Premier League strugglers should be wary of run in the Cup

For Premier League clubs threatened by relegation, January’s offering of FA Cup football usually falls into one of two categories.

Wigan Athletics FA Cup final match-winner Ben Watson celebrates with Callum McManaman, right, at Wembley before the club suffered relegation to the Championship (Picture: Dave Thompson/PA).

It can serve as a reprieve from the troubling plight of a relegation battle, offering a chance to rediscover lost form and restore dented confidence.

Alternatively, it can be bracketed as a distraction; teams already failing to compete on one front will hardly benefit from battling it out on another.

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Analysis of the records of Premier League clubs who were in the bottom five prior to the third round taking place over the previous 10 seasons has shown teams who played three games or fewer in the FA Cup had better survival prospects than those who featured in four or more.

Since the 2004-05 season, 58 per cent of teams in the bottom five who played three FA Cup games or fewer went on to secure their Premier League status, compared to just 33 per cent of the teams who played four or more matches in the competition.

The most recent team to have bucked this trend are Sunderland, who were bottom of the league last season when the third round began but benefited from an extended run to the quarter-finals, where they were beaten by eventual finalists Hull City.

It could be argued that Sunderland’s confidence-restoring run aided them in the league, where they ended the season in 14th place.

However, it is much more common for a struggling side to fail to capitalise on even the most impressive cup form. Two years ago, Wigan went all the way to the final and ended up winning the competition – Ben Watson’s last-minute goal against Manchester City giving them the first major trophy in their 81-year history – yet they could not reproduce that form in the league and were relegated.

For West Brom, Crystal Palace and Leicester – the three teams still left in the competition who occupied spots in the bottom five prior to the third round – the message is that more often than not a prolonged cup run will not prove beneficial to Premier League survival.

The fourth round will be played out this weekend.

Andrew Johnson’s 21-goal record for a club relegated from the Premier League is under threat.

Johnson’s haul came in the 2004-05 campaign for Crystal Palace. Should QPR fail to avoid the drop, Charlie Austin could overtake that tally. With 13 Premier League goals this season, Austin, who has scored an average of 0.6 goals per game, is on course to finish the campaign with 22 if he maintains that rate.