Written by Howard Hockin at FootballFancast.com: Before Aston Villa took on Manchester City in the FA Cup last week, Gerard Houllier had a few words to say to the local press: “It would be fantastic if we won the FA Cup because it would mean two cups in the same city. We will win things, I know that for sure. It is not the fact our rivals have won something that is going to change my mind about what we are doing here. The FA Cup is an opportunity but it is not the easiest of the games against Man City.” But he did say Birmingham‘s success in the Carling Cup spurred him on: “At Liverpool the success of Manchester United did give me a boost to win things there as well.”
So, spurred on in this way, you’d imagine he approached the match with great optimism, fielding his strongest side to carry on recent good form, and to take advantage of a City side that had laboured to a 1-1 draw at home to Fulham the previous weekend, and looked seriously jaded.
Out went Ashley Young, out went Stewart Downing, out went Marc Albrighton, out of the cup went Villa.
This is in spite of the fact that these players had only played 3 club matches in 25 days. And the fact that there was one game in the 10 days following the cup tie. Aston Villa have no more midweek games this season. This was not a team on its last legs. How could they need resting?
But Houllier was adamant he had done the right thing, citing an important game against Bolton at the weekend, and the need to keep his players fresh.
So how did it go against Bolton? All that rest helped Villa to propel themselves up the table to safety with a…..oh hang on, they lost.
If I was an Aston Villa fan, I would have been livid when I saw the line-up for the match against Manchester City. I would have been even more livid if I was at the game. You pay good money, you scrimp and save, you travel hundreds of miles on a cold winter night, to find out on arrival that your manager has as good as thrown the towel in and conceded defeat.
Kenny Dalglish wrote a column for the Mail on Sunday defending Houllier, using the age old argument that league points were more important. He asked which scenario Portsmouth supporters would prefer last season – to stay in the Premiership or have a day out at Wembley losing to Chelsea, concluding with a ridiculous comment that with six more Premier League wins, the amount of wins you need to win the FA Cup, they would have stayed up – and it’s this ridiculous argument that grates with me, that you have to choose between the two, that it’s a straight decision between league points or cup glory. If only Portsmouth had played a weakened team in the Cup, they’d have got 18 more league points! Bet they feel really stupid now.
Sam Allardyce used to play weakened teams regularly, forfeiting the chance of a trophy for the supposed greater reward of premiership survival. As Blackburn manager for example, a weakened team at Coventry led to a cup exit. I can see why managers make this decision, but not only does it cheat the fans, who afterall are more important than anyone else, but it seems a pretty pointless and dreary existence to every season have Premiership survival as your only incentive. I’d rather bob between the divisions if it gave my team the odd chance of a trophy. The Premiership is not everything.
Take Birmingham City. They have another battle now to avoid relegation. If they fail, it will take a lot of the gloss off their Carling Cup victory. But as a supporter of a team that has won nothing in my lifetime, I would argue that if I was a Birmingham City fan, I’d rather win a cup and get relegated than have another non-descript season finishing 14th and going out of both cups with weakened teams- though as I have said, these are hypothetical choices.