fact that the Seagulls were at home in the third round tie. For years, any team outside the top flight winning a cup match against a top tier team has been referred to as a giant-killer. It was a simple way to judge cup feats but the truth of giant-killing is a little more complex.
In this year’s FA Cup third round match, Brighton & Hove Albion were actually the favourites to win with the oddsmakers. Newcastle United have been doing poorly this season, are currently suffering from a catalogue of injuries to first team players and have just lost their top scorer Demba Ba in a transfer to Chelsea. Brighton, on the other hand, are riding relatively high in the Championship and there is even a slight chance that the two clubs will have swapped divisions by the time next season starts. Add the home advantage for the south coast team and it starts to become clear that Brighton’s 2-0 win can hardly be classed as a giant-killing. In fact there are all-Premier League matches in this season’s third round which would have been bigger surprises – for example if West Ham had beaten Manchester United or Southampton had progressed at Chelsea’s expense.
So, what were this year’s most surprising third round results? We can refer to average bookmakers’ odds to find out.
Brighton’s odds to beat Newcastle were 2.31, quite a bit less than Aldershot, 21st in League Two, were to win at home against their fellow League Two club Rotherham United who are currently third in that league. That all-League Two match has not been mentioned anywhere as a shock and rightly so. It is the sort of result which happens up and down the country throughout the year. However, Aldershot were a more surprising winner than Brighton in this year’s third round.
Looking at the list above, there are no really big stories to report without Newcastle’s defeat being amongst them. It is counter-intuitive for most of us if it is not included as our brains look for the most simple interpretations. However, the most intuitive conclusions are not always the correct ones, as is the case here.
Readers might be surprised to see that the two third round victories by Blue Square Bet Premier clubs against Championship opposition only come in at numbers two and three in this year’s biggest third round shocks. However, that just illustrates how much of a boost the clubs get from playing a relatively high profile cup tie at home and, in Cardiff’s case at least, is also perhaps a reflection of weakened teams being put out by clubs from the top two tiers of professional football at this stage.
The team who should be hailed for the biggest giant-killing act of this year’s third round are League One side Oldham Athletic who won 3-2 at Nottingham Forest, a club 32 places above them in the Football League. Their victory was the most unlikely of the 20 ties which were won this weekend and comes in at number four of the biggest FA Cup third round surprise victories of the last five seasons.