FA Cup to hold first ever 'double draw' on Monday amid coronavirus causing chaos and Shrewsbury set to be KICKED OUT
WEMBLEY chiefs fear a Covid crisis could undermine the credibility of the FA Cup.
Competition bosses are on standby to impose a series of walkovers eliminating teams who cannot fulfil their fixtures, with League One Shrewsbury set to be the first to suffer.
And as a signal of the limits they are facing, the FA will hold the first-ever “double draw” for the fourth and fifth rounds on Monday.
Shrewsbury appear certain to be withdrawn from the third round stage after announcing “several members of the squad and first team staff have tested positive for Covid-19”.
Wayne Rooney’s Derby, meanwhile, will field a mix of under-23 and youth team players for their tie with non-League Chorley, with no first team squad members involved.
But with the FA nervously awaiting the results of Covid tests over the coming 24 hours, the danger of a slew of games being abandoned and clubs booted out is a real one.
Shrewsbury’s misfortune means Southampton are now set for the first walkover into round four.
The FA is paying for this week’s round of tests at the 44 clubs in action from outside the Prem, with all teams told they have a 72-hour sample deadline ahead of their ties.
A final decision on walkovers will be made by the FA’s Professional Game Board, with all calls determined on a “case by case basis”.
But with the FA conceding there is no wriggle room in the congested fixture calendar, and the fourth round scheduled for a fortnight’s time, teams that cannot play will be eliminated, although they will keep their prize money.
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FA Cup clashes in doubt
Southampton v Shrewsbury – Sat 9 Jan IN DOUBT
Exeter v Sheffield Wednesday – Sat 9 Jan IN DOUBT
Chorley v Derby – Sat 9 Jan – Rams set to play youth side
Bristol City v Portsmouth – Sun 10 Jan IN DOUBT
That timeline explains the ripping up of tradition and the staging of two draw rounds back to back, during BT Sport coverage of West Ham’s game with Stockport on Monday night.
With only two and half weeks between the fourth and fith rounds – which will be played midweek – the FA believe it will make preparations easier.
The news came as the EFL announced the PFA would fund a new twice-weekly testing regime across its three divisions.
EFL chiefs explained: “Given the emergence of a new strain of the Covid virus, it is acknowledged that additional testing where it is not currently happening may help with the early identification and isolation of asymptomatic individuals.”
New EFL chairman Trevor Birch added: “We have repeatedly maintained that adhering to the stringent protocols was going to be our best chance of beating the virus and to keep playing matches.
“It is now clear that additional testing, operated in conjunction with strict protocols, may prove beneficial in the immediate short-term.”
PFA chief executive Gordon Taylor said: “We believe that this comprehensive and expansive approach to testing will help support clubs and be an important factor in maintaining fixtures and ensuring that football can continue during this challenging period.”
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