Sunderland facing a fixture pile-up headache - but FA could alleviate the problem

Jordan Pickford makes a save in the FA Cup defeat to Arsenal
Jordan Pickford makes a save in the FA Cup defeat to Arsenal
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There was further good news for the Trimdon Street branch of B & Q when Everton beat Bournemouth on Saturday.

Sunderland’s scheduled meeting with Everton on March 12 must now be rearranged as the Merseysiders will play a cup tie that weekend.

There will be further bounty for DIY shops if, as expected, Arsenal are in the semi-finals in April.

We really ought to be grateful that Crystal Palace do not have to replay their tie with Tottenham. That would have taken place this Tuesday when Palace are due at the Stadium of Light.

However, there could be further complications if Everton require a replay against Chelsea. Sunderland are heading for a fixture backlog to accommodate the FA Cup.

The irritation is heightened as Sunderland themselves were dumped out of the cup in the third round. It seemed like as good idea at the time.

What to do then? The obvious answer is to jettison replays. This would curry favour with most Premier League managers, particularly those in European competitions (although interestingly, Arsène Wenger said last week that he had no problem with replays).

For Premier League clubs, additional revenue from replays is small to the point of irrelevance.

But this clearly isn’t the case for those further downstairs and the FA Cup is not organised solely for the benefit of the rich. A replay, especially a televised one, could literally save a lower league club.

Is the overseas gallivanting of Manchester United and Chelsea more important than the very existence of Hartlepool United and York City? I think not.

One suggestion is to avert a replay if both clubs agree. In the case of all-Premier League ties, this would almost certainly be what both sides want.

However, if Hartlepool were to draw, say, Liverpool, with Hartlepool wanting a replay but Liverpool not; then tough luck Liverpool. That, as they say, is the luck of the draw.

Matters could be ameliorated slightly if replays were scrapped for the quarter-finals as well as the semis, but the smaller clubs would still oppose this (League One’s Bradford had a very lucrative cup run last season, culminating in a quarter-final replay).

Perhaps more tenable is to have a full midweek Premier League fixture during the first week of the season, when everyone is theoretically injury free and full of haricots.

One avenue of possibility to decongest the fixture list that no one is doing anything to bring about, is to bin the preposterous regulation preventing Premier League matches from occurring at the same time as European games.

Including this week, there are 12 remaining midweeks in the 2015-16 season and, because of this asinine ruling, no fewer than seven of them are unusable (the FA’s flouting of the rule in 2013 meant that Uefa withheld a £1.1m “solidarity payment”).

This even includes Thursdays. For example, Sunderland are prohibited from playing Everton on Thursday, April 28, as it could clash with a fixture between two teams that no one can spell, who have qualified for the Europa League by having the best disciplinary record in Kazakhstan.

This arrant nonsense is at the behest of Uefa, but what steps are our own dear Football Association taking to persuade them to dispense with a patently ludicrous situation? We asked them this very question two years ago.

Before Sunderland played Hull City in the FA Cup quarter-final of 2014, it came to light that victory for the Wearsiders would mean them being forced to play four league games in the final week of the season; grossly unfair and something that could have contributed massively to relegation.

It would have been a huge disadvantage (and please don’t give us any daft and pointless comparisons about how fit Andy Murray and Mo Farah are). The team was being given minimal consideration; supporters even less.

The FA has a feedback facility, whereby any pertinent questions will be given a response.

A response is a very different entity to an answer.

In our question, we acknowledged that the rule that would potentially force Sunderland into playing four games in seven days was Uefa’s, not the FA’s. Nevertheless, we asked what the Association was doing about it.

The response took a fortnight to arrive by email, pointing out that Sunderland had lost at Hull and would therefore not have to play four games in a week.

They had underhandedly waited until after the game to give that “answer”.

Fixture backlog caused by Uefa’s ridiculous edict will cost somebody dearly one day and it might be Sunderland.

The FA could at least raise the argument with Uefa, preferably in public. But they would first need to locate a backbone.

Evidently they don’t mind fixture pile-ups, or the added consequence of their own competition being undermined by clubs paying weakened teams.

The FA is not run by idiots. The word you are looking for is poltroons.