Picture the scene: It’s FA Cup third round weekend and non-league Macclesfield Town are hosting Championship side Sheffield Wednesday. Steve Williams has just scored a lovely equalizing goal for the underdogs with 12 minutes to go, and a woefully out of form Owls team look on the rack. The crowd of 5,873 roars, sensing blood and urging their team on to complete a major upset.
But the Silkmen boss John Askey withdrew his two forwards and the home side recoiled into a solid, defensive shape. They preserve a 1-1 draw and with it, a replay at Hillsborough in ten days time. Town put up a decent effort in the replay, but are eventually beaten 4-1 by a superior Wednesday team.
The benefits of an FA Cup replay for a team like Macclesfield Town — who have an outstanding tax debt of £150,000 — are obvious and it’s easy to see why in the aforementioned tie, a draw is perhaps more preferable than a win. A game against a bigger side at their ground has massive monetary implications and would go a fair way to paying off those crippling debts; £150,000 is a pretty sizeable amount for a club of Macclesfield’s stature.
Aside from their financial windfalls, though, has the FA Cup replay become an outdated and unwanted part of the game? Up until the 1990’s, teams would play two, three or four games in order to get a result. Now teams will play just a solitary replay followed by extra-time and penalties if the game is still tied.
But have these replays — which have passed by almost unnoticed this week — now become one game too many as well? Shouldn’t a competition thats motto is essentially “anyone can beat anyone on a given day” have matches that finish on said day?
Some managers are starting to question exactly that. Swansea boss Michael Laudrup expressed his views on the matter, suggesting it’s time to think about abolishing replays altogether via BBC Sport:
“With the fixtures we have, having a replay can really hurt. Last year we had a replay against Arsenal in a very tight January schedule.
“I really don’t understand, with so many fixtures, why you still have the rule with the replay.”
The fixture congestion is a big concern for a host of bosses at all levels on the soccer pyramid. Typically, the third round of the FA Cup signals the restart of regular, weekly action after a scattering of fixtures over the festive period. But not if you have a replay. It’s yet another midweek game and another 90 minutes at least to push a leggy squad to the limit right after they’ve already been put through the ringer.