Oxford United’s 3-2 win against Swansea City marked the first time in four years that a fourth tier team had knocked a Premier League team out of the FA Cup. In 2012, League Two club Swindon Town beat the Premier League’s Wigan Athletic 2-1 in a third round tie but neither Swindon’s “giantkilling” nor Oxford’s in 2016 can genuinely be described as shocks.
As usual, the achievement of a League Two club winning against a Premier League team was greeted by many as a major surprise. Fox Sports described it thus:
Brendan McLoughlin‘s report in the Daily Express described it as the “shock of the round” and the headline called it a “big upset”:
The report from the Reuters news agency written by Steve Tongue suggested that it was the “first major giantkilling of the FA Cup third round” and while that is arguably true, the result could not really be described as a shock or a major surprise as many others claimed.
Oxford’s win against Swansea shares a lot of similarities with the last time a fourth tier team knocked a Premier League club out of the FA Cup in 2012. Then, Premier League Wigan fielded a largely young and inexperienced team and lost 2-1 to a high flying Swindon team which would finish the season as League Two champions. Swindon’s victory was described by the BBC as “a remarkable win”. It wasn’t, as the bookmakers’ odds on the match confirm. Swindon Town were the favourites, albeit marginal, to win against their more illustrious opposition that day.
On Sunday, Swansea City’s interim manager Alan Curtis made 10 changes from the team which had narrowly lost at Manchester United on January 2. Only four of the players who started against Oxford had been selected to start in more than four Swansea matches this season in all competitions. Oxford, like Swindon Town four years ago, are flying high in League Two and could well be promoted at the end of the season. Swansea, like Wigan in 2012 are struggling in the Premier League. With Oxford also holding home advantage in the match, the bookmakers made Swansea only slight favourites to win with odds of 2.61 to Oxford’s 2.79. This was not quite the equivalent of Swindon four years ago as the Robins were actually favourites to win that tie against Wigan but it isn’t far off.
To put those odds further into perspective, the following Premier League matches have been priced up in a similar way this season:
Funnily enough, none of those matches were won by the home team but nobody would have batted an eyelid if they had been. The winners would not be being described in the way that Oxford are after their victory on Sunday.
Given that the market as reflected by bookmakers odds takes account of all the information available, why are FA Cup shocks still being judged by the difference between teams’ positions in the league? By doing so, the clubs who have pulled off the real surprises are being denied their moment of glory.
This year’s third round contained four matches, including one between two Premier League clubs, having a more surprising outcome than Oxford’s win against Swansea. So, fans of Shrewsbury Town, Walsall, Burnley and Crystal Palace should all enjoy the fact that their clubs, and not Oxford United, pulled off the real shocks of this year’s FA Cup third round weekend.