The most immediately eye-catching result of this year’s FA Cup fifth round has to be Reading’s 3-1 defeat of Premier League West Bromwich Albion. Reading are languishing in 16th position in the Championship while West Brom look all but safe for another season in the Premier League. Take a closer look though and we find that Reading were the favourites to win this tie despite being 22 places lower in the league. Not only that but this is the third time in the last eight seasons that West Brom have gone out of the FA Cup to a Championship team who were the bookies’ favourites against them.
Football League teams progressing after being priced up as the bookmakers’ favourites in FA Cup ties against Premier League clubs has become a more common occurrence in recent years. Eight teams have pulled off these ‘giantkillings’ in the last six seasons whereas the six seasons prior to that produced only five. Sadly, I have no data from the period prior to 2005 but I would guess that Championship clubs were favourites against the top flight even more infrequently in the more distant past.
West Brom have now been the victim of “giantkillings” that never were on three occasions in the last 12 seasons. Saturday’s match was also the fifth time in eight FA Cup ties in which the Premier League Baggies were not favourites in an away match against lower division opposition.
West Bromwich Albion manager Tony Pulis gave an indication of why Premier League clubs are perhaps not favourites going into some matches with Football League clubs in an interview last week: “Being an old-fashioned so and so, the FA Cup is very special and traditionally it was always very special for me. To try to get that into players is maybe a little bit difficult at times.”
Reading’s fifth round win was not a shock by any objective measure, just as their third round win against the Baggies five years ago wasn’t either. Journalists though are still sticking to the traditional idea of an FA Cup shock as some of the headlines below illustrate.
BBC Sport: “Reading came from behind to earn a shock FA Cup fifth round win over Premier League West Brom” (http://www.bbc.com/sport/football/35566559)
Goal.com: “Reading caused an FA Cup upset as they defeated West Brom 3-1” (http://www.goal.com/en-gb/match/reading-vs-west-bromwich-albion/2197336/report)
It is difficult to accept that many FA Cup shocks these days are not simply reflected in the difference in divisions between two clubs. That is however, the reality.