Former footballer Chris Sutton has sympathy for Aston Villa fans as he criticised Dean Smith for making wholesale changes in their FA Cup defeat to Fulham on Saturday afternoon.
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Harry Arter’s long-range winner gave the Championship side a place in the fourth round after beating a Villa side which had rotated heavily following the Christmas period.
In his Daily Mail column, Sutton expressed his feelings towards the travelling Villa faithful that saw an under-strength side go down at Craven Cottage – reacting negatively to Dean Smith’s opinion of the FA Cup.
Sutton said: “Aston Villa’s away allocation of 3,135 was sold out at Craven Cottage on Saturday, with tickets costing up to £30 per person.
“Thousands made the 250-mile round trip to watch their team face Championship Fulham. They saw Dean Smith make nine changes, Villa lose 2-1 and then off they headed home back up the M40.
“Every year the FA Cup rolls around and every year we end up asking whether the magic is still there.
“Smith had his say after making his changes, saying he felt the competition had ‘lost its sparkle’. I was sorry to hear him talk like that. Maybe Smith believes the ends will justify the means.
“Maybe Villa will retain their Premier League status and he will have done his ultimate job of securing survival. But that doesn’t stop me feeling for the fans.
“The result of that was nine changes and a defeat. Villa weren’t the only club to do this, of course.”
In fairness to Sutton, he goes on to note how Norwich City did similar despite getting away with the result following their victory at Preston.
That suggests that his main issue is not to do with the final score, but rather clubs’ general approach to the FA Cup these days.
However, it is difficult to believe that Smith – who defended his team selection – would have put out a side incapable of delivering a positive result, especially having recently been on the right side of a gimme when Liverpool’s hands were somewhat tied ahead of their Carabao Cup clash last month.
And with the club within touching distance of Wembley as a result of that, it is hardly a stain on Smith’s character that he has chosen to prioritise Premier League survival over a fourth-round berth.
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