Mythbuster: 'Now we can focus on the Premier League'

It is often said that teams eliminated from the FA Cup in early rounds can turn their full attention to the league, but do results actually improve without cup distractions?
Paul Lambert incurred the wrath of Aston Villa fans and traditionalists everywhere when he suggested that he "could do without" the FA Cup earlier in January.

The Villa boss argued that Premier League survival was of more importance to his side than a cup run, and then, inevitably, they were knocked out by League One Sheffield United the next day.

Asked by reporters if he could do without the FA Cup, the Scot replied: "I think, if you ask the majority of Premier League managers, if they're being honest I think they probably would do, yes.

"Survival in the league is vital - we don't have a massive squad so the points are really important.

"That's realistic. Anybody who says different, I'm not sure they'd be telling the truth.
The backlash was fierce, with fans and neutrals alike bemoaning the fact that Premier League cash now trumps good, old fashioned silverware.

But what people really should have been annoyed about was not the sentiment of Lambert's words, but the inacurracy. The Scot was saying that without the distraction of the 'famous trophy', his side could focus on the league.

But just how safe is that old addage? Without Cup distractions, are teams more likely to pick up more points in the league? History tells us that is a myth.

You don't have to go back far to see that teams do not necessarily perform better in the league after early elimination from the Cup.

In 2011-12, embattled Wolves were knocked out in the third round by Midlands rivals Birmingham. Did that allow them to focus on the league? Did they use the extra rest and fewer distractions to climb up the league table? No. They went from 16th on January 18 to 20th come the end of the season. They only picked up an extra seven points from 17 matches after bowing out of the Cup, winning just one match.

That very same season, Blackburn Rovers went out in the third round at the hands of Newcastle. Did they get their heads down and shoot up the league? No. They lost 11 of their 18 remaining league fixtures and were relegated alongside Wolves.

A season before that, newly-promoted Blackpool were flying high in ninth place in early January, having won seven league matches. Ian Holloway's firebrands were knocked out of the Cup in the third round at Southampton, but surely that allowed them to focus on the league and maybe even push for a spot in Europe? It did not. They only managed three more wins in 19 attempts and plumetted from 9th to 19th.

Hull City were in a battle to stay in the division in 2009-10, sitting 19th in the Premier League by the time they were beaten in the third round by Wigan. But with no extra cup games to distract them for the second half of the season, received wisdom would suggest they avoided relegation? Not so. They stayed in 19th place after winning just two of 18 games, losing 10 and drawing six.

In recent years similar fates have befallen Newcastle (08-09), Birmingham and Reading (both 07-08). All three clubs were outside of the relegation places (both Newcastle and Reading were 13th) before they were knocked out in the FA Cup third round, but instead of kicking on in the league without cup distractions they were eventually relegated.

Villa boss Lambert does not have to look too far from home to realise that an early Cup exit does not guarantee top-level survival, either. The last time the Villans were relegated, in 1986-87, they went out of the Cup in the third round at the hands of Chelsea. They were 21st of 22 teams the day they lost to the Blues, and sunk to 22nd by the end of the season.

It was not the first time that has happened to the famous Midlands club. They went out of the Cup at the first hurdle in 1936-37, and ended the season being relegated for the first time in their history.

Since going out against the Blades this season, Villa have lost two and drawn one of their three league matches. They will be hoping that stalemate, against Liverpool at Anfield last Saturday, will boost them when they host West Brom in a crucial Midlands derby next week. Either way, it seems the lack of cup distractions will not necessarily help their fight against relegation.