PNE in Numbers: Does making changes for the FA Cup add up?

Alan Browne is congratulated on scoring PNE's second in their 5-1 win at Wycombe.
Alan Browne is congratulated on scoring PNE's second in their 5-1 win at Wycombe.
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The FA Cup has taken a kicking from critics in recent seasons.

As money and prestige increases in the Premier League year-on-year, every other domestic competition is dwarfing in importance compared to the prize of either reaching the top four or staying in the top flight.

Even in the Championship, pushing for the promised land and again avoiding relegation take priority over taking another step on the fabled road to Wembley.

PNE boss Alex Neil made six changes for the 5-1 win at Wycombe in round three but to his credit, fielded a strong side that was too good for their League Two opposition.

Chris Wilder also shuffled the pack as Sheffield United won 1-0 at Ipswich to set up Saturday’s meeting with Preston at Bramall Lane.

Again that looks like it will be the case in round four with both play-off chasing managers surely having an eye on league points on Tuesday night, North End travelling to Nottingham Forest and the Blades hosting Aston Villa.

On average in round three, Premier League sides made 5.45 changes to their sides and certainly experienced mixed results.

Most notably, PNE’s conquerors in round three in 2017 Arsenal made nine changes and were unceremoniously dumped out by Nottingham Forest.

Chelsea joined them with nine alterations and needed a replay to beat Norwich.

The two sides who made the fewest changes, Southampton, two, and Watford, three, both progressed but Tottenham made eight and also went through, admittedly at home against League One AFC Wimbledon, as did Huddersfield who beat Bolton.

Neil seemed to find the right balance between a few fresh faces and some of those who have played more often than not.

It was in stark contrast to the first round League Cup exit at Accrington where a side boasting nine changes, including the likes of the departed Liam Grimshaw and the out-of-favour Marnick Vermijl lost 3-2 at the Crown Ground.

However many changes the managers make on Saturday, history suggests it will be a tight game.

The sides have been drawn together four times in the FA Cup, dating back some 116 years, with the tie going to a replay three times.

There have been two victories apiece with North End of course winning the last meeting at the same stage three years ago.

The 3-1 win at Bramall Lane set up a fifth round tie with Manchester United and Preston fans will be hoping for more of the same this time around.