This weekend sees the Premier League take a week-long hiatus as FA Cup action resumes.
Saints are one of the top-ranked clubs left in the competition, and with four more wins needed to lift the FA Cup for the first time since 1976, they should definitely go all-out to try and achieve that.
At the moment Southampton are the sixth-highest-ranked team left in the competition—with Chelsea, Arsenal, Manchester City, Liverpool and Everton all above them in the Premier League and still left in the cup.
Whilst those five clubs make the eight-team sixth round look somewhat daunting it is not actually as bad as first meets the eye.
On Saturday Manchester City host Chelsea whilst on Sunday Arsenal take on Liverpool, meaning two of the Premier League’s current top four are guaranteed to be knocked out. Everton also have to navigate their way past Swansea. Should they lose and Southampton beat Sunderland, Saints would become the third-highest-ranked team left.
The advantage Southampton could have here—should Arsenal beat Liverpool—is two of the sides left in the competition would also have Champions League commitments to deal with as well as a title race.
Liverpool also look set to be involved in the title race and Everton will be pushing for a top-four or -five place.
Southampton, who are well clear of relegation and 11 points behind fifth, may not have as much to compete for in the league as their Premier League rivals left in the cup.
Now, let’s not do these sides the injustice of saying because they aren’t Premier League clubs they will definitely be beaten—Sheffield United have already knocked out two top-flight clubs this year and Forest beat West Ham 5-0 earlier in the competition.
Theoretically though, sides from outside the Premier League should be an easier opponent.
Should Southampton beat Sunderland on Saturday they will go into the sixth-round pot knowing two things—they will be at least the fourth-highest-ranked club left and at least 25 percent of the teams they could face are from a lower division.
Two trips to Wembley or seventh in the Premier League?
They, therefore, could realistically qualify for Europe through where they finish in the league table—providing Manchester City win the League Cup and a top-four team wins the FA Cup.
But, as a fan, would you rather see your team challenge for glory and try to qualify for Europe by winning a trophy—not to mention the two trips to Wembley that come with that—or finish the season in a very respectable upper-mid-table position?
I know I would want to see them push to win silverware.
It seems the players may want to do the same, with Steven Davis urging his team-mates for success, per Sky Sports, he said:
I haven't had too many memorable memories about the competition, but I am desperate to change that this year.
Obviously I won a few cup competitions in Scotland and it is great to have success. There is no better feeling than lifting a trophy.
You need quality in the team, which we have, a bit of luck on the day and go out and perform.
That is what it ultimately comes down to and this season we've shown a good level of consistency overall, but cup competitions bring up their own different opportunities to go out and do things.
As mentioned earlier, the last time Saints won the FA Cup was in 1976. It is 38 years since, as the official club website puts it, "the most memorable day in Southampton Football Club’s history."
They came close to seeing FA Cup glory again in 2003 when they reached the final, but a full generation of supporters has been brought up without being able to see a repeat of that 1976 success.
This year, with the fantastic form their team has shown, they have an excellent chance of doing that.
First they have to get past their opponents on Saturday.
I’m not here to write Sunderland off but they have quite a few distractions away from the FA Cup—not least that of staying in the Premier League, as well a League Cup final with Manchester City at the start of March.
I watched them play non-league Kidderminster in the fourth round three weeks ago. Despite playing internationals such as Jozy Altidore, Sebastian Larsson and Emanuele Giaccherini they didn’t look all that much better than their inferior opposition.
Gus Poyet has admitted this week to Sky Sports he will give some players a chance to prove themselves.
If those players play as poorly as they did against Kidderminster, as Louise Taylor of The Observer wrote post-match, Southampton should be able to beat them.
They haven’t had much success at the Stadium of Light this season, though, and that needs to change. They threw away a two-goal lead to draw in January and lost 2-1 in the League Cup earlier in the season.
Finally, Southampton should take encouragement from recent history that clubs from outside the top five or six have done well in the competition.
Wigan’s success in 2013 being an obvious one—but in the 10 years since Saints’ last FA Cup final appearance, Millwall, West Ham, Cardiff, Stoke and their bitter rivals Portsmouth (twice) have all reached the final—with Pompey winning it in 2008.
With their current league position, Southampton should just go for it. In my opinion they have nothing to lose.
As proved by their one and only FA Cup success in 1976, it could be the only chance a whole generation get to see their team lift one of football’s most prestigious trophies.