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Sam Elliott: The FA Cup requires a helping hand

I’VE got a moral dilemma on my hands. I’m one of the biggest fans you’ll find of the FA Cup. Yes still, despite its glaringly obvious issues. I’ll defend my old friend to anyone who will listen. Even those who don’t I’ll still set straight!

But I’m also a firm believer that a football manager at any level of the game in any fixture his side plays in should not have to tolerate being told who he should or shouldn’t field. By the fans, the board, the press or by the competition themselves.

The main culprits of course are those behind the awful Check-a-Trade Trophy. Who are the EFL to demand half the side which started in their previous game play in their-now spectacularly tinpot tournament? Especially when last summer in their wisdom they invited Premier League kids’ teams to take part.

Apparently it’s all about the big guns getting some game time into their up-and-coming talent, but League One and Two clubs’ prospects do not matter – there were fines everywhere you look.

Annoyance

But my belief that bosses cannot be bossed about didn’t stop my sense of annoyance last weekend. When three Championship clubs are resting ten players each, we have a problem.

It started nice and early, Liverpool’s team sheet dropped just before midday. Or should I say Liverpool’s U23 team sheet.

BT Sport picked their home game with Wolves, despite Jurgen Klopp pulling the same stunt he had in the third round by selecting a Liverpool side that hardly anybody had heard of.

Surely, it had to be Lincoln City v Brighton? They know it and two of the BBC’s big names got involved on twitter, albeit missing the point with Gary Lineker and Dan Walker attempting to calm things down.

“We tried to switch matches and cover Lincoln live, but the FA said no” they bellowed on twitter. Fact is, so they should have done. But the FA have deadlines and you missed them.

However, what you should have done for Lincoln is what they did to cover their backsides and give Manchester United their 758th consecutive live cup tie. They need that £147,500 broadcast fee when charging £47 for each ticket.

They should have treated the fourth round tie between Lincoln and Ipswich like they did the other game. Crystal Palace/Bolton v Manchester City would be on IF Bolton won the replay, came the announcement. If not, you-know-who at home to Wigan. Sadly, no Wanderers win at Selhurst Park.

Pastime

The FA Cup doesn’t need saving, it needs help. Mainly from the Premier League and the Football League. It also needs a Champions League place for the winners and respectful, non-rating chasing TV picks.

If they want strong sides put out, under no circumstances must there be a full programme of league fixtures on the following Tuesday. It just can’t happen.

I was asked if Leeds United and Brighton’s team selections diminished our clubs’ achievements. Diminished, no. But you can’t get the nagging thought out of your mind that if they had taken it seriously then Non-League interest in the Cup would probably, realistically, be over.

Question is, should we actually be bothered by it? If we want more big clubs beaten and the nation’s favourite pastime of cheering home the underdog to be more of a regular thing then should we be welcoming their disregard for the competition?

Sutton and Lincoln will both make £500,000 on fifth round day. Good on them. The Non-League clubs are the only thing keeping anyone interested in the FA Cup this year.

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